Advancing the Gospel

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Philippians 1:12-18a

INTRODUCTION: We are in the third week of our message series on the book of Philippians, and we are learning what it means to be partners in the gospel. The first week we saw that we should be full of joy and thanks for each other because we are partners in the gospel together. The second week we saw how we should pray for the growth of the gospel within each other – pray for each other to grow in love, in knowledge, in discernment, and in holiness.

This week we switch from a focus on the growth of the gospel within us to the growth of the gospel outside of us. Not only should we be growing in Christ, but we need to be sharing Christ with others. That is an important part of what it means to be partners in the gospel. We all share in the task of advancing the gospel to others. So let us stand now for the reading of God’s word from Philippians. (Read Philippians 1:12-18 and pray.)

If you were arrested today, would you view that as a setback in your life? Or as an opportunity? It would depend on what is most important to you. If your own freedom and comfort are most important, then I’m guessing prison doesn’t really fit in with your goals. But what if there was something more important to you than even your own freedom and comfort? What if there was something so important to you that you could continue to pursue your goal even while in prison? Then you would view prison very differently, wouldn’t you?

That is the situation in which we find Paul here in Philippians 1. Paul is in prison, but he doesn’t view it as a setback. Instead he sees it as a new opportunity to pursue his life goal, which is the advance of the gospel. Would he rather be free and comfortable? Absolutely! Who wouldn’t? But nothing is more important to Paul than advancing the gospel, and so as long as prison is not interfering with that, then he is okay with being in prison.

Our passage today is an especially challenging one, because it challenges us to evaluate our lives in terms of the gospel. Nothing is more important than advancing the gospel. The gospel glorifies Jesus as Savior and Lord. The gospel restores people to right relationship with God. The gospel saves people from sin, death and hell. There is no other name under heaven other than Jesus whereby people can be saved, and therefore nothing is more important than advancing the gospel.

So, how does your life back that up? When you examine your own life, do you look like someone who truly believes that advancing the gospel is the most important thing in the world? Where do you invest your time? Where do you invest your energy? Where do you invest your finances? Like I said, this is an especially challenging passage.

I want us to look at two key truths from this passage today. 1) Nothing is more important than advancing the gospel, and 2) Nothing can stop the gospel from advancing.

I. Nothing is more important than advancing the gospel

So, let us begin with the first truth: nothing is more important than advancing the gospel.

   A. Advancing the gospel was more important to Paul than his own freedom (12-14)

In verses 12-14 we see that advancing the gospel was more important to Paul than his own freedom. Paul is in prison for preaching the gospel. The Philippians know this and are concerned for him. But Paul writes this section of the letter to show the Philippians that his being in prison is actually helping the cause of the gospel rather than hurting it. Look at verse 12: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12)

Surprise! You would think prison would slow things down, but Paul has a gospel perspective, and he shares with us two ways that prison has really served to advance the gospel.

     1) Paul’s imprisonment allowed him to share the gospel with the whole palace guard (13)

First of all, Paul’s imprisonment allowed him to share the gospel with the whole palace guard. Verse 13: “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” (Philippians 1:13)

The palace guard was a huge contingent of 9,000 elite soldiers who served as Caesar’s body guard in Rome. That’s quite a body guard. They were sort of like the Musketeers of their day. They received double the pay of normal soldiers and enjoyed special privileges including Roman citizenship. And one of their responsibilities would have been to take turns guarding Paul the prisoner. Paul speaks of his chains in this verse, and that’s because he was literally chained to a Roman guard during the whole time of his imprisonment. A rotation would have been set up and every four to six hours a new guard would come in and change places with the guard who had just been with Paul.

Do you know what that meant? Paul had a captive audience! Paul didn’t think, “Rats, I’m chained to a Roman Guard.” He thought, “All right! The Roman Guard is chained to me!” Here is a highly influential body of people in the city of Rome, and Paul gets to share the gospel with each one of them! He had the easiest opening line in the world. Each guard would come in and ask him, “So, what are you in for?”, and then Paul would be off and running with the gospel. You put Paul in jail, and what does he do? He starts a prison ministry!

