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God’s Deeper Purposes: Unusually Advancing the Gospel
Gospel progress and growth progress no matter the circumstances
Philippians 1:12 to 14
Have you ever taken the time to go to the mall, sit on a bench and watch people? Look at their faces–you can see the emptiness, sadness and lifeless eyes. Worse is to look at what really happens at a casino. I walked through one overseas and it is the exact opposite of all the commercials. Instead of happiness, joy and smiles, it’s cigarettes, frowns and suspicion.
Sadly, even Christians can look like basset hounds. It’s almost as if some of us were baptized in vinegar. Often our trouble is we think life has to be perfect for us to be happy. We think if we could just change our circumstances, then we’d be happy. If we had no problems, then we could face life. The difficulty with that line of thinking is this–it’s impossible. Happiness only comes from happenings, so in order to be happy you must have a constant supply of good happenings.
But friends, if that’s what you want out of life, you’re going to be very unhappy. In fact, as a Christian to live that way is to live no different from the world. Non-Christians are the ones who go from fun event to the next fun event seeking happiness. They move from sex to the latest movie–from marriage to children, from house to cool car to big vacations. But the rest of their life, the majority of their life when something isn’t happening, is empty.
God has a better plan for the Christian. Whereas happiness is external, joy is internal and is not dependent upon circumstances. Happiness is a trip to Disneyland. But joy is continually with you, as you live in Christ. Paul knew the secret of joy in Christ. And as he continues writing to the Philippians, now in verse 12 and following, he shares with us how to be joyful no matter what. He tells us what his consuming passion is, and how it brings him joy no matter what is happening in his life. Turn to Philippians 1 and follow along in your outline.
You ask, “Well you don’t know my problems, Chris! My situation is terrible. How can I be joyful no matter what? I’m under some horrible circumstances.” My question is this, “What are you doing under there?” If you’re a Christian, our Lord has a better place for you to be. If you think your circumstances are difficult, remember what Paul has been going through.
He was arrested unjustly. He narrowly escaped a plot to kill him. He’s locked in prison for two years in Caesarea. Finally he’s shipped to Nero for trial, but on the way there he was shipwrecked and bitten by a snake when he finally makes it to shore–how nice. Finally when he gets to Rome, he’s confined under house arrest for two more years, during which time he’s continually chained to a guard, awaiting an uncertain future of execution or release.
For five years, Paul’s been out of the action, which has prompted some Christians to suggest that Paul is all washed up and his ministry was over. Yet in spite of all these horrible circumstances and hurtful criticisms, as Paul says in 1:18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.”
Paul says, “I have real joy.” That’s impressive–how could Paul say that? What was Paul’s secret to joy in the midst of difficult circumstances? How did he remain such a positive person, delighting in his difficulties, triumphing in his troubles? What was the driving force behind his joy? As Paul shares his situation with the Philippians in verses 12 to 14, he’ll model how to be joyful no matter what.
Before we do, let me describe the overall picture. The next major section of Philippians includes verses 12 to 26. This is where Paul shares about his personal situation and reflects on his imprisonment and its outcome. He talks about what is happening to him presently and what may happen to him in the future.
Paul sees his present situation in verses 12 to 18 as advancing the Gospel. Paul sees his future situation in verses 19 to 26 as glorifying Christ and building up the Philippians. There is one word that defines this entire section–that is the word “progress”. Look at verse 12 then verse 25–they are the bookends of this next section.
Verse 12, “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” And verse 25, “And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.” Paul says, no matter what’s going on around me, I rejoice because progress is being made–the Gospel progresses and your growth in Christ progresses. So whether I live or die, whether I’m slandered or praised, jailed or released, God is being glorified.
This section tells us Paul’s secret to joy. His focus is not on his circumstances, but on Christ and the Gospel. Paul says, “Hey, it doesn’t matter if I have to play nose guard the entire game, as long as my team wins. I don’t care if I am chained up at home with six kids, as long as they grow up to impact the world for Christ. I don’t care if I am shackled to my work as long as I can support the work of Christ around the world financially. It doesn’t matter if I am tied to this hospital bed, as long as I can share Christ and show Him off.”
