Advancement Through Adversity – Part 1
“12Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14and 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.” (Philippians 1:12-14 NASB)
If you are a student of Scripture, you know that suffering, trials and tribulations will occur for the believer as promised by our Lord, Jesus Christ. As we continue to walk obediently, we will incur trouble because we stand against the world. 2 Timothy 3:12 tells us, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” During Jesus’ last moments with the original disciples before His arrest, He reemphasized that following Him would bring persecution, but not to fear. “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This was precisely the case for the Apostle Paul as well. Jesus sent word through Ananias to Paul in Acts 9:15-16 concerning how much he would suffer for being a believer.
After exhorting the Philippians to grow in their love, etc. (vv 9-11), he wants to encourage them by telling them how the gospel is still being preached despite his circumstances. At the time of writing, Paul was falsely imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel. What was an attempt to arrest the spreading of the gospel, actually worked to advance the gospel. What looked like a tragedy really was a victory. Ponder the crucifixion of Christ. Ponder Joseph’s imprisonment. It is important to understand how God uses trials and sufferings in the life of the believer for their maturity and His purposes, which include reaching the lost. It is in the midst of these times that without His perspective, we can lose hope or become despondent or apathetic. In these times we must understand the character and promises of God by turning to the Scriptures.
I imagine the Philippians might have wondered how Paul was doing spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally and I’m sure this letter greatly comforted and encouraged them. Paul’s focus wasn’t on the injustice of the Roman government or his personal discomfort of being chained to a Roman soldier. Instead, vv12-13 tells us that this situation was used to spread the gospel to the Praetorian Guard and everyone else. The Praetorian Guard consisted of at least 1,000 men! God graciously and sovereignly sent rain on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45) Paul’s imprisonment afforded the gospel to be proclaimed to a people who might not have heard the gospel in any other circumstance.
Not only did his imprisonment afford the gospel to be preached, but also it encouraged and strengthened the brethren in the vicinity to proclaim the gospel without fear. (v14) In spite of his circumstances, Paul had joy. I believe this is what emboldened other believers to preach the gospel. To fully grasp the significance of what Paul is saying, we must understand the times. During Paul’s imprisonment Christian persecution in Rome was increasing under the emperorship of Nero. Nero’s volatile character usually resulted in a very quieted evangelistic approach for the believers in Rome. So this response was quite the opposite of what was expected.
Here Paul is imprisoned and chained for being a Christian, yet the gospel still advances. That’s the true prosperity gospel, not that which is propagated widely today. For the health and wealth prosperity gospel, which distorts God’s true gospel can’t biblically explain suffering, sacrifice or even martyrdom. But the Bible tells us that through suffering Jesus learned obedience (Hebrews 5:8) and was perfected. Even so, our journey to glory will include adversity. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:21-22) which we were destined for. (1 Thessalonians 3:3)
Be joyful and patient in affliction and adversity, as it is one of God’s means to refine you and prove to the world that God is truly our treasure! This advances the kingdom! Paul had this perspective. Do we?