It was clear to the soldiers that Paul was no ordinary prisoner. He was highly educated, non-violent, and had committed no crime. Word would have spread through the whole palace guard, and to everyone else in Caesar’s household, that Paul the prisoner was in chains for Christ. And so being in prison served to advance the gospel first of all because Paul’s imprisonment allowed him to share the gospel with the whole palace guard.

     2) Paul’s imprisonment encouraged other believers to share the gospel more boldly (14)

Secondly, Paul’s imprisonment encouraged other believers to share the gospel more boldly. Look at verse 14: “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” (Philippians 1:14)

You would think that Paul being locked up would have created a greater fear of sharing the gospel for the other believers in Rome. Instead it had just the opposite effect. They were encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

There are actually two phrases here in the Greek: they were encouraged to speak the word of God so much more, and they were encouraged to speak it fearlessly. So the effect of Paul’s imprisonment on the church in Rome was 1) increased gospel witness, and 2) increased boldness in gospel witness. They were sharing Christ more, and they were sharing Christ more boldly.

It takes courage to speak about Christ in the world. It always has and always will. Why? Because the world is opposed to the one true God, and Jesus is the revelation of the one true God.

Paul’s imprisonment had a positive effect on his fellow believers in Rome, and they were encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. There was a ripple effect. Paul was sharing the gospel in prison, and the church was sharing the gospel outside of prison.

Rome didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they let Paul into prison. The gospel was advancing, and Paul can barely contain his excitement as he writes to the Philippians about it. Advancing the gospel was more important to Paul than his own freedom.

   B. Advancing the gospel was more important to Paul than his own comfort (15-18)

Advancing the gospel was also more important to Paul than his own comfort. We find this in verses 15-18. Paul shares three things with us from these verses. 1) Not everyone shared Christ from pure motives. 2) Some tried to stir up trouble for Paul in prison. 3) Either way, Paul rejoiced that Christ was preached!

     1) Not everyone shared Christ from pure motives (15)

First of all, not everyone shared Christ from pure motives. Look at verse 15: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.” (Philippians 1:15) And so there were mixed motives on the part of those preaching Christ. Some actually preached Christ out of envy and rivalry. Now these were not false teachers. They were not teaching a different gospel or a different Christ. They were teaching the true gospel, they were preaching Christ, but their motives were wrong.

You might wonder how that could be, but it happens even today. One church in town starts growing, and instead of rejoicing in that growth, it is easy for the other pastors and churches in town to start envying. “Why couldn’t it be our church that’s growing? Why couldn’t it be my ministry that is bringing all these people to Christ?”

It happens to pastors when people leave your church to go to another. Now as a pastor I have had to get used to this over the years, but I’m human so it still always hurts. The person will invariably come to you and say, “Pastor, I’m leaving this church to go to such-and-such, but I want you to know, it has nothing to do with you.” And I in my humanness will think, “Well, I may not be the reason you’re going, but I’m sure not the reason you’re staying either!”

Do you struggle with envy or rivalry, comparing yourself to others? We need to watch our motives. There should be no envy or rivalry in ministry. We should rejoice every time God uses someone else to minister for Christ. The purpose of sharing Christ is to grow God’s kingdom, not just to grow our own individual ministries or churches. We are not in competition with other Christians or churches. We are all in this together, and we need to be kingdom-minded. Paul looked at the evangelism that was going on in Rome, and he saw that not everyone shared Christ from pure motives.

     2) Some tried to stir up trouble for Paul in prison (16-17)

Not only that, but some actually tried to stir up trouble for Paul in prison. Look at verses 16-17: “The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” (Philippians 1:16-17)

Some of these believers in Rome really had it in for Paul. Here they were preaching the glorious gospel of Christ and somewhere in their motivations they are thinking, “Good, this will probably make things even harder for Paul in there.” Perhaps they were jealous of Paul’s ministry – “Paul has more converts than me” – maybe they just didn’t like him, but either way their motives were not good. Paul says they are driven by selfish ambition and that they lack sincerity in their gospel preaching. It’s hard enough when you’re in prison for preaching the gospel, but what do you do when your fellow believers in Christ are trying to make things even more difficult for you?