Paul is going to tell us in verses 12 to 14 that all the “bad” that’s happened in the last five years was good, since Christ was being made known to unbelievers. And Christians now have more courage to speak of Christ to unbelievers. I have great joy because the passion of my life is being fulfilled. What makes you tick? What drives you? Sharing Christ ought to be central in your heart. Which actually is the overall key to a joyful heart. How are we to find joy in the midst of difficult times? By . . .
#1 Passionately PURSUING God’s purposes
Notice in verse 12 and following, even though it’s a highly personal section, Paul hardly talks about himself. One, because Epaphroditus will fill the Philippians in on all the details about Paul and two, because Paul is so focused on advancing the Gospel, he doesn’t care about himself. Verse 12, “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.”
If you’re going to rise above your circumstances, you’ve got to get your eyes off yourself and onto Christ. Ingrown eyeballs result in the loss of joy. You lose your joy when you look at anything or anyone other than Christ. And you’re sure to sink if you take your eyes off of Christ and put them on the waves of your problems–just ask Peter.
In 2 Corinthians 5:15 Paul reminds us, “And He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” You don’t live for you, for your issues, your problems or your circumstances. You live for Christ. If you are a real Christian, then in Matthew 16:24 Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” A true Christian denies self, dies to self and follows only Christ. And joy is only found in living for Him. How can you stop looking at your problems?
1 Live by faith and not fear
Many won’t, because they refuse to live by truth instead of emotion. They won’t take God at his Word and say, “Lord, I will act on your truth and not listen to the fears or doubts in my heart. I take my stand on truth, not my terror.”
2 Rely upon some key promises of Scripture
Carry your quiet time with you throughout the day through meditation, memorization, reminders and accountability relationships.
3 Busy yourself with God’s purposes
Reaching the lost and building up Christians. Don’t just go to work, go to witness and build up believers. Don’t just care for kids, share Christ to them and to others throughout the day.
4 Remember, with Christ there are no accidents
Jesus never goofs–your problems have a purpose.
Look carefully at verse 12, phrase by phrase, so we can determine Paul’s intended meaning as Paul begins to expose his heart and God’s unique will. “Now I want you to know”–this is like when we say, “Let me tell you what is really going on. You’ve been hearing I’m in prison chained to a guard, but God has been at work in some incredible ways. Let me give you the straight scoop.”
Paul says, “I can’t wait to share this with you, brethren.” Paul calls them brethren, reminding the Philippians and us we are in the same family because of the work of Christ in making us God’s sons and daughters through adoption. Paul wants to tell his family what’s really going on. By implication he says, “You’ve heard I’m in chains, which from a human perspective would seemingly stop the ministry of the Gospel. But God has used my chains to actually advance the ministry of the Gospel through me–it’s the reverse of what you might expect.”
Paul’s main concern here, as a mature man of God, is to help the Philippians not be overly concerned about him because of his circumstances. So he tells them his situation has actually turned out great. He refers to “my circumstances”–literally, “the things concerning me.” All the stuff that tends to turn the focus on me has actually turned the focus on Christ.
Verse 12, “have turned out” is a main verb in the paragraph, so it tells us Paul’s main point. God took a difficult situation and caused it to turn out for good. He literally says, “My trials in the past have turned out for the advancement of the Gospel, and they’re currently turning out for the progress of the Gospel.”
“Turning out” means to come or go. So Paul is saying all those tough times are going God’s way. My imprisonment is helping others come to Christ. The word “greater” is more or most. Instead of lessening his impact for Christ, Paul’s house arrest has increased it. The word “progress” is from a root meaning to cut forward, with the imagery of cutting your way through the jungle to make a path in spite of the obstacles. God has caused my circumstances to cut a path for the Gospel through the jungle of Roman pagan thinking. As I’m passionately pursuing God’s purpose, all this difficulty has turned out for God’s glory.
