In the 1950’s a young African American pastor began organizing peaceful protests in an effort to gain equal rights among blacks and whites. Shortly after his first several successful protests he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Alliance (SCLC) to fight segregation and achieve civil rights. He organized peaceful protest after peaceful protest throughout the southern United States. In April of 1963 he was organizing protests in Birmingham, Alabama which he called “the most segregated city in the nation” (Bruns, Martin Luther King, Jr: A Biography, 73).
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As the protests carried on over time in Birmingham, one peaceful protest occurred on Good Friday, April 12, 1963. Fifty volunteers left the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to peacefully protest segregation and seek civil rights. This peaceful protest led to the arrest of this leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Alliance as he was peacefully on his knees in prayer. After a couple of days in solitary confinement in jail, eight prominent white clergyman from Birmingham took out a full-page ad in the newspaper in which they wrote a letter criticizing the protests and stating that this young leader was causing unnecessary trouble making. While in jail this young leader was given a copy of that letter and in the margins of the newspaper he began to craft a careful and meticulate response to their allegations. This man I have been describing to you—which you might have already guessed—is Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ph.D. and the letter I described to you is his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I want to start the message today with this story because like Rev. Martin Luther King, the apostle Paul also was in prison at the time that he wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi. Both men were imprisoned for a Godly cause that they each believed in and each one eventually met an earthly death because of their cause for Christ. (For a careful description of the events that led to Dr. King’s arrest see Bruns, Martin Luther King, Jr: A Biography, 73-83).
I. PAUL’S IMPRISONMENT AND THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL (1:12-14)
A. Through Paul’s Circumstances the Gospel Advanced (v. 12)
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that rather throughout my circumstances the Gospel has advanced.” (Phil 1:12)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.[/ref]
Paul was in prison because he shared the Gospel (Acts 28:16, 30-31; Phil 1:7, 13-14, 29-30), yet the Gospel had continued to spread. He does not want people to feel sorry for him and to shrink in their faith because of his circumstance.
1. Brothers or Brothers and Sisters