The question before us is, can your difficulties advance the gospel? Can you Imagine if you came to church this morning and rather than being greeted at the door and coming in. Instead, you found the doors of the church were barred shut. You came and found military police outside this church and you were told that the authority of the government closed down this church. Their explanation, we no longer want the Baptist church in this city. We do not like the evangelical witness this church is bringing. We do not like you doing visitation and sharing the gospel. We are not happy with the doctrines preached in the church. We do not want Jesus Christ preached.
Could you imagine if you experienced that? What would happen? Probably what would happen is we would return to our homes and begin to call each other by telephone. We would even call those who were not normally involved in this church. By the time the evening service time came there would be throngs of people turning out crying, you cannot stop me from my freedom to worship. I am going on ahead so don’t try to stop me. The difficulties would advance the gospel.
People who thought they could shut our doors would have only stirred our boldness. They would have fueled more testimony for Jesus Christ. That kind of situation happened in the first century church with the Apostle Paul. They threw the Apostle Paul in prison thinking they could stop the advancement of the gospel. According to Paul this only blazed a trail for the preaching of the Gospel. Difficulties can advance the gospel!
Isn’t it exciting to consider that our personal difficulties are advancing the cause of Christ! There are two kinds of difficulties that can be experienced. One we can call internal difficulties and the other external difficulties. Take the example of a family. An internal difficulty is when a husband and wife are having difficulties or a father and son not getting along. These kinds of internal difficulties will break a family apart. But an external difficulty, loss of a job or a tragedy, will bring the family together. They pull the family together and cause closeness. These external difficulties can strengthen the family.
This same dynamic can take place in a church family as well. When there are internal difficulties, with turmoil and struggling amongst themselves it can ruin a church. When the difficulties come from outside and someone is trying to bear down on the church it can bring us together and unite us. These external difficulties actually advance the cause of the gospel.
I) God used Paul’s circumstances to advance the Gospel. Vs 12
In verse 12 Paul tells us that his difficulties advanced the Gospel. He says, “I want you to know brothers that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.” Paul uses that phrase, “I want you to know.” In other words Paul is referring to something that would not normally be self-evident. What you think would happen, exactly the opposite has happened. You would think when the great leader, the Apostle Paul is thrown into prison and can’t go out and preach the gospel that it would hinder the cause of Christ.
That is what you think would be true, but actually Paul is saying, it may not be self-evident, but the opposite has happened. Because of my imprisonment the gospel is being proclaimed more. This is ironic, because the people that imprisoned Paul did so because they wanted to hinder the cause of the gospel. This very thing they did to hinder the gospel is causing advancement to the gospel.
Paul says His troubles have served to advance the gospel. The word advance in the Greek is a word that was used as a military term. If those in the military needed to advance their troops they sent someone on ahead. They are sent to blaze a trail, to clear the forest or prepare the mountain. After the preparation the troops could move. Paul is saying his difficulties were like that. They went ahead, they blazed a trail they made the way for the Gospel to be preached. This is what Paul said his difficulties were doing.
Paul had a divine perspective. In other words he was looking at God’s plan, not his own circumstances. If he looked to himself in the prison he could have been discouraged and ready to give up completely. He was looking at God’s plan and how God was using his circumstance of imprisonment. God was using it mightily for people to go out and be bold and to preach the Gospel.
You see Paul is writing this letter to the Philippian church were Paul had gone and done the church planting work there. He is writing this letter to encourage them. You can imagine what Paul’s enemies were probably saying about him in Philippi. They were saying, “Oh you Christians you have this great leader Paul and you thought you were so much when Paul was here. But let me tell you Paul, is through, he is finished. He is in prison so you might as well give up and abandon the faith because your great leader the Apostle Paul is in prison and in chains.”
Paul is writing the Philippians to say, “take heart.” Not only despite the difficulties, but also through the difficulties there was an advancement of the gospel. Because God is all-powerful he could take those events and shape them to be profitable for his own glory.