If Paul were fighting God, questioning his situation in jail, he’d be missing the joy. But because of his choice to focus on Christ over his circumstances and set his sail for God’s purposes, then instead of the storm of his circumstances sinking his life, it actually blows him toward accomplishing his life’s passion–the proclamation of the Gospel bringing him joy.
What is the Gospel? It means good news, the joyful truth of how God has provided a way for sinners to be forgiven through Christ. Because it’s been distorted and cheapened in our day, it needs some clarification. The good news is only for those who . . .
#1 Fully admit their total corruption because of their own sin
#2 Fully admit there’s only one cure for sin, the work of Christ on the cross
#3 Fully comply, by the work of God, in total dependent faith and directional repentance
#4 Demonstrate their salvation is real by a sold out, willing heart and obvious fruit
The Gospel transforms and delivers those it touches from sin. People don’t turn over a new leaf, they receive a totally new life. They don’t get religion, they enter into a relationship. They don’t merely know about Christ, He lives in them. This is Paul’s meat and potatoes. Or as my close Asian friend says, “It’s Paul’s rice & bowl”–the Gospel is the staple that fed his appetite. It’s the passion that drove his choices. The Gospel is the very beat of Paul’s heart.
He desired everyone to hear the message of absolute truth, the good news for a broken world, the only route to be right with God. The Gospel is the path to internal transformation, the only way to Heaven, the only escape from Hell. The Gospel is the only door to know, love and enjoy God. And the Gospel is the only path that leads to inexpressible joy now and joy everlasting in Heaven.
Paul wants to make sure his friends in Philippi clearly understand how his difficult circumstances have affected the Gospel. To his delight and perhaps his surprise, his last five years have actually advanced the Gospel. Paul was in chains, but the Gospel was loose—free. And the Gospel fire spread in two major ways.
First Making Christ known to UNBELIEVERS
Read verse 13, “So that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.” With the first two words of verse 13, Paul connects this verse to the previous one, showing how the Gospel has advanced. Paul’s house arrest had a dramatic affect on unbelievers. Paul says it’s clear to all who’ve had any association with him, that his imprisonment, literally his chains, has to do with Christ and the message of Christ, the Gospel, the good news.
Verse 13 says, “in the cause of Christ”–that’s not on behalf of Christ or for Christ, but literally in Christ. By stating it in just that way, Paul is saying, “I’m in chains because I am a man in Christ, and my chains are in part a demonstration of one who is participating in the sufferings of Christ Himself because I am in Christ.”
Paul’s imprisonment in Christ is nothing short of amazing. God takes five years, where it appears to all that Paul has been set aside, yet God uses him to impact the most influential people in the entire Roman Empire. Again verse 13 says, “My imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.”
NASB says, “Praetorian Guard,” KJV says, “in all the palace,” and NIV says, “whole palace guard.” So is Paul referring to a palace or to a group of soldiers? Since there’s no Praetorian in Rome, and no governor’s palace, then it is best to see Paul describing a special, elite group of soldiers. This is incredible.
Paul would have loved to come to Rome and preach the Gospel to the entire Coliseum. Do you realize what God did? God put him under house arrest for two years so he’d write the New Testament and so Paul could reach the unreachable. God has a plan for your life you can’t see. But one day when you look back on your life, you’ll marvel at God’s wisdom, just like you do when you look at Paul under house arrest.
For two years, every four hours Paul is chained to a different guard. These praetorian guards were the elite soldiers of Rome. They were the private soldiers of Caesar himself. They were a cross between a modern day Navy Seal and a CIA agent who functions as a body guard to the President. Caesar personally chose these soldiers Himself. They were the highest paid soldiers in the Roman Empire during that time.
They retired after twelve to sixteen years, most often becoming the leaders in Rome. These were the men who became the future senators, businessmen and community leaders of Rome. There was not a more strategic group Paul could witness to, in order to reach the entire Roman Empire. Paul was arrested, but God was mightily at work. Get this–God put Paul in Rome, let Nero foot the bill, then chained him to a future leader of Rome, and did so one soldier every four hours.
