by Doy Moyer
One of the highlights of Paul’s attitude is that he was always more concerned for the spread of the gospel than for his own personal agenda or safety. He was willing to die for the Lord if it meant that the gospel would be proclaimed and more would be saved. He expresses this attitude in his Philippian letter, which he wrote from prison:
“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 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).
His circumstances were not ideal from an earthly perspective. Many would find reasons to complain about this situation. Yet Paul looked at it with a sense of hope, not because he liked the circumstances for his own comfort, but because he knew something bigger was at work. He knew that his imprisonment worked out “for the greater progress of the gospel.” People knew of his imprisonment, and this could have caused Christians to pause or be afraid to say anything lest they end up in the same circumstance. Paul says that the opposite happened, “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.”
Because Paul was courageous in the face of persecution, others became emboldened to be courageous, too, and this resulted in the further spread of the gospel. This is not the first time we have seen this with Christians. Earlier, when Paul himself (Saul) was persecuting God’s people and putting them in prison, the Christians were scattered abroad because of it. What was the result? “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Because of the persecution, there was greater progress of the gospel.
Perhaps all of this seems counterintuitive. Those who initiated the persecutions would have thought it would curtail the spread of the gospel, but they always underestimated the level of commitment among Christians. Instead of being too afraid to talk, they were emboldened to speak up and teach others the truth. We see the same attitude among the apostles early on. When Peter and John were told they were not to speak in the name of Jesus, they said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). When the apostles were told to stop preaching, they responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:19). Peter would later write, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose…” (I Peter 4:1). There was an expectation of opposition and they were prepared to use that opposition for the greater progress of the gospel. Shall we do any less today?
Paul was so invested in the spread of the gospel that he would rejoice in the preaching of Christ even if it came from those with bad motives: “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18).
What matters here is that Christ is preached. If someone did not like Paul and preached out of selfishness, as long as Christ was preached, Paul would rejoice. This speaks volumes about his own motivation. He was willing to suffer and be maligned. He trusted God and knew the truth would prevail. Today, no matter what others say or do to us, what matters is that Christ is proclaimed. If our circumstances are not what we would wish, what matters is that Christ is being preached. We may just consider that our circumstances could actually open doors for the gospel that, before this, were closed. We may then consider that our circumstances are resulting in greater progress of the gospel. If that is so, then we need to submit to the circumstances in order to let the gospel take precedence.
Paul then shows this remarkable attitude: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 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” (Philippians 1:18-20). Paul would be delivered, even if that meant through death.
Let us pray that Christ will be exalted in us, whether by life or by death.