Paul says, “What happened to me.” He is talking about all the difficulties that had come upon him. Paul had been in prison in Caesarea. Paul had been taken by ship to Rome as a prisoner. On the way there was a great storm. Those in charge of the prisoners were going to kill the prisoners, because of the storm. Paul had a double peril of death on the way.
The ship was wrecked on the island of Malta. He had a poisonous serpent fasten to his arm. All this happened and he was finally taken to the city of Rome and put in prison, waiting there for trial. All these difficulties and Paul could say these served to advance the Gospel. The wicked may plot against God, but God can overrule to make that very plan work to bring himself glory. The obstacle used to hinder the gospel turns out to be the vehicle used to advance the gospel.
Could you imagine in our church if we experienced the kind of difficulty that Paul experienced? Could you imagine that instead of giving a report on the excitement of the progress of our new building we got up here to say the building has been stopped? What if we here a report that there has been a group of pornography dealers and liquor storeowners that have formed a coalition and have stopped our building legally? Could you imagine through all that if we could stand here and say, those wicked plans have proved to advance the gospel? You would hardly believe it if someone were to say something like that could advance the gospel.
But that is the kind of situation that Paul is in, being thrown in prison. Yet God’s overruling circumstances advance the cause of Christ. Paul was warned in Acts 20, the Holy Spirit had told him, that he would experience hardships and imprisonments. You would think Paul’s arrest would hinder the gospel, but it caused the advance of the gospel.
That story of Joseph, where his brothers did wicked things to him is a prime example of difficulties advancing the purposes of God. His brothers were going to kill him, but they sold him into slavery.
They told a lie to their father. They did all these evil things to Joseph and the Bible says of these brothers, you thought evil against me, Joseph said, but God meant it for the good. Even when difficult things come upon us, when we are really living for the Lord, God can use these for good. People may mean evil, but God can use these circumstances for the good.
II) Paul’s circumstances were used to bring a great testimony. Vs. 13
As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
Illustration - testimony
Not long after Paul was in prison there was a man, one of the early church fathers, by the name of Pollycarp. He lived his life for the sake and the glory of God. At eighty-six years old the officials called upon him. Even before this he had a vision that he was to by martyred. He could have fled but he said, no, the will of the Lord be done. The officials called this eighty-six year old man, Pollycarp and they said what harm is it if you would just say, “Lord Caesar,” and make a sacrifice to save your own life. Pollycarp’s great response was, “Eighty-six years I have served the Lord and he never once wronged me. How then shall I blaspheme my king who has saved me?”
The men said to Pollycarp, “If you do not do worship Ceasar we will bring out the wild beasts to kill you.” He said, “bring them on.” They said if the beasts do not scare you then we will burn you at the stake. Pollycarp said you threaten me with fire, which burns only for an hour, but soon is extinguished. The fire of future judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly you are ignorant of. Why do you delay? Do what you do.”
As they burned Pollycarp there was a great testimony that went out. It inspired the early Christians. Because when people stand for what they believe in Jesus Christ it produces a testimony that enables all to see that what Jesus claimed is true. How we live and how we react to our difficulties make a big difference in the testimony that we are giving before a lost world.
You need to know that people are watching you and wanting to know how you respond to your difficulties. They want to see how you will act when you yourself have these difficulties. How you react will make the difference to what kind of testimony you give.
Paul’s testimony was crystal clear. Everything was against him in circumstances and yet he could look to God and praise God. Paul said that throughout the whole Roman guard that his testimony was made known. This Roman guard had about nine thousand soldiers that were stationed in Rome to guard the emperor. They would guard Paul in turns. As they guarded him they began to find out that the reason that he was in prison was only because of Jesus Christ. They learned that his only offense was preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified. Paul circumstances where a testimony to thousands of guards and it was causing Christ’s name to be honored. Paul was in prison because he preached Christ. He suffered because of his dedication to Christ. Through his imprisonment it became known that his only crime was dedication to Jesus Christ.
What are your difficulties? How do they tell others about the power of the gospel? If you are passed over at work for a promotion because of the way you stand for your convictions in Christ. Did you know those difficulties can cause a testimony for Jesus to be honored. Did you know even when you experience personal tragedy in your own life that it can bring a testimony in your life that brings glory and honor to Christ?