Let me ask you–who do you think the real prisoner was? I can hear those men saying, “Get me outta here–this guy is trying to convert me.” Verse 13 says the whole Praetorian Guard was Paul’s prisoners, chained to him to hear the Gospel. In two years, if Paul had a different soldier chained to him every four hours, then he witnessed to 4,380 future leaders of Rome. Of course many were repeats, but still Paul had over 4,380 witnessing opportunities to the leadership of the Roman Empire. That’s over one quarter of the total number of guards.
Plus they watched him live, sleep, write the New Testament and be filled with the Spirit. They heard him share with friends, pray for them, praise God, and so much more. Remember, Paul is writing to Philippi–a place where a famous Roman battle was fought in the past. Remember Brutus and Cassius who killed Julius Caesar? Caesar’s heirs, Mark Antony and Octavian confronted the assassins of Caesar in a final battle to finish the rebellion created by the assassination. And the battle was right here in Philippi. After this battle, thousands of soldiers started their retirement right here in Philippi, including many Praetorian. As a result, the Philippians were totally tied into the Roman military and would be rejoicing over this news.
The Praetorian Guard also, by their very nature, had an inside track to the Emperor and to the Empire. Listen to Paul in Philippians 4:22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” History tells us members of Nero’s family became believers. And history declares that Nero killed his wife, mother and children because they became believers.
How did it happen? Because of Paul. That’s what I call a “chained reaction”. Paul had a “captive audience”. Good, you’re awake. Paul didn’t look at the chain, or the way it rubbed his wrist raw, he focused on the opportunity chained to the other end–the Praetorian who needed Christ. As a result, verse 13 says Paul had “become well known”–Paul literally got a reputation. He was the “talk of the town”.
For it wasn’t only the guards who heard the Word, but verse 13 ends with, “and to everyone else.” Literally, “all the remaining”–Paul was headline news. Paul’s influence went far beyond Caesar’s palace. Today everyone wants to know what’s going on in the White House. We’re even curious about what’s going on in Buckingham Palace.
So the news of Paul’s message, the good news of Christ, spread to all who had dealings with imperial affairs–anyone who had contact with the royal family, all who were tied into the Praetorian Guard, and anyone interested in the palace. The entire city of Rome was hearing about the Gospel. Are you catching what this means to the 1st century reader, to the church in Philippi, and to Paul?
This is slam dunk joy, an amazing triumph, and a ha-ha-ha-hallelujah celebration victory dance. Picture it–you live in Rome or Philippi, which is a full-fledged Roman colony that follows Caesar as lord. You’ve been put in prison for following Christ as Lord. The Philippians, whom you’re writing to, are also suffering for following Christ as Lord.
Yet as you read what Paul writes, what you are reading is the Lordship of Christ over Caesar is already making itself felt through the power of the Gospel into the very heart and leadership of Roman political life. Even Nero’s own family is following Jesus as Lord, over Nero as lord. And this is an “in your face” Ho-Ho-Hosanna to those who tried to silence Paul in the first place. The very thing they hoped would quiet Paul—imprisonment actually made the Gospel known throughout the leadership of the entire Roman Empire.
And I think there is at least one family in Philippi who must have cracked up and shouted with joy when they read this verse. The Philippian jailer must have said, “There he goes again, Paul is turning jail time into an evangelistic outreach event. I just love that man!” So Paul says, “I am in prison, but so what?! Unbelievers are hearing the good news.”
There was no human way anyone was going to reach the leaders of Rome or household of Caesar with the Gospel. So God designed the perfect solution–put Paul in prison, chained to the future leaders of Rome, who are also the bodyguards of Caesar and his family. Can you see how this should minister to your own heart? If you pursue God’s priorities first, if you want to glorify God, if you want Christ exalted above all–then whatever you’re going through is also an opportunity to share Christ.
