Sunday School

Sunday School Lesson Overview for January 20, 2019 Submit to God in Christ / Rejoice in All Circumstances – Philippians 1:12-21

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week James, the brother of Jesus, wrote to the church at large to warn them to follow Godly wisdom, not worldly wisdom.   The lesson told us to look within ourselves to sort out how conflicts occur.  Conflicts, fights, and wars spring from evil desire and ambition from inside us.  We were reminded that Godly wisdom creates peace and unity, not division or discord.  Godly wisdom does not lust for power, influence, and control.  Other important points were:

  • Why do you do, what you do? Are your motives free from envy and evil ambition? 
  • Are you asking for something that will simply be consumed for your own wants and desires?
  • Those who fraternize with the enemy are the enemy.  James calls them adulterers because they have chosen evil desires to oppress rather than help others. 
  • James helps us understand that unfaithfulness is to turn your back on those who are oppressed; to forget about those who suffer under the hand of the rich and powerful. 
  • Envy, evil ambition, evil desires, and evil motives are ways people become friends with the world and enemies of God.

Finally, James tells us to submit to God.  If we resist the devil, the devil will flee from us.  We resist by submitting to God; by following God’s commands, and keeping our motives pure. 

Last week’s lesson connects to this week’s lesson through the continuing themes of submission and love.  We see in this week the Apostle Paul, in prison writing to encourage believers to submit to God and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in love.  Even in trying and difficult circumstances we are to demonstrate our love for God and advance the cause of Jesus Christ.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Submit to God in Christ”.  Standard Commentary titles it Rejoice in all Circumstances.  The Scripture text comes from Philippians 1:12-21.


Paul is noted for having established the church at Philippi.  This letter is one of the 13 books of the New Testament credited to Paul.  There are only 27 New Testament books so Paul has an extraordinary influence on the Christian faith.  The date this letter is written is not known precisely but likely between 52CE and 62CE.  

The Apostle Paul writes this epistle expressing his joy to the Philippians partly because he wanted them to know of his joy in Christ.  He also writes because the Philippians had heard of his imprisonment and suffering.  Some people believed that an Apostle of Jesus Christ was not supposed to suffer.  In other words, if you are suffering either your God is not real or you have committed some sin to cause your suffering.  So after all of these years of service for Jesus Christ Paul is still dealing with credibility issues.  His credibility is at stake and he writes to also set the record straight.  He is not suffering because of sin but because of his love for Jesus Christ. 

This letter is remarkable because when it is written Paul is in prison potentially facing the death penalty.  Even in prison Paul finds joy in Christ.  It is one of his “prison epistles,” the others being Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon (Townsend).   Throughout Philippians Paul exhorts the ideas of joy, affection, loyalty, and sharing.  In this letter Paul helps us to understand that even when we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we respond.  Paul’s example is to respond with trust, confidence, and joy in Christ. 

What takes place in this passage:  

Verse 12 begins with an explanation.  Paul wants the Philippians to know that his suffering has a purpose and it is to further the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Even while in prison, Paul has been talking about and preaching Jesus Christ.  As a result of Paul’s faithful witness, “many of the brethren in the Lord wax confident by Paul’s bonds and are more bold to speak the word without fear” (verse 14).  Paul is in bonds for the cause of Christ.  He is not a criminal nor has he committed any immoral act that would require his imprisonment.  Rather, he is detained while awaiting his trial.

In verse 15 Paul talks about the others who preach Christ out of envy and strife, and some out of goodwill.  As we saw in last week’s lesson the motive behind what you do is important.  The question is why do you do, what you do.  Paul is not deterred or discouraged by those who preach Christ out of envy and strife.  Instead, he recognizes that Christ is being preached regardless of the motive and that’s where Paul has placed his faith.  Even if people are trying to hurt him, Paul recognizes that the cause of Jesus Christ is bigger than his situation.  Paul being “set for the defense of the Gospel” is a key component, intertwined in the very being of who Paul is. 

Verse 19 reinforces Paul’s confidence in Jesus Christ.  He is confident that this situation is going to work out for the furtherance of the cause of Christ regardless of his personal outcome.  His expectation and hope is based on the prayers of the saints and the provision of the spirit of Jesus Christ.  But what is more important is his complete confidence in the final result.  For Paul, living meant serving Jesus Christ and dying meant being delivered from his suffering. 


Sometimes bad things happen to good people.  It’s just not fair.  It’s not right, it’s hard to watch, experience, and even more difficult to understand.  But Paul is providing an example for us in this text.  When our lives are lived to give God glory, we can respond to bad situations and unfair, hurtful, and evil circumstances with a faith that God knows, God sees, and God cares.  Paul’s confidence in God was absolute.  To use today’s vernacular, Paul was essentially saying, I don’t care what you say or what you do, Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and He is my savior in every situation.  Paul not only found comfort in this way of living but he also found joy. 

Key Characters in the text:

Paul – He is an Apostle of Jesus Christ because he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  The most prolific writer of New Testament books and martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

Martyr – a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion.

Motive – Something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.

Credibility – the quality or power of inspiring belief.

Themes in this Lesson: 

  1. It is well with my soul.
  2. A suffering servant.
  3. Joyous living in trying circumstances
  4. Hymn: My hope is built on nothing less


1.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for good of those who love God and are the called according to God’s purpose.  How did Paul’s situation work together for good?

2.  Verse 12 says “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel”.  Was Paul addressing something scandalous?  If so, in what way?

Concluding thought: 

I often pray that I have placed my faith, trust, and confidence in God and God alone.  Paul demonstrates what that really means in this text.  Paul preaching Jesus in prison and writing of his joy in Christ while imprisoned is pure faith in a saving, delivering, and redeeming Jesus. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week lesson continues in Philippians.  Again, Paul addresses the problems of contentious attitudes of strife and vainglory and he provides a better way to deal with contention and disagreement. 

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