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Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.I’m in prison with all its discomfort and brutality.There is a question mark about my future – release or decapitation. My situation is causing you grief but please understand what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. The gospel is going. What becomes clear as we read this passage is that Paul’s measure of effectiveness and his reason for joy is Gospel Advance, gospel going. And, he says, the view from my jail cell is very encouraging. Firstly, I have a captive audience. Read v13.
As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.Palace guard, could be up to 9000 soldiers. Paul says these guys know (the whole palace guard) that I am in chains for Christ. I am the apostle to the Gentiles and here I have 9000 Gentile soldiers, plus families who are hearing or aware that I am in prison for the cause of Jesus Christ. What an opportunity! The gospel by God’s hand and through my troubles has snuck into the very stronghold of those who are opposing my mission. I am a trojan horse that brings life instead of death. I am a virus that prison walls cannot contain. But that is only the half of it. That’s what’s happening inside the fort. My imprisonment is having an impact on the outside as well. Read v14.
And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.Because of my situation the brothers and sisters in this city (probably Rome) are spurred on to gospel boldness. Because I am in prison for declaring the gospel the brothers and sisters in this city are more encouraged, more bold to declare the gospel. How does that work? We’ll consider that in a minute. But Paul’s point is that the authorities thought they would contain this virus but in fact they’ve dropped the petri dish – this gospel message is spreading everywhere. Paul is like a big gospel sneeze, a super spreader. Paul is saying what appeared to be the worst possible outcome for the gospel actually turned out to be the best. On the eight of January, 1956 a young man, husband and missionary jumped excitedly from a plane which had delivered him and 4 companions to the destination they had planned and studied and saved for over the previous 12 or so years. They were missionaries taking their first steps toward connecting with the Auca Indians in South America. Within the hour Jim Elliot and his four companions were all dead. Speared by the ones they came to save. What on earth was God doing to allow all that time and effort and talent go to waste? What was God doing to let such an obvious gospel opportunity go untapped? Jim Elliot invested a huge amount of work and energy, time and money into getting on the mission-field. And under God’s hand he spent a total of no minutes witnessing to this people group. I’ve found it difficult not to think WHAT A WASTE. But history reveals that for the next 20 years huge numbers of young people were enrolling in missionary training. Gospel heartedness is catchy. I find if I read through some of the stories of Fox’s Book of Martyrs I am challenged and encouraged by their gospel boldness – even to death. If I am among friends and church family who are willing to step out in gospel boldness I find that I am encouraged to do the same. Paul calls it the foolishness of the cross. Where God in his infinite wisdom builds his kingdom through weak and fragile people sharing a foolish message to a hostile world. And it works – we’re here aren’t we? And it should encourage us. We don’t have to feel brave and in control and to have it all nailed down. God will use us in our weakness and in the weakness of our situations Gospel advance, for Gospel Going. Even when motives are messed up. Read v15-17.
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.Among these brothers and sisters who have been embolden to preach the gospel there are mixed motives. Some out of goodwill. Others out of envy and rivalry, seeking to stir up trouble. We were chatting about this at Growth Group the other morning. How could this rivalry present? Maybe by sticking it to Paul they are trying to gain popularity, to seem more reasonable, more well thought out, a better leader among God’s people. Bolstering their own popularity at the expense of Paul. If he had been more moderate in his approach well maybe he wouldn’t have found himself in this mess. Maybe in their preaching of Christ they are putting themselves forward. The ones who are preaching out of envy and rivalry are not preaching another gospel. They are declaring Christ. Theirs is not a false gospel, just false motives. Watch my motives. Watch our motives. You guys really need to keep praying. And Paul says… Read v18a
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.Ministry from rivalry and envy will usually result in hurt and heartache – but even then God can use that. Paul chooses not to let that hurt and heartache obscure his view. If the gospel is going out I rejoice. It’s not my comfort, it’s not my reputation that matter, it’s the gospel. There are too many stories of vibrant gospel ministries being lead by men who it later turns out have been engaging in adultery. I have a few books, full of gospel truth but written by men who later leave wives and family and confused and broken congregations. God can use difficult situations and mixed motives and flawed people for the spread of the gospel, the gospel going. The one thing he does not use is a church who will not speak. You have been placed in your life situation by the God of the universe. He called you before the creation of the world to be his and to do the good works he prepared for you to do. Do you think that he is not aware of your troubles and your fears? Do you think that these things are beyond him? Do you not see that joy and rejoicing are found in living for his cause and spending yourself for his kingdom? God’s purpose is to bring glory to himself through setting apart a people for himself through the gospel of Jesus Christ and empowering them by the Holy Spirit to take that gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth. And Paul from his prison cell says because of this I rejoice. And there is another thing that counts as a win in a gospel-centred life and a reason for which Paul rejoices …