Going through surgery? Have one prayer–Lord glorify yourself, make yourself known, honor yourself and He will.
Problems with your kids? May be the way God will use to bring them to Christ, or use them to bring others to Christ.
Students chained to a desk at school is an opportunity to share the Gospel.
The marriage problems of a co-worker in my old warehouse days opened the door for the Gospel.
Enjoying my wife on a date night opened the door for the Gospel.
We can have joy through difficult circumstances as we see the Gospel progress to the unbelieving world. But it didn’t stop there–Paul was also rejoicing because his difficult circumstances were also . . .
Second Encouraging BELIEVERS to speak God’s Word to the LOST with courage
Look at verse 14, “and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Not only did Paul’s imprisonment dramatically affect non-believers, but also it wonderfully affected the Christian community in Rome too. His imprisonment for the cause of Christ didn’t drive the Christians into “the catacombs of secrecy”–but it did spur them on to aggressive action for Christ.
Even though Paul would prefer to evangelize freely, he rejoices that his “arresting curtailment” was used by God to prod others to speak out boldly. Look carefully at what Paul says. The majority of the Christians in Rome are speaking up. In verse 15 Paul describes a few genuine Christians who were preaching the Gospel correctly, but with wrong motives.
So in verse 14 Paul says, “most of the brethren”, then uses a unique phrase, “trusting in the Lord.” NIV says, “been encouraged,” KJV says, “waxing confident.” The idea is confidence in the Lord–most have been persuaded in the Lord by my imprisonment to speak out courageously about the Word of God. Paul says my imprisonment–literally the instrument of my chains persuaded them to speak confidently about the Gospel to the lost.
You know how this goes–your Roman buddy asks you, “Hey, have you heard about that guy Paul who’s in jail for following Christ? I hear some of the Praetorian are also following this Christ too. What’s this all about anyway? Isn’t that the same Christ you were telling me about?” And at that moment, it’s time to put up or shut up–and most of the Christians were boldly speaking up.
What are we afraid of anyway? Why won’t we speak up for Christ? Answer–not only is our society pagan now, but it’s also anti-Christian. The possibility of jail or attack is real, and the possibility of being labeled is a certainty. One of the greatest threats to Christian courage in our day is the fear we will be labeled with scathing names and hurtful associations. We fear being classed with certain fringe groups, being called racist, sexist, homophobic, extremist or fanatic.
I dislike all those terms and don’t want those labels. I prefer to avoid being called those names. And that’s the danger–because we’re afraid of being accused or slandered with words that are spring-loaded to destroy, we remain silent. And if we speak, we try to avoid anything that might allow someone to label us. Which actually takes the truth right out of our “absolute, only one way call for submission, all other religion is wrong, those who are Christ’s live like Christ and are sold out to Christ Gospel.”
Here’s the charge–don’t give into fear. Live by faith. Share the true Gospel. When the label is spoken, tell them they’ve got it all wrong and share about the person of Christ. Then prove to them by the way you love that the label can’t stick.
In contrast to our day, the Roman Christians reacted totally different to the pressure against following Christ. Look at verse 14. They had courage—literally, persuaded. How? Verse 14b, “have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Because of Paul’s imprisonment, they’d taken on an extraordinary boldness, fearlessly proclaiming God’s Word to all who’d listen.
Don’t miss what’s actually happening here. This letter was written in the early 60’s when Nero’s madness was peaking and the church in Rome had begun to fall under suspicion–proven by Nero blaming the burning of Rome on the Christians just a few years later. The Roman believers had been cautiously sharing Christ, but as the Gospel made inroads into the palace and leadership of the Roman Empire through the imprisonment of Paul, the Christians of Rome became lions in witnessing even as persecution was looming on the horizon.
Again, what an encouragement to the Philippian believers who are now experiencing some of the same kind of persecution in their Roman Colony of Philippi. If the Christians in Rome can fearlessly share the Word all the more courageously, then by implication, so can the Roman Christians who live in Philippi. And so can the Christians who live in Wildomar, right? Get this–Paul isn’t emphasizing lifestyle or holiness here, though that’s commanded later.
