When the church in Philippi heard of Paul’s imprisonment, they undoubtedly assumed this would hinder the work God was doing through him. Having partnered with him in his ministry (cf. Phil. 4:14–18), they must have worried the fruit of his ministry was ending. But in a shocking twist, God providentially used Paul’s imprisonment to spread the gospel! How did this turn of affairs come about? Keep reading with this excerpt from Lenski’s Commentary of the New Testament on Philippians 1:12–14.

Paul Informs the Philippians with Joy about the Good Effects of the First Stage of his Trial

12) Transitional δέ introduces the great and joyful news Paul has to impart. We see the fine spirit which thinks first of the spiritual interests of the Philippians (v. 3-11) and then turns to Paul’s own situation. Paul has great news to tell. The long-expected trial has begun, the first hearing has been most favorable. Since the Philippians are so anxious about Paul, he makes no delay in the letter, he tells about it right here.

But while all centers on his own person, on his fate, acquittal or condemnation, Paul merges all in the gospel, in the effects his trial and its outcome are bound to have on the advancement or the retardation of the gospel work in Rome and in the Roman world generally. Paul is only a pawn, the king in the game is the supreme issue. This fact is supreme, and nothing blurs or dims it in Paul’s eyes. That is why this section contains so little detailed information about Paul himself, the things so many of us would like to know and yet cannot extract from this man who writes chiefly about the gospel. Should we, too, not rise to his height, be less eager about these details, more satisfied with the great story of the gospel work?

Now I want to inform you, brethren, that the things pertaining to me have gone rather for the gospel’s advancement so that my bonds got to be published as in connection with Christ in the entire praetorium and (among) all the rest, and that more of the brethren in the Lord, being confident due to my bonds, the more dare fearlessly to utter the Word of God.

Lenski’s Translation of Philippians 1:12–14

The Furtherance of the Gospel

This is the great news about the gospel in Rome. Paul tells it with great joy. “I want to inform you” (“you to know”) is little more than a common epistolary formula for introducing special information. Here is a piece of news that the Philippians are not to get to know only once, this being enough (perfect εἰδέναι), but one which will affect them personally for a long time (durative γινώσκειν).

“The things concerning me” (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7; Rom. 1:15) means more than “my affairs,” for the phrase is stronger than a mere genitive “my.” Paul has in mind the recent developments in his case. Paul’s appeal to Caesar has recently come before the imperial court for decision, he has had his first hearing or hearings. Claudius was accustomed to attend to these in person, Nero is known to have referred them to his representative, and most likely did so in Paul’s case. Paul’s case had not yet been decided; it might, of course, still go wrong, but the start had been auspicious, and Paul’s hopes are strong. Thus he writes “that the things pertaining to me have gone rather for the gospel’s advancement.The perfect tense, literally, “have gone,” means that they now continue in this condition.

He adds “rather” and thus touches upon all the fears and misgivings that were rife prior to his first hearing; things have, indeed, gone “rather” better than they might have gone.

The word used for “advancement” means to administer a blow and impel forward; “furthermore” (A.V.) is good. General advancement is meant, hence there is no article, it is concerned with “the gospel,” Paul merges all personal thoughts about his prospective freedom in this supreme concern.

What an example for all present-day preachers! How many could write as Paul does?

Paul’s Imprisonment is for Christ

13) Ὥστε (“so that”) with its two infinitives states the actual double result and thus shows what a great advancement the gospel received in Rome. But note the difference in the tenses: the fact result (aorist) is followed by the continuous effect result (present). The fact was published far and wide that Paul’s imprisonment was connected with no crime or criminal charge but with “Christ,” and the effect of this was the greater daring with which so many brethren told everybody the Word of God.

Paul’s case had all at once become a cause célèbre. If there had been dailies in Rome, Paul would have been on the front page. No; he was not averse to that, he was filled with joy. But not because of any glory this shed on him but only because of the publicity it gave the gospel which is itself news.

Rome’s prison held many prisoners, also many Romans who made appeal to Caesar and were proved innocent. The fact that Paul was another of the latter class was not news; it would have been such only if he had been a high Roman official or otherwise renowned in the empire; but he was not a great figure of this kind. The great thing on which the public eye was all at once focused is suggested by the phrase “in connection with Christ.”

Paul’s innocence of any crime really interested no one. His release as an innocent man would scarcely have called out a remark. Paul’s words: “in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (v. 7) are our cue. During the hearing of the appeal of this prisoner to Caesar his great legal defense and its legal confirmation of fact presented the gospel and all that it contained about Christ.

A Defense and Confirmation of the Gospel

Never had such a case come before the imperial court. Never had such an ἀπολογία and such a βεβαίωσις been heard by its judge. The divine gospel itself and its Messiah Christ were before the supreme court of the world. May we not assume that Christ fulfilled his promise (Luke 12:11; 21:12-15; Mark 13:11; Matt. 10:19) to Paul so that the gospel and Christ lost nothing when Paul stood before this court? It was Christ’s own promise that had brought Paul there (Acts 9:15; 23:11). Christ had arranged everything from start to finish in order to produce the very effect here briefly described. Thus came about this great publicity “in the entire praetorium and (among) all the rest.”

