At times we look at our world and even our own lives and feel that the darkness is winning and that God is losing. It is at these moments we must return to the past works of God and the promises of God for the future. It is as we put on the lenses of scripture that things become clearer as we face the challenges of this world.
Join us today as we worship our God who has shown time and time again, that even in the darkness of our world, nothing can stop the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
As we consider the next verses in Philippians 1 let us recount the situation. The Apostle Paul, 10 years before, had been used by God to lead the effort that resulted in a new church in Philippi. He was their spiritual father. He now was in prison in Rome and the church in Philippi sent a messenger, name Epaphroditus, to bring him financial support as well as a report on how the church in Philippi was doing.
The book of Philippians is the letter that Paul wrote in response, to the church in Philippi. In the first verses of Philippians 1 Paul spoke of his gratitude and his love for the Philippians who continued to support him in the work of the gospel. Paul then prayed that the love of Christ which dwelled within them would abound towards one another.
Paul then continued with these verses.
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)
Paul writes wanting to let the Philippians know about his situation. Surely they were shocked when they heard that Paul was in prison in Rome. First of all because he was a good man who was guilty of nothing more than sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Secondly, how could God allow such an important missionary and early church leader to be put in prison and removed from the advancement of the gospel? Paul is writing to assure them that God is still working and that Paul is exactly where God wants and needs him to be. They needed to understand that what had happened to Paul might have appeared to stop God´s work, but in reality it was serving to advance God´s kingdom.
William Barclay shares how the word “advance” that Paul used here was the word that was often used to describe those who would go ahead and prepare the way for an army. They would be the ones to cut down all trees, brush and undergrowth so an army could advance unhindered. To most it appeared that prison would hinder Paul´s missionary work, but in reality it advanced it and opened the way for even greater ministry.
Let´s take a moment to understand how Paul ended up in prison. In Acts 21 we read that Paul was falsely accused and arrested in Jerusalem. In the following chapters Paul´s life was so endangered that eventually he appealed his case to Caesar. As a Roman citizen that meant that he was put on a ship, accompanied by soldiers and escorted to Rome where he would present his case to Caesar. After a long journey which included a violent storm and a shipwreck Paul finally arrived in Rome where he was put in prison under a type of house arrest.
He was being held in Rome by the Praetorian or Imperial Guard which were Caesar´s most elite soldiers and Caesar´s personal guards. The Praetorian Guard were housed in buildings on Palatine Hill, connected to the emperor´s palace. Paul’s imprisonment was not a strict confinement but a kind of house arrest that allowed for visitors that came often as we see in Acts 28:17, 23.
In both Acts 28:20 and Eph. 6:20, Paul was described as being “bound in chains.” This Greek word for chains was, “halusis.” It was a short chain with which the wrist of the prisoner would be chained to the wrist of a soldier. Acts 28:30 tells us that Paul remained in prison for two years in Rome. This would have allowed the rotating guards the opportunity to listen to countless sermons, prayers, lessons and songs that Paul was allowed to share with his many visitors. The guards would have noted his character, his Spirit and the gospel.
Many of us are “chained” to others as well. Not literally chained, but there are some who have to be us on a daily basis because of our arrangement at work or school.
In Philippians 4:21-23, we see another example of God using Paul to advance the kingdom in incredible ways. Paul writes, “all the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.” While Paul was in prison the Gospel had infiltrated Caesar´s household which would have included Caesar´s family, servants, slaves, soldiers, craftsman and officials. Somehow through the network of relationships the gospel had traveled from Paul and taken root in the palace, the home of Caesar.
Paul´s story was an encouragement to those in Philippi. If God was powerful enough to open a way for the gospel into the household of the emperor of Rome, surely He could open doors for them to share as well. As Paul had declared of the gospel in Colossians 1:6, “in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing.”
As summarized by William Barclay, “The Church which at the beginning of Acts could be numbered in scores cannot now be numbered in tens of thousands. The story of the crucified man of Nazareth had swept across the world in its conquering course until now without interference it is being preached in Rome, the capital of the world. The gospel had reached the center of the world and was being freely proclaimed." (William Barclay, The Acts Of The Apostles, p. 193).
