When baking, it’s often wise to follow a recipe, as it guides us to create the delicacy we envision. It instructs us on the ingredients to add, how to mix them together, and even specifies the right oven temperature to bake that perfect cake you’re dreaming of right now.
In the grand scheme of Christian ministry, we often expect a similar recipe for success. We anticipate a clear path, a favourable environment, and the right mix of circumstances to see the advancement of the gospel. Yet, in the narrative of the Apostle Paul, as seen in his letter to the church in Philippi, we find a different kind of recipe. After affirming the friendship he has with the church in Philippi in v11, Paul goes on to describe his current situation in v12-26. He speaks about how his imprisonment, a circumstance that doesn’t look like a favourable environment, is actually helping spread the message of Christ in v12-14. It might not be the gospel recipe book we would imagine, but amidst suffering and persecution, even amidst selfishness and ego, the message of Christ is being proclaimed and advancing. And it is to these verses we turn now in our little series on Philippians.
The Unexpected Catalyst: Paul’s Imprisonment
In v12-14 Paul writes,
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 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.
Despite the dire circumstances Paul finds himself in, the gospel continues to advance. Almost unexpectedly, the message of Christ makes progress even while Paul is confined in prison.
While in prison the guards and others in the palace find out why he is there. As the guards rotate through their shifts word gets out that Paul is imprisoned because he claims Jesus as Lord. This has religious connotations because of the Roman gods and idol worship. It also has political connotations because at this time the Roman Emperor was considered divine and a ‘son of god’. When Paul is publicly declaring Jesus as Lord, and as the Son of God, we can understand there might be a bit of push back. No one is to be considered Lord except the Caesar himself.
It seems, however, that Paul’s imprisonment is an inspiration to the other believers with him or those in close contact. The gospel is advancing because Paul is suffering and locked away, and it is inspiring Christians in their boldness to share this message of Jesus with others too.
Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances the gospel is at work inspiring faith.
Inspiration from Unlikely Heroes: Stories of Faith Amidst Persecution
Inspiration for our faith can come from a range of sources and through a range of people. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been deeply moved by the stories of other Christians and the significant impact their lives have had on others. Some of these have been missionaries and Christian workers of the past, like Jim Elliot, John Paton, Corrie Ten Boom, William Jay, JI Packer, Joni Eareckson Tada, to name a few. Others have been people I know, colleagues, family members, teachers, and people in churches I’ve been in. My faith is inspired by those who are living out their faith despite hard circumstances and situations. In fact, it is in hearing these stories, that often include hardship and suffering, I have found the gospel advancing in me, it is working in me through the life and times of others.
That may well be a reason why Hebrews 11 and 12 are so powerful to me. Those chapters in Hebrews list saints of the past, saints of the Bible, who are an inspiration to our faith. Their stories are written to inspire our faith.
There is the aspect of inspiration here, mixed with the persecution of Paul, locked away for his faith and proclaiming the gospel.
Flourishing Faith in the Face of Hardship: The Unforeseen Advance of the Gospel
Today we can search and read information about Christians around the world who are living out their faith despite the threat and reality of persecution, particularly in the majority world.
In the 1950s missionaries were kicked out of China at the time of the revolution yet the gospel advanced to such a degree that there are now millions of believers living out their faith in less-than-ideal situations.
In more recent times in Africa, Boko Haram are an extremist group who persecutes Christians in Nigeria on a regular basis. Yet as many are killed for their faith the Christians continue to live lives of faith under the most harrowing of pressures, instability, and concern for their lives.
In Iraq, Christian families and churches face threats on a regular basis. Despite the constant pressure and threat, house church leaders continue to minister, and against all odds, the gospel continues its work, advancing the message of Christ.
Knowing the stories of Christians past or present are inspiring. Their faith, their hustle, their confidence, and their trust in the Lord. Through their faith and faithfulness they display the ‘all surpassing value of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 3:8).
How does knowing about these stories impact your own faith? How might you live differently knowing that the gospel can advance in the most unexpected environments?
Through suffering, through hardship, through difficulty the gospel advances. And for us today we can be inspired, encouraged, and given courage in our walk of faith. In what, from a human perspective, might be the least expected environments, the gospel can indeed flourish.
This post is part of an ongoing series where we dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians. For earlier posts please see:
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