     3) Either way, Paul rejoiced that Christ was preached! (18)

Well, I will tell you what Paul did. He rejoiced! He didn’t rejoice because they might make things more difficult for him; rather he rejoiced that Christ was preached. Look at verse 18: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18)

That first phrase “But what does it matter?” is just two short words in the Greek. You could actually translate it, “So what?” or to use another phrase that is common in our culture: “Whatever!” Paul is so excited about the gospel is going forth that he could really care less about the motives of those preaching or how it will affect his comfort level in prison. The important thing is that Christ is preached! Nothing is more important than advancing the gospel. Advancing the gospel was more important to Paul than his own freedom. Advancing the gospel was more important to Paul than his own comfort.

II. Nothing can stop the gospel from advancing

So that’s the first truth I want us to get from these verses this morning: Nothing is more important than advancing the gospel. But there is a second truth here I want to make sure we don’t miss, and that is that nothing can stop the gospel from advancing.

Here Paul is in prison. He is chained to a Roman guard. He can no longer come and go as he pleases. There are people outside who are trying to stir up trouble for him within. And yet the gospel continued to go forth. And what I want you to see is that God continued to advance the gospel, not in spite of Paul’s circumstances, but actually through his circumstances.

   A. God wants to use your present life circumstances as a platform to advance the gospel

Now, listen carefully to what I say next. This is so important. God wants to use your present life circumstances as a platform to advance the gospel. God is in control, and whatever your lot in life may be, God wants to use your present life circumstances as a platform to advance the gospel. You may be the CEO of a major company or a day laborer or currently unemployed. You may be an older person living in a retirement home or a teenager in school. You may be single, widowed or divorced, or the mother of young children at home. You may be strong and healthy or confined to a sick bed. It doesn’t matter. Whatever your life circumstances, you can share the gospel where you are. And not only that, God has put you where you are right now in order for you to share the gospel. You may never get the same opportunities again.

When we first moved back to Florida, I found myself working for Verizon and my son, Sam, was playing basketball for Westminster Academy. Now Sam loves basketball. He had always been a starter and got lots of playing time, but for a number of reasons he found himself sitting on the bench at Westminster. Which of course was very frustrating to him. And I remember talking with him after a game where he hadn’t played much and telling him: “Sam, I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been in pastoral ministry for 25 years, and all of a sudden I find myself sitting on the bench too. I don’t know why God has put us both on the bench, but I know we are here for a reason, and God wants to use us both, right where we are, for his kingdom.” We both took that to heart, and Sam found great opportunities to provide team leadership and encouragement from the bench, and I found great opportunities to share the gospel with clients and co-workers at Verizon.

Ever feel like God has put you on the bench? Know that you are there for a reason. It’s all a matter of gospel perspective. Think about Paul in prison chained to a Roman soldier. Where you or I would probably have seen the chains, Paul saw someone with whom he could share Christ. It’s the same way with you. God wants to use your present life circumstances as a platform to advance the gospel.

   B. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16)

Nothing can stop the gospel, because the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) When you share Christ with someone, you never know how God is going to use that. They may come to Christ that very day, or maybe you are planting a seed that will grow into faith later on. But either way you are advancing the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.

CONCLUSION: Let me end with one last story. Cal Thomas, who is a syndicated columnist and frequent guest commentator on the various news shows, shares about when he went to Hong Kong back in 1997 to write about the British handover of that city to the mainland government. While he was there, he had the opportunity to visit with the pastor of one of the largest house churches, a man in his 70’s who went by the name Pastor Lamb. Pastor Lamb told Cal that he had spent over half his life in prison for preaching the gospel. Cal asked him if the government officials still came by to observe his activities. “Not so much now,” he replied. “Why not?” Cal asked. “Because,” he said, “every time they threw me in prison, the church grew.” (June 2013 issue of Tabletalk magazine)

Nothing is more important than advancing the gospel. Nothing can stop the gospel from advancing. God calls you to share the gospel in whatever life situation he has placed you. Let us be faithful in sharing the gospel together.

© Ray Fowler

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