But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel. (Philippians 1:12, N.K.J.V.)
The traditional view is that Paul wrote the books of Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon during his first imprisonment in the city of Rome while he was waiting for his case to be heard by Caesar. This explains why he speaks in Philippians 1:13 of the “palace guard” and in Philippians 1:13-14 of “my chains.” Understanding the context for the writing of Philippians is important because it lets us know what Paul means in Philippians 1:12 when he talks about “the things which happened to me.” Those “things” were his arrest and imprisonment.
We believe that Paul’s imprisonment lasted for two years, but he doesn’t fill the pages of Philippians with depression, doom, and gloom. To the contrary, he saw the blessing in the injustice that had befallen him. And what was that blessing? His imprisonment gave him the opportunity to evangelize a group of people whom he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to evangelize: those soldiers who made up that “palace guard.”
According to historians, Paul’s imprisonment entailed him being literally chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours per day, with the soldier being changed every six hours. That meant that Paul could witness to at least four men every day. Can you imagine being a lost person having to be chained to Paul for a six-hour stint? As Warren Wiersbe wrote:
Imagine yourself as one of those soldiers, chained to a man who prayed “without ceasing,” who was constantly interviewing people about their spiritual condition, and who was repeatedly writing letters to Christians and churches through the empire. It was not long before some of those soldiers put their faith in Christ.
A second blessing that Paul saw in his imprisonment was the effect that it had upon his fellow Christians. When the news spread of how well Paul was handling his imprisonment and how God was even using it for the saving of souls, that emboldened other Christians to speak the word of God without fear (Philippians 1:14). You see, Paul the prisoner wasn’t just an evangelizer to Roman soldiers, he was also a role model to other Christians.
Paul’s whole attitude toward his imprisonment should cause every Christian to ask, “Do I know how to turn the low points of my life into opportunities to further the gospel and be a role model for other Christians?” For example, a Christian who loses his/her job can get another one, one that will involve people to whom that Christian has never witnessed. Or, a Christian who loses a loved one by way of death can be a tremendous role model if he/she handles that death well rather than falling to pieces about it. Of course, the key to being either this type of evangelist or this type of role model is to see your loss not as an impediment to your Christian life but as a means by which you can serve the Lord in a new kind of way.
As for Paul’s efforts bearing fruit, it is worth noting that some of his closing words to his book (letter) of Philippians say to the Christians of Philippi: “…The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:21-22, N.K.J.V.). While the term “Caesar’s household” probably included those Christians in Rome who held all sorts of roles in Caesar’s service (soldiers, judges, cooks, food-tasters, musicians, custodians, accountants, etc.), it also most likely included those new converts whom Paul had personally won to Christ during his imprisonment. In Paul’s way of looking at the situation, the eternal salvation of any one of those people was worth him being imprisoned, and may modern-day Christians follow his example. How do we do that? We do it by using our trying times as vehicles upon which we take the gospel further than we’ve ever taken it. The fact is that lost people are everywhere, and any new circumstance in which we find ourselves — whether that circumstance be pleasant or unpleasant — brings us the opportunity to tell someone about Jesus. That’s how Paul handled the troubles of his life and kept on serving Jesus, and it’s how us Christians today should as well.