But here in verse 14, he says their bold fearlessness is seen in how they speak. They talk, they declare, they are open about the Word of God, the cause of Christ and the true Gospel of Christ. Say it, share it and speak it. And what did they speak? Verse 14, “The Word of God,” which parallels Paul’s reference to “the progress of the Gospel” in verse 12, and “the cause of Christ” in verse 13.
In a not so subtle manner, Paul is reminding the Philippians and us to not just talk about church, pastors, preachers, sermons, studies, programs—but to talk to people about the Word of God. Tell them the Bible. Paul charged the Romans in 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
The reason for Paul’s joy is this–his arrest has somehow helped stem fear among the believers in Rome. They’re not only proclaiming Christ all the more, they are doing so fearlessly. How do you gain courage to proclaim Christ?
1 Be filled with the Spirit
2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
2 Own the correct job description
You share, God saves. Sharing the Gospel is what glorifies God, whether someone responds or not. It’s God who saves, it’s people who share.
3 Learn the correct Gospel, the authentic one
Try Ephesians 2:1 to 10 and Mark 10:17 to 27
4 Memorize some opening comments like these
“If you’d like to know the difference between religion and Christianity, let me know.”
“Who, in your opinion, was Jesus Christ?”
“What’s your spiritual background?”
“Where are you heading on your spiritual journey?”
5 Pray for the lost, then pray as you speak to the lost
6 Trust Christ and open your mouth
The furtherance of the Gospel was everything to Paul. This is why he had joy in five years of difficult circumstances. This is how he could rise above his problems and rejoice. He was passionate about God’s purposes over his own. He had died and now Christ lived through him, to show and share the message of how people can be forgiven for all their sins and be justified with God. Joy.
Paul’s under arrest, yet he is able to share the Gospel with the elite of Rome. And because Paul is in prison, the believers of Rome are as bold as lions for Christ. Most did it right, but a few did it wrong. To find out which one you are, come back next week. In conclusion . . .
First If you need to restore your JOY, then . . .
1 Live in the spirit
Live dependent not independent
2 Stop sinning
Don’t actively or passively remain in obvious disobedience to the Word of God
3 Refuse to remain attached to the comforts of this world
4 Pursue God’s purposes with all your heart
5 Look at Christ and not the waves of problems around you
Second If you need to increase your BOLDNESS, then . . .
1 Walk in the Spirit
Be dependently filled every day
2 Keep short accounts with God
Let no sin issue remain unresolved
3 Live by faith
By stepping out of your comfort zone
By serving when you don’t have the time or energy
By giving when you don’t have it to give
By sharing when you don’t have the words to speak
It is time for some radical, God-centered risk-taking. Share the Gospel! Some of us are way too comfortable–we need to break out of our deeply ingrained habits of timidity, silence and fear. We need to be set free from long-established anxieties of ruffling feathers or being made fun of. We need to be freed to speak the truth in love without looking over our shoulder at the ridicule that follows. Joy comes when we speak out. So be bold.
Third If you need to be more PASSIONATE, then
1 Rekindling your first love with Christ from Revelation 2:1-7
2 Recognize how lost people are without Christ
Watch them until your heart breaks for them
3 Let the reality of Heaven and Hell impact you
Joy comes with passion
Fourth If you need to strengthen your TRUST, then
1 Believe God is in control over people and over all the events of your life
You forgot what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
2 Focus on Christ through your trial
Don’t look at the waves of your problems
3 Expect Christ to open doors for you to glorify Him through your difficulty
Fifth If you find yourself not SUBMISSIVE to Christ, then
1 Not saved–all those who are in Christ follow Christ
John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice . . . and they follow Me”
John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
2 Not transformed in heart and need to be born again by God
3 Cry out for Christ to open your heart–ask for mercy
Plead with Christ to save you from your sins. Let’s pray. Salvation and boldness equals joy!