The Force of the Gospel
Text: Philippians 1:12-14
You can learn a lot about the strength of a believer’s faith by observing their sense of real joy and contentment in the midst of trial. Now we can be great at making up excuses for our perpetual miserable spirit, but if God’s Word is true, then every believer has a right to rejoice and see the purpose of God in all the events of their lives. “Rejoice evermore” 1 Thes 5:16. “Rejoice in the Lord alway…” Phil 4:4
Sin is the great enemy of joy, not circumstances. It is sin that caused David to cry out, “restore unto me the joy of thy salvation”, but that is the only true enemy of joy. And it is an ignorance of or unbelief in the sovereignty of God that is the cause of joylessness when there are unfulfilled desires, or a perceived negative change in our health, finances, friendships, and family life.
But why are we surprised? “In the world ye shall have tribulation” Jn 16:33. Hardships have many ends, but robbing us of joy is not one of them.
When we examine the Apostle Paul, we find that the greater the trial, the more determined he is to articulate his joy. He is a prisoner in Rome, a place he had long desired to visit. Rom 15:23-24. Now the desire was fulfilled, but not in the way he had hoped, Rom 1:10 he says he hoped to have a “prosperous journey” to them, but he came as a prisoner having been shipwrecked on the way. (Acts 21-28 covers this journey that leads to Rome). He has already spent two years as a prisoner in Caesarea, then another two year stint in Rome, where he writes the prison epistles, waiting to find out if Nero will call for his execution or his release.
His conditions are unusual, Acts 28:16, 20, 23, 30. He wasn’t put in a common prison, probably because there was no legal charge against him. But he was chained to a Pretorian Guard, four different guards in a given day doing 6 hours each, living in his own lodgings. So he was unable to visit others, but others could visit him. He had spent years fulfilling the commission of Christ taking the gospel to the nations, and now he is restrained and prevented from living out what he might have felt was his life’s purpose. Eating, sleeping, writing, reading, praying, etc, etc, was all done chained to a Roman soldier.
Paul’s two two year imprisonments had no doubt cut him off from many of the churches, and the Philippian church take pro-active action to find out what’s going on, and hearing Paul was in Rome, they send Epaphroditus to find out what any church wants to know from a missionary, i) are you okay? ii) how is the work progressing? And this letter is Paul’s response.
So how was he doing? He prayed with joy 1:3, he faced opposition with joy 1:18, he laboured with joy 2:17, and so he exhorted them to rejoice 3:1, 4:4.
Isn’t this interesting? Often when you go through hardship and someone asks how you are, you give an answer that’s designed to extract pity. Even when you say ‘I’m doing okay’ you may say it with a tone that makes others aware it’s a tough road you’re travelling. Imagine if our response was, ‘I’m rejoicing…’.
If his joy was related to circumstances, possessions, earthly pleasures, freedom, a good reputation… he would have had no joy! But his joy was immune because his union with Christ was unalterable and he could trace the purpose of a sovereign God in all that was going on. As long as the gospel progressed, he rejoiced.
I. THE GOSPEL WILL PROGRESS IN STRANGE SITUATIONS v12
“But I would ye should understand , brethren” – a phrase we use to emphasize truth and encourage the careful consideration of what’s being said because it’s probably not obvious. Paul is wanting to show them that their assumption about how his imprisonment is disastrous, is not a disaster at all.
“that the things which happened unto me” – my present condition.
“have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” – one would assume an imprisoned preacher would hinder the work, but Paul says no. God’s ways are not our ways, and this has led to the furtherance of the gospel. And this is what Paul lived for, the furtherance of the gospel. What do you live for? What takes up your time and thoughts? Do you have a passion for the gospel? Is that passion equivalent to or greater than it has ever been in your life? Has that passion taken a back seat in your priorities? For Paul Acts 20:24 was his testimony. Paul lived for the gospel. Are you so consumed? Is there a potential preacher or missionary here? Have you thoughts about serving God? There’s only one way, and that’s to be consumed by the desire to further the gospel.
“furtherance” – probably originates from a nautical term which has the idea of “making headway in spite of blows”, so it’s not just the idea of making progress, but making progress in spite of resistance. And this was Paul’s experience, “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” 1 Cor 16:9.