This was not all. During his time in prison Paul wrote the books of Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon. Paul´s missionary work bore much fruit, but nothing compared to the harvest that continues through his writing in scripture that we now have, 2000 years later. Much of this would likely never have been written if Paul had not been confined to prison for those two years. As Joseph said in Genesis 50:20, to his brothers who had years before sold him into slavery, “What you intended for evil God intended for good.” This is the power and the work of our God who work s all things for good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)
In verse 14 Paul then tells of how other believers had become more confident in God and more bold in their witness as they heard what God was doing in Paul´s situation in prison. May we be encouraged as well.
Be not afraid as you carry the light of Christ into a dark world. Ultimately God is the Opener of doors, the Revealer of truth, the Convictor of sin and the Author of faith. The advancement of the kingdom does not depend on us, it depends on God. He merely asks us to join Him where He is working.
In these verses you see that nothing will stop the advancement of the kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God is sovereign enough and creative enough to be able to get the gospel beyond any obstacle. Not even fiction writers or movie directors could have come up with this kind of strategy to get the gospel into the very palace of Caesar.
What seems at first as a bad event that is stopping the spread of the gospel, God then shows to be good, multiplying Paul’s proclamation of the gospel. God´s creative sovereignty is boundless as He moves His kingdom forward.
We see the unstoppable spiritual tsunami of Christ spoken of at the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday (Luke 19:40). The crowds were massive as they cheered Jesus on and sang songs claiming Him as the promised Messiah. There were Pharisees who were watching the event take place. They rejected the claims of Christ’s being the Messiah and called for him to rebuke the praises of the people. They told Jesus to rebuke his disciples but He responded with these words, “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Jesus is of infinite worth. His name will ring throughout the halls of heaven for eternity. The names that our world exalts will be forgotten and fade into the past but the name of Jesus will resound forever. The praise of God’s people cannot be silenced.
As we read in Romans 1:20 the characteristics of the Creator can be seen by looking at His creation. Psalm 19 tells us
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
The praises to God cannot be silenced by governments, by sword, by threats, or by fear. The people of God proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ will continue, unstoppable, until Christ returns. . . and that will only be the beginning. In heaven all other glories will be silenced and only Jesus Christ will be exalted.
Persecution cannot silence it. Not in Northern Nigeria, not in Iran, not in China, not in North Korea, or anywhere else violence and intimidation is brought against the followers of Jesus Christ. God’s Word proclaims and history confirms that the Gospel will continue to advance until Christ returns.
Even apathy will not stop the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the glory of God. One can see that throughout church history when the churches began to drift away from God and His Word, God called out to those who “had ears to hear” and used them to carry the name of Christ to its desired goal. We see this in Martin Luther and the Reformation, German Pietism, the Moravians, the Mennonite brethren, and the Methodists. Even Baptists came about as a group of believers who clung to God’s Word when the church had turned away from it. God will continue to always raise up a people who will give Him praise above all others. Be encouraged, nothing can stop the advancement of God´s kingdom.
1 Chronicles 29:11 declares, "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all."
Psalm 33:8-11 proclaims, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. 10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
In Matthew 16 we see the story of Jesus asking his disciples who they think He is. Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then responds how this truth of who He is, is the rock on which He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Be encouraged. Nothing can stop the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
In following verses Paul continues.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
If things were not already bad enough, Paul now writes how some had begun to preach the gospel for the wrong motives. Some were jealous of Paul, others wanted to compete with him. Maybe it was for power, recognition, or for personal glory. We see the same today. People preaching the gospel for the wrong reasons, but yet Paul did not allow the petty things of this world to allow him to lose his eternal focus.
Let´s pause for a moment and realize that it is possible to preach the right gospel but with the wrong motive. Paul was not talking here of false teachers. He was talking of people who were preaching the true gospel but were serving a selfish agenda. Whether it be for their own glory, or for the sake of competition, or wanting to prove how spiritual they were, they were preaching the right words of the gospel, but it was not flowing from a heart for the gospel.