Paul was more concerned about the advance of the gospel than he was his own personal situation. People will take notice of our testimony if in the difficulties we are able to praise God and see his overruling providence in our circumstances.
This idea that Paul’s difficulties would advance the gospel should have resonated with the Philippian church. When Paul founded the church he and Silas were stripped and beaten and thrown in prison in Philippi. This persecution and experience in the Philippian jail became part of the foundation of the new church in Philippi. In Acts 16:34 we read, “The jailer was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God-he and his whole family.”
Paul said God used his circumstances to advance the Gospel. His circumstances were used to bring a great testimony. Paul speaks about these difficulties injecting a new boldness into others.
III) His testimony encouraged others to boldness in Jesus Christ.
In verse 14 Paul says, Because of my chains most of the brothers speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. What Paul was suffering in prison was causing others to be bold and causing them to go out and preach Jesus Christ. They were not bold because they were expecting Paul to be released from prison. They were bold in spite of his being in prison. Even though he was in prison they went out to preach with a new intensity and boldness. Their incentive for this new courage was from Paul’s own boldness the way he faced imprisonment and the way he faced his suffering. Paul’s writing to tell those Christians in Philippi, don’t be discouraged about my imprisonment, as a matter of fact, here in Rome where I am it is causing a great boldness.
People are going out into the street and telling others. So you yourselves can take courage from this to be bold in your relationship with Jesus Christ. This new boldness in Rome would be good news for the Philippians as they were facing discouragement to know that Christ was being preached with boldness.
When people go against us because of our stance for Jesus it should promote boldness and courage for us to preach the word of God fearlessly.
Illustration - trails
When the blacksmith strikes his hammer repeatedly on the anvil it is said that the same anvil will wear out many hammers. Those who strike Christians are creating boldness in the body of Christ. When Christians are persecuted there is more courage. This happened with Paul’s difficulties. This inspired the Christians in Rome.
In II Tim 1:7 it says, God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of boldness. As Christians we are to stand bold and courageous for Jesus Christ. That is what our calling is as Christians. If we find ourselves in a difficult situation where it is hard to stand for Jesus Christ that is the very occasion that God calls us to make our stand for Christ. It is difficult, any age bracket, any economic position, any strata of life it is going to be in difficulties at times. This is when we must stand up for what Jesus has called us to do. We are told to preach Christ with a boldness. Our difficulties can encourage others to preach with a new boldness.
Personally we may find it difficult. We may be going through things that we never thought we could endure. But, if we can hold that divine perspective as Paul did we will see how our difficulties can advance the gospel. Our difficulties can cause a testimony to be made for Jesus Christ. Our difficulties can inspire boldness.
Illustration - persecution
There was a rowboat race. The straggler was clearly going to lose the race. As the spectators watched from the bridge, he looked down upon the one loosing. He wanted him to lose. This spectator spit off the bridge on to the rowboat that was behind. He called the rower a looser and yelled obscenities at him. He made fun of him for loosing. This spurred the rower to a new strength to win the race. Because of this persecution to the rower he became bolder and stronger in the race. Paul is saying the persecution he has faced has made the Christians bold and stronger.
If you are experiencing difficulties for the cause of Christ, if your stand for Christ brings you hardship then take courage. Your difficulties are causing advance for the Gospel. Others will be encouraged to preach Jesus Christ with more boldness than ever before.
Your difficulties will advance the gospel if you are really truly living for Jesus Christ. When you are one hundred percent sold out to Christ then your difficulties will cause advancement in the gospel. That is why the apostle Paul saw his difficulties advance the gospel. He saw his difficulties advance the gospel because he was making such a stand for God.
If you live fifty-percent for Christ, then you difficulties will be only that, difficulties. They are not going to advance the gospel. They are not going to bring out a testimony and inspire the rest of us to boldness. They will just remain difficulties. If you’re without Christ then your difficulties will remain just that, only difficulties. When you put your faith and trust in Christ and walk in the ways of the Lord, then your difficulties will bring testimony to God. Your difficulties will advance the gospel.