The emperor’s “palace” was never called τὸ πραιτώριον. This was the name for the barracks of the emperor’s guard, the castra praetoria outside the Porta Viminalis. From the time of Tiberius to that of Vespasian this guard consisted of nine cohorts, 1,000 men in each (Tacitus). It was a picked body, all of its members were of Italian birth. They received double pay and enjoyed special privileges, every soldier ranked with the centurions of the regular legions. The entire guard was not always stationed at Rome, certain divisions were at times posted in adjacent towns.

Because of its numbers and its position the praetorian guard wielded a powerful influence in the state; the emperor often courted its favor and on his ascension bestowed liberal donations upon it. The praetorium cannot designate a place because “all the rest” cannot mean “all other places.” Both terms signify persons. We may regard both datives after ἐν in the sense of “among” although some regard the second as an indirect object: “in the whole praetorium and to all the rest” of the people.

The Word Spreads

Was Paul removed from his own rented house when his trial began? We can only guess. The court did not sit in the barracks, hence to place him there would not have made him promptly available at call. The praefectus praetorio had his office in the emperor’s palace, and Paul may have been placed there, say in the guardroom of the praetorian cohort on duty there. Wherever he was, his friends had full access to him, and he is able to dictate and to send this letter.

The way in which Paul writes “in the entire praetorium” and then refers to “the rest” evidently has back of it a special connection of Paul’s case with the praetorium. For two years, day after day, soldier after soldier had guarded Paul in his rented house. In this way Paul gained entrance into the praetorian cohorts. His daily guards heard all he said and did, talked about it in their barracks, became interested in the case, and, when it was now up for hearing, when it was established that the imprisonment had to do with this Christ of Paul’s teaching, the whole influential body of the imperial guard became thoroughly conversant with and interested in the case.

“Getting public” is a different thing from being brought to the judge’s ears in a courtroom; it is getting to the attention and into the talk of others, and here Paul even writes “all the rest.” This cannot mean less than Rome in general. The people of the capital of the world and its dominating military force, in the remarkable providence of God, through this lowly prisoner Paul, heard the whole gospel story of Christ. Since the imperial court had thus far acted favorably, all this publicity was likewise favorable. No wonder Paul was joyful.

Emboldened to Speak the Word

14) This had a marked effect upon “the brethren in the Lord” in Rome. It is thought that Paul coined this designation, but see Col. 1:2 and remember in how many ways he uses “in the Lord” and “in Christ.” “The brethren in the Lord” is such a natural expression that it may well have been current for a long while, and nobody knew who first used it. Paul refers to the members of the congregation in Rome. In Rom. 16:3-16 Paul names all those who were prominent in the congregation about four years before he wrote this epistle. Two large groups in the emperor’s very own household, slaves of the deceased Aristobulus and Narcissus (Rom. 16:10, 11), belonged to these brethren in the Lord. Paul mentions them as “those of Caesar’s house” in Phil. 4:22.

But we must add many more. On Paul’s arrival in Rome he began a great missionary work among the Jews in Rome. All the rabbis and other Jewish leaders came to Paul’s house; half of them came to faith that first day (Acts 28:24), and Paul continued this work among the Jews as Luke describes it in Acts. Now Rome had no less than seven great synagogues. After the conversion of about half of all the Jewish leaders we can see how many Jewish “brethren in the Lord” there must have been in Rome at the end of the two years. The host of Jewish converts did not unite with the original congregation of Rom. 16:3-16. Several of the synagogues became Christian congregations in the great city, these were composed exclusively of converted Jews.

Paul’s Confidence in His Chains

Now all this favorable publicity about the connection of Paul’s imprisonment with Christ inspired more of these many brethren with confidence “the more (περισσοτέρως) to dare fearlessly to utter the Word of God.” All Rome knew the connection of this imprisonment with Christ and Paul’s vindication soon to be declared by the court. The clouds that had so long been hanging over the head of the great exponent of Christianity in Rome, no less a man than the apostle, were disappearing. Instead of being silent, more brethren than ever, with more courage than ever, were fearlessly speaking aloud (λαλεῖν) the Word of God. Openly and boldly they confessed their faith by letting all men hear the Word of God, the gospel of Christ.

Brave hearts had done this before when nobody as yet had any intimation as to how Paul’s case would fare before the imperial court. Even these now showed greater daring (τολμᾶν). Their number was increased. It was still daring, it still required fearlessness to speak out. Paul’s case had not been concluded. An evil turn might yet make it go wrong. If the imperial court condemned Paul to exile, to the mines, or to death, to have talked Christianity so openly in the capital itself might entail serious consequences. But the prospect was now markedly favorable. Paul is praising all these many brethren. He is not blaming either those who had been or those who still were timid. Courage must develop even as faith must have time to grow. But to see so many now so courageous made Paul’s heart joyful indeed.

Learn More from Lenski’s Commentary on the New Testament

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