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.I have hope. My situation may seem dire. My reputation may be battered. But through the prayers of the church And the work of the Spirit My salvation is assured and my life can honour Christ. This life is “A long obedience in the right direction.” We need God at work in us. We need others praying for us. Again, so encouraged by people telling me that when they say grace they remember to pray me. That is so encouraging – in case you missed it my request a few weeks ago was to pray for me (and our team). Paul needed prayer. I need prayer. We all need prayer. We need to be praying for one another. We need to be a church on about prayer. Being absolutely serious about prayer. We are not yet. But opportunities are coming. But the thing is Paul is confident in God’s provision for him now and at the goal of his faith. And so he says, For me my mindset, my conviction, my north point, my compass is this … Read v21.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.Great tattoo – best to understand it. Seen those tattoos inked in a foreign script? I wonder if it really says what they think it does? Many of us know this verse. What does it mean? What does Paul mean? Read v22
If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!To live, however long that might be, will be a life lived for Christ – the extension of his kingdom the glory of his name. In this present life, this life with a used by date, I will seek to serve the Lord Jesus Christ I will be a gospel advance ninja. Paul calls it fruitful labour. I will glorify God by engaging in the very things he has set me apart for and arranged for me to do – advance the gospel, to promote gospel growth. If I’m in Lydia’s Philippi mansion – Sweet. I’ll preach and build the church. If in prison I’ll write letters and chat with the guards. (Just an aside – how good that we have Paul’s letters) In all of this I will rejoice in the things that advance the gospel. I heard of a godly saint, ill in hospital. Doctors were saying, “not long for this world.” He calls his wife over when she arrives for a visit – bring more gospel tracts. While I’m breathing I’ll engage in fruitful gospel labour. And when I’m not breathing in this current world I’ll be in the unveiled presence of my glorious Saviour. Read v23
I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by farTo depart this life and be with Christ is better by far. This should be food for meditation. I have lots of reasons to hang around in this life, lots of very good reasons to want to stay and live here. But what I read here and what I need to understand here is that the best is yet to come. Paul says, it is better to depart and to be with Christ. Is that your heart’s cry? Your Soul’s desire? So many funerals – gone to a better place. Apart from Christ that is not true. But in Christ it is more true than words can express. D.L. Moody…
Some day you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now;The best is yet to come and that view changes everything. It means that given the choice of his best now or the good of others now Paul will choose the good of others. Gospel Growth. Imagine that attitude in our church. Our rosters would be full. … Read v24-26
but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.It is far more necessary for you that I stay. v24. My best is yet to come so I can serve your best now. That statement really sums up those last verses. And sums up Paul’s heart for the church. I will put your needs before my own for the sake of Gospel Growth. I can do that because I know that the best is yet to come and I won’t be missing out on anything by serving sacrificially now. Because Jesus gave his life for me and suffered for me that I will have eternal life in glory with him I can give, serve, suffer for others. But this is not a glum, joyless exercise devoid of any blessing. v18 I rejoice v25-26 I will experience the joy and blessing of serving your progress. I think it is a universally recognised fact that the most formidable opponent is the one with nothing to lose. Friends when it comes to Gospel advance and the good of the church we cannot lose. Living our calling now. Looking forward to our glory to come. Elizabeth Elliot was Jim Elliot’s widow… Ours is an odd mission in this fallen world. At times, from a worldly perspective it really doesn’t make sense. It seldom looks like a win. Being weak to over come the strong. Suffering as the greatest means of grace and joy. Giving to receive. Losing to win. But these are the very methods that we are called to for the advance of the gospel and the progress of the church. Will you engage in a gospel-centred life for gospel going and gospel growing?