Opposition is a natural response to the gospel. But opposition doesn’t stop the gospel. It might stop the messenger, but it won’t stop the message. We should have confidence in the gospel.
The example of this is seen in Christ. Every effort to stop the Christ failed, and his death instead of ending the kingdom of God, opened the kingdom of God.
II. THE GOSPEL WILL PROGRESS TO SAVE SOULS v13
“my bonds in Christ” – he wasn’t a prisoner for a crime, but for the sake of Christ, and he refers to his imprisonment in Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon in terms like this. He was there because of Christ, and he says this is clear to all, “are manifest”. Everyone can see it.
And how did this spread? How did it become clear to ‘all others’ as he notes? Because the soldiers chained to him realized the true cause of his imprisonment and, at least in part, it spread from them. The very thing that was a punishment to him, being chained to a soldier, was a means of spreading the truth.
You see, in God’s eyes, instead of Paul being chained unfairly to a soldier, the soldier was sovereignly chained to Paul! Imagine being chained to Paul. Can you imagine the conversation? Can you imagine being there when he said his prayers? Can you imagine standing there as this unforgettable character mentions you by name before God for salvation?
The result of these men being in the presence of Paul was that they became believers and witnessed to others about the Christ Paul preached. Phil 4:22 – they were acquainted with the Philippian story and sent their greetings to them.
“the palace” = ‘praitorian’. “Caesar’s court’ but most likely refers to the ‘Praetorian Guard’ as a group, rather than the place they protected. ’Praetorian’ originally referred to the General’s primary camp, and the ‘Praetorian Guards’ were assigned to protect the interests of the Emperor. They were the elite of the Roman soldiers, originally set up at the time of Caesar Augustus, the Caesar at the time of Christ. There were about 9 cohorts with 1,000 in each cohort, hand-picked for their abilities. They kept the peace in Rome, had a high profile in the city, and would be key in leading any battles that needed to be fought. Eventually, they not only protected the Emperor, but they assassinated them.
And these are the guys Paul influenced for the gospel. And his influence upon them was all the greater when they knew the context from which he preached. When one says “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away…” it has a greater impact when you know that person has actually lost something precious to them. And Paul was not just a great preacher, but a living testimony of the power of grace in the midst of affliction, hardship, and wrongdoing. They knew he was wrongfully imprisoned, and then knew at any time he might die, and yet he lived almost invincibly by the power for God’s grace.
And one by one, God was saving these giant sinners, and the word was spreading throughout the guards and the city itself. According to Acts 28, Paul was conducting meetings in his lodging, and these soldiers would be present for them. Then once all were gone for the day, the solider might ask questions.
These men probably became more gospel literate than the average Christian because of their constant exposure to the greatest Christian teacher of all time.
And doesn’t this show you, beloved? That no matter where you are you can be a profound witness for Christ? Sitting at a desk, standing in a factory, labouring on a construction site, teaching little children, etc. But you must talk about Jesus Christ with zeal and purpose, and look for opportunities.
Don’t feel chained in your life. Realize the message is unchained, and share it. You think your colleagues are scary? Try sharing the gospel with an on-duty soldier!
III. THE GOSPEL WILL PROGRESS TO STRENGTHEN SAINTS v14
At this time with the rise of Nero, it was natural that some believers would be feeling the heat and begin to bottle up the gospel due to fear. But seeing Paul live the gospel in the midst of the lion’s den, other Christians had their faith revived.
In fact, some of the church leaders initially upon seeing Paul imprisoned, may have started arguing, we need to be careful here, because if we’re not careful then we’re also going to be imprisoned and then the churches will be without pastors, and would hinder the progress of the gospel.
“many of the brethren in the Lord…” – the testimony and fruit of Paul’s ministry helped them to exercise the bold ministry the God desires. Oh, what an impact one life on fire for God can have upon the church!
How many Christians lament the dearth of the church, and coldness of the prayer meetings, and the lifelessness of its outreach, but just sit there and complain about it, not realizing that by such an attitude you’re part of the problem. No, get up and be part of the solution. Pray with earnestness, witness with boldness, sing with energy and let your fire catch!
Every cloud believer, has a silver lining for you. There’s no mistake in where you are or what you’re going through. Your present position in life is the absolute best position you could be in to share the gospel effectively, and what God wants you to do today is to seize the moment and live your life with evangelistic purpose.