At times we might share the gospel with the wrong motive as well. Maybe we share out of pride or guilt, or trying to make God love us more even though He already loves us fully, or maybe you want to win the debate, or maybe it is to show how spiritual we are or somehow for our own glory or clean conscience. Let us be sensitive to this issue and ask God to give us a pure heart as we share the gospel. That the love with which we share the gospel would merely be an overflow of the love found in the gospel and that as we share they would see Jesus, not only in the content, but also in the manner in which we present the gospel.
Paul writes that some were preaching the gospel because of envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition, seeking to somehow afflict him during his time of imprisonment. It was like kicking a man when he is already down. It would have been bad enough if it was someone from the world, but it was someone claiming to be in Christ who sought to compete and discredit Paul. It is in these types of situation that we need to go back to scripture for a proper perspective.
In Ephesians 6 we read that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but, “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Those are our true adversaries. But how often are we tempted to battle against flesh and blood that we can see? Who would you say you are tempted to view as enemies? Your boss? Your neighbor? The coworker who mocks your faith or takes credit for your work? Those who believe or live differently than you? Even amongst God´s people we are tempted to do the same.
But even when Paul is attacked by others he is able to put aside the distraction and keep his focus on Christ. He holds his joy high and rejoices that even in the midst difficulties with others at least the gospel of Christ was still proclaimed. That is how Paul is joyful in the midst of prison and defamation. His joy is in the gospel and Paul knows that nothing can stop the advancement of the kingdom of God. The gospel will prevail.
We find another example of joy in the book of Habakkuk who was a prophet to Judah in the Old Testament. Judah had turned away from God. God brought the pagan nation of Babylon to conquer the people of Judah. It resulted in extreme suffering, but in the midst of it all Habbakuk´s confidence was in God and the eventual plan that God would bring about. Habbakuk then wrote these words.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
How is joy mentioned in that last verse even possible? Where does the ability to say that come from? Though I lose everything yet will I rejoice in God. Habakkuk had become utterly convinced that God was trustworthy. That God was in control. And that his eternal God would lead His people to an end where God and those who belong to Him would be vindicated and things would be made right. This type of joy realizes the circumstances of the present but clings to the goodness of God and the final outcome.
In scripture joy is rooted in God. Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Regardless of the external circumstances around us we are called to a joy that comes from God’s Spirit within us. The biblical joy cannot be taken away by external circumstances because does not come from external circumstances. It is above circumstance. Psalm 5:11 conveys this God-centered joy. “Let all those that put their trust in You rejoice.” Psalm 16:11 declares that ”in Your presence is fullness of joy.” That is the joy that Habakkuk knew.
This God-centered joy that rests in the promised advancement of the kingdom of God is what we see of Christ in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. “ Christ could already see the future when the salvation of people from every tribe and tongue would result in eternal fellowship with God. It was the ultimate example of delayed gratification where Christ endured the humiliation of the cross because He was focused on something so much more joyous.
That is how the story will end. That is our confidence as we seek to advance the Kingdom of God.
Regardless of how your life is going right now, as children of God, we can never forget that we are not of this world, but our day of vindication is coming. It will be a day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Where the struggles of this world will pass away. When Christ will come back to claim us as His own. Faith will no longer be necessary because we will see Him face to face.
“God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Romans 21:4-7) Jesus promises us that He will make everything new. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
It will be our eternal happy ending when that glorious day arrives. Today may we plead with God to grow our faith, humble our hearts, and grant us joy as we wait for His return. May we walk in holiness and fix our eyes on the gospel, rising above the trifles of this world, confident that we will prevail.
If God was able to use Paul in prison to usher the Kingdom of God into the household of Caesar can He not use us to usher the Kingdom of God into our homes, our workplace, our neighborhood and our friendships. One might argue, “but I am not the Apostle Paul!” Don’t be discouraged. The advancement of God does not depend on our power. It depends on our availablility and obedience. We are merely a conduit of God’s work. God is all powerful. So, stand encouraged. Live the love of Jesus. Proclaim the love of Jesus. Nothing can stop the advancement of the kingdom of God.