“Step out and do unusual things for the Gospel”
Philippians 1:12-20 SCC 12/5/10
In Rockwood where I grew up, down the street at the Bettendorf home we would ride our bikes into the canal. I watched Paul Bettendorf and others do this with their bikes first. I would watch them start on the dirt street and then down the hill gaining speed as they approached the water in the back yard. Then with one last burst of speed they would be propelled from the yard out over the water. Separating themselves from the bike they would yell and scream as the bike and rider landed out as far as possible into that water to try to set the record for the longest land to water record. Someone out in the boat would record the distance. After watching this for some time I had the courage to make the plunge. Their example inspired me to do this. Courage in one person tends to bring out courage in others who have the same desires. Here in Philippians is encouragement to step out and do unusual things for the gospel.
BOLDLY STEPPING OUT FOR THE GOSPEL ENCOURAGES OTHERS TO DO THE SAME
12 Ministry must be thought of in terms of the success or progress of the gospel. Don’t evaluate ministry in terms of how many people are following or what kind of reception it has. Is the gospel being proclaimed and is it changing people’s lives is the basis of evaluation. What is surprising are the circumstances in which the gospel is thriving. He says ‘that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel’. That circumstance, is Paul’s’ imprisonment vs 13. Rather than hindering the spread of the gospel, imprisonment had actually resulted in its progress. There are two by-products of his circumstance as it relates to the gospel.
13 First, during his imprisonment the gospel gained a wider audience. Notice that it included his unbelieving captors, the Roman Praetorian Guard. The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. They were an elite recruitment of Roman citizens. It was a habit of many Roman generals to choose from the ranks a private force of soldiers to act as guards of the tent or the person. The reason for his bondage also became widely known to everyone else. So his imprisonment became the seedbed for the gospel to advance even further.
14 Second, because of his behavior while imprisoned, the gospel also gained many more courageous preachers. Rather than becoming discouraged, many believers gained a fresh confidence to speak the Word of God boldly without fear of reprisals or reprimands. You might expect others to downplay the gospel since it got Paul in prison. But it does not actually work that way. An example of courage tends to be a motivator. People otherwise timid will often think they too can do that! True leadership is like this. It is when we take risks and endure hardship and venture out into things, which others would like to do, but lack courage, until they have an example. Paul is saying “I was in prison and look what happened!”
Everyone one of us are entrusted with the gospel and are accountable to God as to what we do with it. If you need a dose of courage, then use this example to gain it. Within your own sphere of influence come opportunities to be bold with the gospel. You should boldly step out doing unusual things on behalf of the gospel because it encourages the more timid believers to do so where they are at. Then eventually the bold becomes normal.
IF PEOPLE ARE NOT CHANGING THE GOSPEL THEN IGNORE THEIR MOTIVE FOR PROCLAIMING IT
15 Some will proclaim the gospel from bad motives. Here those are ‘envy’ and ‘strife’. The issue here is that some are preaching a true gospel with evil motives. They may harm themselves as a result but since the truth of the gospel is not affected, Paul rejoices in their proclamation. Today for instance, we have many proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to promote their organization or make money or become popular or promote their brand of Christianity. That is not to be our concern as long as the true gospel is being preached. That is different, though, if the gospel is being changed (Gal 1:6-8). When people change the gospel we have the responsibility to expose that, make it known, and discipline those involved as best we can. Jesus disciples hindered those casting out demons that were not part of their group and Jesus said he who is not against us is for us (Mk 9:40). But when speaking of the Pharisees he said just the opposite (Mt 12:30). The reason is that they changed the gospel. Whatever the kind of conflict we see that there have always been selfish oriented conflicts with the ministry of the gospel. Things have not changed. In this case vs 17 these with evil motives had them thinking to cause Paul distress in his imprisonment. They wanted to stir up trouble for him in the hopes of elevating themselves for some reason!
16 Yet others proclaimed out of goodwill, out of love, knowing that he was in chains because of his defense of the gospel. His example encouraged them out of their love for the gospel to bring that same gospel to others in spite of the dangers of doing so. What is really of chief importance here is not the circumstances he was in nor even the persons impacted by his imprisonment. What mattered most was that Christ was proclaimed and nothing could rob him of that joy vs 18! Even if it was proclaimed with bad motives or good it was preached.
We do not need to fight certain battles. We should ignore the motives of those proclaiming a true gospel. We should not ignore those proclaiming a false gospel. Actually, we should never try top determine motives. But we can judge actions. Even though impure motives may be used to promote the gospel, God will judge those motives. They will be accountable for them before God and they will have to endure the consequences they will create with them. So motives are God’s business. When these same people proclaim the true gospel with bad motives, then we leave them alone. But make sure your motives are pure and honorable and courageous for the gospel of Christ.
FULLY COMMITTED TO THE GOSPEL GUARANTEES GOOD RESULTS
19 In some way Paul anticipated a good result from the gospel being proclaimed in his imprisonment. This deliverance could be either his ultimate salvation with the Lord or referring to his earthly release from prison. We are not quite sure. It may refer to both of these since he does say in vs 21 that Christ will be exalted whether by his life or by his death. But he anticipated only a good thing from this. We do not see him down asking for prayer for release or protection. That is clearly absent form any consideration. Often we want to make it the first consideration. But he sees his deliverance as a product of both their prayers and the Spirit of Christ. So our prayers do make a difference in life’s circumstances. His confidence and hope are in both the free will effort of their prayers and the sovereignty of God through the provision or help of deliverance of Jesus Christ.
20 He is not sure whether he would experience release or martyrdom. But in either case he does not want to be put to shame. He figures he has the Romans right where he wants them. It is a checkmate. Either way he wins. If they let him go he will go on proclaiming Christ with all boldness. If they kill him then Christ will be proclaimed through his death. In either case the gospel will be advanced. Interesting, that Paul the persecutor, arresting and participating in the death of believers, now finds himself possibly facing his impending death for that same gospel. Things have taken an about face for him. He will personally win either way because he just has one objective, to live for Christ. So if he dies, that is just more Christ. Jesus Christ is the essence of His life.
If we choose to be a bond slave to Christ then our final circumstances can only turn out good. This is the only win-win there is. The challenge for us to day is to be fully committed to the true gospel and proclaim it to others. This is the only way we can guarantee good results because the gospel results in changed lives. It is a wonderful thing to share the gospel because it is the only means of hope. Who have you shared the gospel with recently? Be bold with the gospel. You have nothing to lose since it is the only message that gives hope. Yes, people will reject it. It may get you in some kid of prison. But it is worth it because you can never lose really, as you give it. God is in control of its outcome. We are responsible for sharing it.