Philippians 1:12-14 – 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.
When Paul wrote Philippians he was locked in confined to house arrest in Rome. Nevertheless, this little epistle is one of the most joy-packed letters in the Bible. Now how could that be? How could a person chained to a soldier for 24 hours a day write an. epistle that is centered on the call to “rejoice!” The answer is because Paul saw every ounce of trial and suffering as simply another means by which the gospel message was marching forward and saving people from every tribe, tongue and nation. But the question is begged, how in the world does suffering advance the gospel? How can our trials and tribulations. serve as evangelistic tools? I believe that in these few verses above Paul unleashes two powerful means that illustrate how our suffering in Christ serves as one of God’s greatest tools to advance the Gospel.
1. Suffering advances the gospel by serving as stage for making God’s glory known to a dying world.
During his imprisonment, Paul was chained to a soldier every minute of every day, and you know what he did to occupy his time, he preached to them the gospel. And so much so that it says the whole imperial guard had come to know that the reason that he was imprisoned was for Christ. Every day four soldiers would be chained to him for six hour shifts and rather than seeing them as enemies to be despised and shunned, Paul saw this as a divine appointment to witness to them. Paul exemplifies what it means to use that which should bring misery and turn it into a ministry.
Brothers and sisters the world is broken, and it suffers and groans under the oppression of sin longing to find relief from that suffering. Whether drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, or just busyness to keep the mind numb from the hurt, the world is looking for an answer to alleviate their deepest aches, and as the church we have that answer in Jesus Christ, and yet so often we hide it under a bushel.
We start shouting political and philosophical arguments to try and offer up solutions to the world’s problems, we subject ourselves to secular tactics and means thinking we will appeal to a larger group. Ultimately, the world’s problem is not racism, sexism, poverty, oppression, all of which are simply symptoms of the underlying problem which is sin and there is only one answer to sin, his name is Jesus Christ.
The world needs to see in our suffering that there is hope, that there is a reason for being, that every situation in life is meaningful and purposeful. That hope, that reason for being, that which makes every thing meaningful and purposeful is Jesus, we must give them Jesus. They need to see Christ in us, and so our suffering serves as a stage for the advancement of the gospel because on that stage we get to show the world the hope that is Christ.
2. Suffering advances the gospel by revealing that Christ is supremely worth whatever men may do to us.
In v. 14, Paul says something that doesn’t seem to make sense, “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
How in the world does confidence and boldness increase in the face of utter torment and suffering? The brothers who were preaching in Rome, instead of being discouraged by the suffering of Paul, had actually grown more emboldened and even more fearless in their proclamation of the word. But why would that happen?
Do you remember back when Jesus was arrested, what did the eleven disciples do? They fled, and the apostle Peter the leader of the apostles denied the Lord three times! Now I despise when people are harsh on the apostles for this because that is normally how someone responds when your leader is thrown into jail and it looks like everything is going to end. So what was the difference, what causes one group of disciples to fell when their master is imprisoned, and another to be emboldened when their apostolic leader is possibly going to die soon? The answer is that the Holy Spirit had come, and it is He who opens the eyes of the blind to see the greater truth behind any of their suffering for Christ.
There was a Masai warrior named Joseph, who was an Itinerant Evangelist from Africa. After being converted, he was so excited he want to share the news with everyone in his tribe. When he arrived he went door to door and to his surprise the people of the village turned violent and beat him with strands of barbed wire and drug him off to die alone in the bush. After nearly dying he returned to the village thinking that he must have left something out of the message, so he returned after he rehearsed the message, but was treated equally the same and was left to die once again. Surely this time he would not go back. But no, the young man after again nearly dying returned a third time, and the same thing happened again though this time right before he passed out, he noticed women beginning to tear up and become upset about what was happening. When he awoke this time he found the same people who were trying to kill him, now trying to save him. Through his steadfastness and suffering they were convinced that his message was true, and the overwhelming majority of the village turned to Christ. When asked why he kept going back…he replied, “every lash I received was worth the chance of my people knowing the one who bore the lashes not only for myself, but for them also. Because he suffered for me, no suffering is to great for me to let the world know of him.”
The point is that when Paul found himself in prison or Joseph found himself being beaten nearly to death it was not because God is weak, but because Christ is supremely valuable, and He is worth following and enduring whatever men may do to us because of our faith in him. Christ is of surpassing worth, and that is the message that these brothers were getting from Paul’s imprisonment. Paul was showing them, just like Joseph did his tribe, that his faith is real, and that every suffering is worth going through it means others gaining Christ.
So today, I say to you count it all joy brothers and sisters when you find yourself in difficult circumstances. Some of the greatest revivals of history have come when the church found itself under the worst suffering and persecution. It should be no surprise to you that difficulties will come your way in this life, but Christ told us they would. Because of this you can see every difficult circumstances as more fuel to ignite the evangelisitic zeal of your life, and embolden you to gospel proclamation.
Perspective is a powerful thing, and it can be either a promoter or a destroyer of joy. You can choose to see your suffering as a reason to blame God or doubt His goodness and doing so let your joy be robbed; or you can rightly see it as great stage for His glory to be revealed and the gospel to be shared. I challenge you to see the misery you’ve endured as one of your greatest ministries. And you will be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…”