Philippians - Lesson 2

By Curt Niccum

Philippians 1:12-18


  1. The student can list at least two ways that Paul found joy in the midst of suffering.
  2. The student can describe true progress as that which advances the kingdom, despite personal setbacks.


  1. Bibles for every student
  2. If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.


Physical chains have produced spiritual gains. 

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Devotional Period (5-10 minutes)

  1. Read Philippians 1:12-18
  2. Sing up to two songs
    1. All to Jesus I Surrender
    2. Freely, Freely
    3. Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
  3. Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
    1. For the ability to make kingdom decisions regardless of personal cost
    2. For the foresight necessary to determine true priorities
    3. For the courage not to shrink from doing God's will despite what others might think

Introduction (10 minutes)

  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Paul's attitude in Philippians 1:12-18 appears rather shocking. Have the class discuss Paul's reaction to those wishing to cause him trouble.
    1. Q: In what circumstances does Paul find himself when he writes this letter? A: He is in prison in Rome (1:13).
    2. Q: For what bad reason do some preach the gospel? A: To stir up trouble for him in his imprisonment. Q: What motivates these people according to Paul? A: Envy, strife, and selfish ambition (1:15 and 17).
      1. Some may want to discuss how this could actually be done. There is no easy answer, and the class should not be derailed by speculation. You may need to note, though, that people with bad hearts can still proclaim a good message. Paul is not speaking of false teaching here, but of proper teaching from false motives.
      2. If necessary, several possibilities can be suggested to the class. Some being envious of Paul's successes might try to convert more people than he, although what type of trouble that might bring upon Paul is not clear.
      3. Since actively converting people to new religions was against Roman law, some might have been using Paul's name in their preaching to create Roman sentiment against him at his upcoming trial.
    3. Q: What is Paul's overall response to this? A: He rejoices! (1:18). Q: Why does he rejoice? A: Because Christ is being preached.
    4. Q: On what then is Paul's focus? A: On the message of Christ and not on himself. On the benefits the Christian message brings other people and not on himself.
  3. In the previous week we noted how Paul emphasizes attitude, or "thinking,” in this letter. Q: How would you characterize Paul's thinking in this passage? A: Selfless and God-centered.

Learning Experiences (15 minutes)

  1. The passage being studied today and the passage for next week fit closely together.
    1. Paul marks them off by beginning and ending the entire section with the same word, "progress” (a literary device called inclusio). Q: What progress does he speak of in verse 12? A: The "progress of the gospel.” Q: What progress does he speak of in verse 25? A: "Your progress.” Q: Why would Paul frame this section in this way? A: To emphasize the theme for this section - "progress.”
    2. Paul also ends each of the two passages with alliteration, the repetition of the sound made by the letter "p.” The sound occurs five times in verse 18 and six times in verse 25. Q: Can you think of why Paul might do this?
      1. A: To draw attention to the theme of joy in the face of suffering and sacrifice. (Note that the first section ends with "I rejoice” in 18a and the second begins with "I will rejoice” in 18b.)
      2. A: To tie the two sections together. Each half should be interpreted in light of the other. Paul's past and present prepare him for the future.
      3. A: To emphasize his points. Anyone familiar with older microphones can tell what effect the letter "p” used to have on the sound system and the ears of those in the room. "P” is an explosive letter, and it was even more so in the Greek language. Q: In a time with no sound systems and in which every letter was read out loud, how might this repetition affect the audience? A: It would make them sit up and pay attention.
    3. Q: So then, what do verses 18 and 25 have in common that Paul wants so desperately to be heard? A: Paul will endure and do anything in order for people to make "progress” in the faith.
  2. Now, in terms of progress, several positive things have resulted from Paul's imprisonment (v. 12). This is proof that good can result from that which appears to be bad.
    1. Q: What are the positives mentioned in verses 12-18? A: 1) His imprisonment for Christ has been made known to the Praetorian Guard and others (1:13). 2) Other Christians have found courage to share boldly the gospel with others because of Paul's situation (1:14). 3) Some preach the gospel out of a love for Paul as one appointed for the defense of the gospel (1:16).
    2. Q: How easy would it be to rejoice under such circumstances? A: Fairly easy.
  3. Q: Does Paul qualify his joy at all with respect to those preaching the word motivated by false pretenses? Does he sound any less happy in less than ideal circumstances? A: Not at all. Q: Why? A: Personal advancement is not an issue for him. What is of utmost importance to Paul is that which brings glory to God, despite what that might produce for him personally. Q: Can you think of where Paul might have picked up such a strange idea? A: From Christ. This answer is particularly important and should be remembered for the next week. Few truly understand what Paul means when he says, "To live is Christ” (1:21). Paul clearly "thinks” with the mind of Christ.
  4. So then, Paul finds himself in two less than perfect situations. Q: What are they? A: He is under house arrest and the object of scorn by envious Christians. Q: What is his response? A: Joy. Q: Why? A: Because both situations have made it possible for more of the lost to hear the message of Christ!

