by Mike Ratliff
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 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 ESV)
This Christian walk is one of progressive sanctification in which God uses our tests and trials to shape and form us so that we will conform unto the image of Christ. However, we are of the right mind and have the right understanding when we gauge theses tests and trials as nothing when compared with what awaits us in eternity. I personally do not like the push back that comes from our enemy and his seed, but I know that the fierier the verbiage in their protests is, the more God has used His truth to provoke them. In light of that, I must carefully examine what I taught that caused their feathers to be ruffled then prayerfully seek the direction God is giving me through this. Being ridiculed and called a heretic by an enemy of the truth is nothing when compared to what other Christians throughout the history of the Church have endured, therefore, I use these things as means of discerning direction as well as self-examination to make sure I am responding as my Lord would.
12γινωσκειν δε υμας βουλομαι αδελφοι οτι τα κατ εμε μαλλον εις προκοπην του ευαγγελιου εληλυθεν 13ωστε τους δεσμους μου φανερους εν χριστω γενεσθαι εν ολω τω πραιτωριω και τοις λοιποις πασιν 14και τους πλειονας των αδελφων εν κυριω πεποιθοτας τοις δεσμοις μου περισσοτερως τολμαν αφοβως τον λογον του θεου λαλειν (Philippians 1:12-14 WHNU)
Paul’s imprisonment and subsequent trials (Acts 21:27-28:31) were meant by our enemy and his seed to be the means of silencing Paul and thwarting the advance of the gospel. However, in Philippians 1:12-14, which I placed at the top of this post, we read that God used this to actually advance [προκοπην] the gospel. This word describes action that is progressive. This is an important point for us to ponder in these days of apostasy. We make a huge error if we retreat back into seclusion because there is so much resistance to the truth. Like Paul we need to understand clearly that the gospel’s advancement is job 1. Then as we meditate on the extreme resistance to the genuine gospel we will clearly see that job 1 for our enemy and his seed is stopping that advancement. This resistance takes many forms, including false gospels preached by very popular false prophets. When we obey our Lord in standing firm against these things we should not be surprised when our enemy strikes back in ways meant to silence us. What we must understand is that God is sovereign and no matter what happens to us through this, His will is being done and we are being purified in the fires of tribulation. Notice also, that Paul’s persecution, meant by our enemy to thwart the advance of the gospel, actually resulted in others boldly preaching the gospel without fear. God’s ways are not our ways.
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18a ESV)
15τινες μεν και δια φθονον και εριν τινες δε και δι ευδοκιαν τον χριστον κηρυσσουσιν 16οι μεν εξ αγαπης ειδοτες οτι εις απολογιαν του ευαγγελιου κειμαι 17οι δε εξ εριθειας τον χριστον καταγγελλουσιν ουχ αγνως οιομενοι θλιψιν εγειρειν τοις δεσμοις μου 18τι γαρ πλην οτι παντι τροπω ειτε προφασει ειτε αληθεια χριστος καταγγελλεται και εν τουτω χαιρω (Philippians 1:15-18a WHNU)
In these 4 verses notice Paul’s heart. What is his main concern? It is that Christ be proclaimed regardless of motive. This is a man sure of God’s sovereignty and ultimate justice. We should stop and meditate on this my brethren. Over the last several years, God has taken me through many of these sorts of conflicts. I have learned to keep quiet and be non-confrontational when encountering professing brothers and sisters in Christ whose motives appear to skewed as they minister. Not long ago I noticed a link to one of my posts from a site with which I was unfamiliar. I navigated over there and found an ongoing discussion about one of my posts. Some of the people commenting were hateful and made no bones of doubting my salvation based solely on the fact that I am Reformed in my theology. They could not refute one point in the article nor could they really find anything wrong with what I said, but since I believe God is totally and completely sovereign, I must be a heretic. A few years ago I would have jumped in and added some spice to the conversation, but I saw clearly that the truth, the message from God’s Word, was being proclaimed so I quietly backed away.
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:18b-26 ESV)
αλλα και χαρησομαι 19οιδα γαρ οτι τουτο μοι αποβησεται εις σωτηριαν δια της υμων δεησεως και επιχορηγιας του πνευματος ιησου χριστου 20κατα την αποκαραδοκιαν και ελπιδα μου οτι εν ουδενι αισχυνθησομαι αλλ εν παση παρρησια ως παντοτε και νυν μεγαλυνθησεται χριστος εν τω σωματι μου ειτε δια ζωης ειτε δια θανατου 21εμοι γαρ το ζην χριστος και το αποθανειν κερδος 22ει δε το ζην εν σαρκι τουτο μοι καρπος εργου και τι αιρησομαι ου γνωριζω 23συνεχομαι δε εκ των δυο την επιθυμιαν εχων εις το αναλυσαι και συν χριστω ειναι πολλω γαρ μαλλον κρεισσον 24το δε επιμενειν τη σαρκι αναγκαιοτερον δι υμας 25και τουτο πεποιθως οιδα οτι μενω και παραμενω πασιν υμιν εις την υμων προκοπην και χαραν της πιστεως 26ινα το καυχημα υμων περισσευη εν χριστω ιησου εν εμοι δια της εμης παρουσιας παλιν προς υμας (Philippians 18b-26 WHNU)
Paul’s eager expectation [αποκαραδοκιαν] and hope [ελπιδα] was what? It was that he would not at all be ashamed [αισχυνθησομ]. This Greek word means “to feel shame or disgrace.” We understand his point by looking at the context. Instead of being disgraced or ashamed, Paul prayed and asked for prayer that he would be full of courage [παρρησια] now as always so that Christ would be honored [μεγαλυνθησεται] through him whether by his life or death. The Greek word used here that is translated “courage” actually is used to describe boldness in speaking. This is how we must minister if what we do brings glory to God. We cannot minister out of fear of men. Paul did not have that disease and we must pray for that same boldness. The Greek word translated as “honored” actually means “to magnify.” That should be the heart’s desire of any ministry, that is, to magnify Christ above all, not the ministry.
The key to having this boldness like Paul is found in v21. Those whom God uses minister according this. To live is Christ, to die in gain. This means that Christ and the advance of the gospel is everything. It is the purpose of this life in the flesh. However, to die is even better because then our labors are done. We will no longer have to battle the flesh and sin. No, we will be with our Lord forever.
My brethren. I pray that each one reading this will examine themselves, looking at their motives for ministry and how they respond when the enemy uses someone in an attempt to discourage or thwart them in it. We err when we think that our ministries are about us. No, they are about the Lord and the advance of the gospel and the proclamation of the Kingdom. If this isn’t true about our ministries and us then perhaps it is time to reconsider what we are doing.
Soli Deo Gloria!