But I would you should understand, brothers…
Knowing the deep solicitude of the Philippians, but not to what extent they may have been misinformed as to his imprisonment, he makes haste to set their minds at rest. But if we expect that he will dilate upon the details of his external fortunes, or open the secrets of his prison house, we shall be disappointed. What little may be recovered of these must be gathered from other sources.
I. There can be no doubt that St. Paul here REFERS TO THAT IMPRISONMENT WITH WHICH THE BOOK OF THE ACTS CLOSES. Regard this event —
1. Under the purely human aspect. Three times in his life was St. Paul, as he gloried in saying, "a prisoner of Jesus Christ," besides "bonds oft." The first was at Caesarea, when he pleaded his own and his Master's cause, and claimed the right of a Roman citizen to appeal unto Caesar. In this he gratified one of the deepest desires of his heart. "I must see Rome." It was his holy ambition to carry the gospel to the centre of the world. The Lord ratified the desire of his heart. "As thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so shalt thou bear witness in Rome." But His Master had not indicated that He was to go bound. Apostles, like ourselves, must wait for the unfoldings of providence. He reached Rome and was subjected to mild restraint. During two years he was kept in suspense: then he seems to have been dismissed, but returned again after a few years' mission to the West, to the same place, and was beheaded. All this is what he meant by the "things that concern me." As to those details we should have been so glad to receive, about himself and the Roman Church, he is silent, perhaps because his letters were closely watched.
2. When he lays the stress on "have fallen out rather," he gives us a hint of another side of the matter. The hand of God had been leading him in a way he knew not. It was not Paul alone who had appealed unto Caesar, but Christ in him and Christ's cause. It was part of the manifold wisdom of God that he should consolidate the Church in Rome. St. Paul's special revelation of truth — "my gospel" — was necessary to the perfection of evangelical teaching, and therefore was he, not Peter, sent to Rome.
II. RATHER UNTO THE FURTHERENCE OF THE GOSPEL. The apostle's imprisonment had positively tended to promote the kingdom of Christ.
1. Generally this had been the case. Paul was still the centre of the European gospel, and had time and opportunity now for a calm survey of the whole estate of Christ's Church. His spirit was surrendered to the undisturbed influence of meditation and prayer. What the three great Epistles — Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians — owe to this seclusion, those who study them may conjecture. Certain it is they have tended greatly to the furtherence of the gospel.
2. More particularly his bonds have promoted the gospel —
(1) By being made known through Rome in their connection with the Redeemer. He was known, marked, inquired about as the most eminent representative of Christianity to the army and to great numbers who assembled in his own hired house.
(2) By their effect in stimulating others to preach Christ.
(a) The first class of these preachers are described as feeling the good influence of the apostle's bonds in two ways: first they were inspired with boldness by his Christian endurance; secondly, their love to the cause of Christ was increased by their sympathy with his devotion as set for the defence of the gospel.
(b) But these bonds stirred up a different class of preachers; the weak brethren of whom he speaks as exerting so much influence in Rome (Romans 14). Weak in faith and scrupulosity, but strong in prejudice and bitterness, who thought that by preaching a more contracted gospel, they would add bitterness to his bonds. As a confederate company they were actuated by "strife" and "faction"; being only in a minority, they sought to increase their numbers and raise a party that would neutralize this Gentile gospel.
3. By a remarkable expression St. Paul declares his self-forgetting concentration of heart on the furtherance of Christ's gospel (ver. 18).
(1) The exclamation, "What then," shows that he has something to say which demands, as it were, an apology to himself and others; but he boldly goes on to give the ground of his rejoicing and his condemnation of every impure motive in the preaching of Christ.
(2) This rejoicing is —
(a) His pure and loyal exultation that by all means the name of Christ was more widely proclaimed.
(b) His gladness that what was mingled with so much private disquietude would issue in the furtherance of his own salvation. Fidelity to public duty must go hand in hand with trembling solicity for individual fidelity.
(c) To what did he look for personal assurance and establishment in grace? Not to any guaranteed apostolical prerogative; not to the long-disciplined, strength of his moral nature; but to the common heritage of all Christians — "the supply of Christ's Spirit" through the prayers of his fellow saints united with his own.
(W. B. Pope, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;