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Gospel Progress

Gospel Progress

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We continue our study of God’s Word this morning as we return to Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Follow along with me as we read from the first chapter beginning with verse 12.

Philippians 1:12–18
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,  so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

This section of Philippians could be called the “Joy of Ministry.” Notice how it ends in verse 18! “Yes and I will rejoice!” This is a phrase that has significant meaning when we discover that Paul was writing during difficult if not disastrous circumstances. And in spite of the situation, he is rejoicing

What has happened?

Paul is in a Roman prison. Not the first place you would pick to rejoice but this is where Paul finds himself. The irony is that Paul previously written about his desire to visit Rome. The book of Romans begins and ends with Paul declaring he was “ready to come to Rome to preach the Gospel.” It ends with him re-emphasizing this same desire. So he finally fulfils this desire but not in the way he expected.

His journey to Rome begins in Acts 21:17 after he returns to Jerusalem from a missionary journey. Initially he is received “warmly” and the church leaders “praised God” for what had been accomplished on his journey. The warmth of this reception quickly changes.

Acts 21:30-36
Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut.  While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.  Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Away with him!”

Paul is arrested for the crime of telling others the good news about Jesus Christ. The reaction to the gospel was so violent that the Romans fear what would happen if they released him. His arrest takes him to the Jewish Sanhedrin, then Roman governors Festus and Felix, and finally Herod Agrippa. In an attempt to prove his innocence, he appeals to Caesar to have his case heard in Rome. On his way to Rome, the ship encounters a storm, is shipwrecked, and Paul has to swim for his life. Joyful right?

Paul’s problems are just beginning. He is given a preliminary hearing where he once again shares his belief in Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. This results in his being held prisoner until Nero decides what to do with him.

The Gospel is Advanced In Spite of Adversity

We have been blessed to be in a nation and during a period of time where we have been allowed to preach the gospel without fear of persecution and worship freely. While this seems to be coming to be threatened today, we have prospered because of this. So much so that when we are faced with persecution or opposition, we fear that the end is near. But this story encourages us that circumstances cannot limit the spreading of the gospel. To encourage us, Jesus proclaimed…

Matthew 16:18
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Peter is not the rock. If you look back to verse sixteen, you hear Peter declaring that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is this truth that is the foundation the Christian church is built upon. A church built upon this foundation will never fail. That is what the phrase, “The gates of hell will not prevail,” means.

Robert Gundry in his comments on this text points out that the church of Jesus Christ is “resistant to flood and storm from the underworld.” It cannot be deterred or limited by the “hail and flood of Sheol.” What does this mean as Christians face opposition and in many countries persecution? The church built upon the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, will not be destroyed. The gates of Hades is taken from Isaiah 38:10 where it stands for death. The church will never die. Paul knows this and also knows that it can prosper in the face of hell.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,  so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

We have to understand the challenges Paul is facing to understand how powerful the gospel is in the lives of faithful people. Paul is not only in prison, he is chained to a guard 24 hours a day. According to the Roman custom, the guards would change every six hours.  So he would have four different men chained to him over a period of a day, at all times. When Paul summarizes this, He declares that everything that had happened to him had served or been used to advance the Gospel.

How Does this Advance the Gospel?

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

Paul is a prisoner, chained, and restrained . If we conclude that this would limit the power of the gospel, we are mistaken. Paul is saying the opposite is true. Talk about positive thinking. Everything that has happened, has promoted the gospel of Christ. God is greater and God is capable of more than what Paul could ever accomplish. What Paul could not do while free, God has done while Paul imprisoned.

It all is a matter perspective. This is an important lesson for those of us who tend to be negative or cynical when it comes to church growth. When Paul was in prison, there were those who, out of envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition, saw his absence as their opportunity to step up and fill his role. So they preached Christ but their preaching was not done out of loyalty and love for Paul and the gospel he cherished. Paul knew that the gospel was greater the individual proclaiming it. The message is more powerful than the media communicating it. Truth always shines greater than a lie. Christ cannot be limited by prison, opposition, persecution, or corrupt motives.

Eugene Peterson offers this insight:

“I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on! And I’m going to keep that celebration going.”

Rejoice!

I pray that those of us who profess to following Christ can begin to rejoice instead of complain. Look at verse 18 again. “I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.”  Underline that in your Bible because that’s what he wants us to know. He is telling us that we should not worry about rulers, governments, laws, and those who seek to limit and oppose the gospel. We should not spend our time fretting and worrying about the opposition. Rather, we are to rejoice in Christ.

The joy that Paul felt was not tied to circumstances. He had enough going on to overwhelm and defeat him. But he felt joy. If his joy was related to pleasures in this life, he wouldn’t have had any joy.  If his joy was related to possessions in this world, he wouldn’t have had any joy.  If his joy was related to freedom in this life, he wouldn’t have had any joy.  If it was related to prestige or outward success, he wouldn’t have any joy. If it were dependent on the church always obeying or always being Christ like, there would be no joy.

Joy came from knowing that the message was not in how or if it was communicated. Joy came from knowing that the message of Christ was greater than anything this world could throw at it. Joy comes from knowing that no matter what, the message of Jesus is shared.

As long as Christ is Proclaimed

The gospel is not linked to freedom. It is not tied to living in a Christian country. The gospel produces fruit when we faithfully proclaim its good news wherever we are and in every situation.  It can happen here when we are faithful and tell others where we found the water that quenched our thirst and the bread that cured our hunger.

Consider

Here is a list of the top twenty nations where Christianity is flourishing.

Nepal
China
United Arab Emirates
Saudi Arabia
Qatar
Oman
Yeman
Mongolia
Cambodia
Bahrain
Benin
Bukina Fason
South Sudan
Bhutan
Mali
Brunei
Guinea
Kuwait
Singapore
Turks and Caicos Islands

Did you notice? 19 of the countries are in Asia and Africa. 11 are in countries where there is a Muslim majority. Not one is from North America. If it can happen there, it can happen here. In Phoenix, in your neighborhood. Think about who you can show the love of Christ to this week. Pick someone that you have a relationship with who you can tell what Jesus has done for you. Listen and see what Jesus is doing to prepare them for the good news that he has shared with you. Rejoice and keep that celebration going.

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