But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace [or, Praetorium, i.e., Caesar’s Guard], and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death, (vv. 12-20)
It is always a sad sign, and an evidence of spiritual decline, when the heart loses its interest in the message of grace. There are some so occupied with the deeper truths of the Word of God that they allow themselves to speak slightingly of the simplicity of the gospel. Paul was the preeminent teacher of the church, but to his last hour, his heart was filled with gospel zeal, and his sympathies were with the evangelist carrying the Word of Life to men dead in trespasses and in sins. Even in his prison house he rejoiced that his affairs had really tended to the progress of the gospel.
Satan, doubtless, hoped to hinder that work by locking up the apostle in a jail, but even there it became manifest to all Caesars court, and to all others, that his bonds were for Christ’s sake. The very soldiers appointed to guard him were brought thus to hear the glorious proclamation of grace to a guilty world. It is evident, both from verse 13 and verse 22 of chapter 4, that numbers of them believed. Who can fathom the joy that must have filled the heart of Paul as he led one guard after another to the Savior’s feet! Just as when cast into the Philip-pian dungeon, he and his companion Silas were used to the conversion of the jailer and his household, so here, grace triumphed over all seemingly untoward circumstances, and the prison cell became a gospel chapel where souls were being born of God and stern Roman soldiers became themselves the captive servants of One greater than Caesar.
In verse 14 the apostle speaks of another cause of joy. While he was going about from place to place preaching the Word, there were gifted men who held back, feeling, perhaps, that they were in no sense on a par with him, and so they permitted the timidity and backwardness of the flesh to hinder their launching out in a work to which the Lord was beckoning them. But since he was in durance and could no longer go about from place to place in this happy service, numbers of these men came forward, and, for the Name’s sake, went forth preaching the Word boldly without fear. On the other hand there were some restless men who had not commended themselves as fitted for evangelistic work, and while he was free, were kept in a place of subjection. But now that he was incarcerated they saw their opportunity to come to the front and went forth preaching Christ indeed with their lips, though their hearts were filled with envy and strife. But no jealous or envious thoughts entered the mind of Paul. He rejoiced in those who preached the Word through good will, out of love, knowing that he was appointed for the vindication of the gospel. Though he could not rejoice in the spirit that moved the others, he at least was gladdened to know that it was Christ who was being preached. And so he was thankful for every voice telling out the story of the cross. Nor would he permit anything to rob him of this joy.
How marked is the contrast between the spirit here exhibited and that which often prevails today. How seldom, in fact, do we see this simple unalloyed rejoicing that Christ is preached, let the aims and methods of the preacher be what they will. Untold harm is often done by harsh, captious criticism of young and earnest men, who often have much to learn and offend by their uncouthness, by their lack of discernment and understanding of the ways of the Lord, who nevertheless do preach Christ and win souls. And God has said, “He that winneth souls is wise”; or, as the Revised Version so strikingly puts it, “He that is wise winneth souls.” Often have anxious souls been really hindered by the criticism of their elders in matters of this kind. Oh, for more of the spirit of Paul that would lead us to rejoice unfeignedly whenever Christ is preached, even though there be much to exercise our hearts and lead to prayer—and it may be to godly admonition at times, so far as methods and expressions are concerned, which if rightly dealt with now, may soon disappear as excrescences, when the earnest evangelist grows in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.
Verses 19-20 show us how the apostle relied upon the prayers of the people of God, and how encouraged he was by this abounding gospel testimony. He felt that it presaged his own deliverance, and pointed to the time when he would again be free according to his earnest expectation, and hope, to preach Christ openly and widely if it should be the will of God, or else to glorify Him in a martyr’s death. He had but one ambition, and that, that Christ Himself should be magnified in his body whether by life or by death. No matter what he himself might be called upon to toil or suffer, if the One whom he had met on that never-to-be-forgotten day on the Damascus turnpike were exalted and honored—this would satisfy him.
It is this utter absence of self-seeking that commends any true servant of Christ. We see it strikingly in John the Baptist, who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It should be the one supreme characteristic of the evangelist, pastor, or teacher. And where this spirit of self-abnegation, for the glory of the Lord, is really found, it must commend the ministry, though it makes nothing of the minister. Oh, that one might enter more fully into it!