Paul mentions two spiritual benefits that have been experienced because of his imprisonment. First, he informs his readers that the gospel has advanced in the sense that the guards who were keeping him were informed of the reason for his confinement. They realised that he was there because of the sake of Christ. This information shows the power of the gospel to make progress in the most surprising circumstances. Second, his courage in his situation had strengthened other believers, probably Christians living in Rome, to become bold witnesses. They saw the reality of the faith in Paul’s outlook. These are two outcomes of successful evangelism and striking edification are ones that we should want for others from any troubles that we go through.
It is remarkable how little concern Paul has for himself. He does not ask, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ Instead he wants to discover how he can continue to serve Jesus in this difficult situation. Yet what was achieved was very remarkable because it is known that the Praetorian Guard could number nine thousand soldiers. Through his testimony to the individuals who took turn to guard him, the message of the gospel was conveyed to all the soldiers. He does not mean that each of the Guard took turns on duty; rather he means that those who did guard him told their fellow soldiers about the unusual prisoner that they had watched.
As the Christians in Rome observed the profound effects of Paul’s testimony, they were stimulated to bold service themselves. They saw a middle-aged man experiencing great blessing. Not only was he middle-aged, he was physically weak and probably had poor eyesight. Paul was not the kind of person who immediately impresses people by his aura. Yet as they saw the influence of his brave witness, they too took courage and boldly communicated the gospel.
Here is an example of the devil defeating himself. No doubt he imagined that the arrest and trial of the leading Christian in the church would cause depression and confusion among the other Christians. It is likely that this would have happened if Paul had succumbed to the pressure. But he did not. Instead he experienced another fulfilment of the Lord’s promise that his strength is perfected in our weakness.
We can imagine the delight with which the church in Philippi would have listened to the words of Paul. As they gathered together in that far-off city, they were the recipients of news from the palace in Rome. What they were being told was not the latest success in battle by a Roman army or the newest political venture of the government. Instead they were hearing about the victories of King Jesus as he liberated hardened individuals from the slavery of sin. It was not only soldiers that were delivered from their sins; Paul tells us in chapter 4 that there were now saints in Caesar’s household. As we listen in to his account, surely we must marvel at the amazing grace of God who can take a seemingly hopeless antagonistic situation and turn it into a victory of grace.