Application (15 minutes)

  1. With the advent of DNA testing, we have seen a number of people recently released from prison. Q: Why? A: Because there is now scientific proof to support their claims of innocence. Q: If you watch or read the news, what is the typical response of those who are released? A: Bitterness. A desire to seek revenge. Q: Can you sympathize with them? Q: How does this attitude differ from Paul's as one who was also imprisoned although innocent? Q: What is the difference? A: Paul focused on what could be done for God, not on what had been done to him.
  2. Q: To what does the phrase "dog eat dog world” refer? A: If you want to get ahead you must "devour” the competition. This has become so central to our thinking that television has embodied it into the latest hit television shows. Q: What types of attitudes get displayed and are encouraged on "Reality TV”? A: Selfishness, excessive pride, win at all costs, I am the only one that matters. Q: How does Paul's attitude differ? A: Paul focused on what could be done for others, not on what had been done to or could be done for him.
  3. Q: So what should our response be according to Philippians? A: Technically, the answer is that we should ignore the personal negatives and look for the heavenly positives. This answer will certainly offend some. "It's not fair,” they will say. Was the cross fair? Paul evaluates what is happening in terms of total return to God, not immediate personal results. "To live is Christ.”
    1. Even though the gospel is being preached out of false motives, it is still the good news that is being preached! Despite the speaker, the power of God's word is still winning souls! In light of that positive result, what does a little discomfort matter?
    2. Paul's chains are already proof that he is willing to experience discomfort for the sake of the gospel. The only reason he is in jail is because he refused to compromise on the good news that salvation is now offered to all, both Jews and Gentiles. Paul makes judgments based on what is best for the kingdom, not what is best for him.
  4. Q: Can you think of other places where Paul or others make kingdom decisions to their own detriment or encourage this mindset in others? A: The obvious answer will be Christ's decision to die on the cross. Others would include missionaries (and their family members left behind) and those who serve in often unseen ways. The following passages might help open up class discussion: 1 Corinthians 6:7; Romans 12:19-21; 1 Peter 2:18-19. (We will see this in action in the next section of Philippians where Paul postpones heaven for the sake of the Philippians' progress. If possible, though, do not go there. Reserve it for the next lesson.)
  5. Close by asking the class to think about how they might apply Paul's attitude to their own personal circumstances and relationships. How might it change relationships that are currently strained? (This is too early in the series to actually seek a personal response from class members. Leave this as a rhetorical question to spark reflection on what Paul has written.) If they find this lesson a little hard to swallow, encourage them to stick with the class to see what else Paul has to say.

Assignment (2-5 minutes)

  1. Each class member should read 1:19-26.
  2. Ask them to think about what Paul is willing to sacrifice, according to this passage, for the good of the Philippians.

Back to Philippians

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.