The Advance of the Gospel

by Mike Ratliff

12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 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. Philippians 1:12-14 (NASB) 

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. 

12 Γινώσκειν δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι τὰ κατʼ ἐμὲ μᾶλλον εἰς προκοπὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐλήλυθεν, 13 ὥστε τοὺς δεσμούς μου φανεροὺς ἐν Χριστῷ γενέσθαι ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν, 14 καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον λαλεῖν. Philippians 1:12-14 (NA28)

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.

15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Philippians 1:15-18a (NASB)

15 τινὲς μὲν καὶ διὰ φθόνον καὶ ἔριν, τινὲς δὲ καὶ διʼ εὐδοκίαν τὸν Χριστὸν κηρύσσουσιν· 16 οἱ μὲν ἐξ ἀγάπης, εἰδότες ὅτι εἰς ἀπολογίαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου κεῖμαι, 17 οἱ δὲ ἐξ ἐριθείας τὸν Χριστὸν καταγγέλλουσιν, οὐχ ἁγνῶς, οἰόμενοι θλῖψιν ἐγείρειν τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου. 18 Τί γάρ; πλὴν ὅτι παντὶ τρόπῳ, εἴτε προφάσει εἴτε ἀληθείᾳ, Χριστὸς καταγγέλλεται, καὶ ἐν τούτῳ χαίρω. Philippians 1:15-18a (NA28)

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, but reluctantly, backed away.

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Philippians 1:18b-26 (NASB) 

Ἀλλὰ καὶ χαρήσομαι, 19 οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν δεήσεως καὶ ἐπιχορηγίας τοῦ πνεύματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ 20 κατὰ τὴν ἀποκαραδοκίαν καὶ ἐλπίδα μου, ὅτι ἐν οὐδενὶ αἰσχυνθήσομαι ἀλλʼ ἐν πάσῃ παρρησίᾳ ὡς πάντοτε καὶ νῦν μεγαλυνθήσεται Χριστὸς ἐν τῷ σώματί μου, εἴτε διὰ ζωῆς εἴτε διὰ θανάτου. 21 Ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος. 22 εἰ δὲ τὸ ζῆν ἐν σαρκί, τοῦτό μοι καρπὸς ἔργου, καὶ τί αἱρήσομαι οὐ γνωρίζω. 23 συνέχομαι δὲ ἐκ τῶν δύο, τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι, πολλῷ [γὰρ] μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον· 24 τὸ δὲ ἐπιμένειν [ἐν] τῇ σαρκὶ ἀναγκαιότερον διʼ ὑμᾶς. 25 καὶ τοῦτο πεποιθὼς οἶδα ὅτι μενῶ καὶ παραμενῶ πᾶσιν ὑμῖν εἰς τὴν ὑμῶν προκοπὴν καὶ χαρὰν τῆς πίστεως, 26 ἵνα τὸ καύχημα ὑμῶν περισσεύῃ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἐν ἐμοὶ διὰ τῆς ἐμῆς παρουσίας πάλιν πρὸς ὑμᾶς. Philippians 1:18b-26 (NA28)

Paul’s eager expectation [ἀποκαραδοκίαν] and hope [ἐλπίδα] 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 [μεγαλυνθήσεται] 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!