In our last post, we wrestled with the reality that adversity advances the gospel. In this post let’s look at HOW that works. Take a look at Philippians 1:13.
Philippians 1:13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ.
Suffering Creates Unique Opportunities
People who Paul would have never otherwise met (the imperial guard and everyone else) are now seeing that Christ is worth being thrown into prison for and are coming to Christ. This Imperial Guard was the Praetorian Guard. They were the elite of the Roman Soldiers who would serve as the personal bodyguards and intelligence officers to the Emperor. They would also serve as escorts to high-ranking political officials.1
One of the less exciting aspects of their job was guarding certain prisoners. Paul would literally be chained to one of these guards while under house arrest all day long. The guards had rotating shifts being chained to Paul.
So while Paul was in prison, there was never a moment when he was not chained to an elite Roman Soldier. Talk about a captive audience. Every time he got chained to a new guard he got a new audience to share the gospel with. And because of these guards’ connections, they had a lot of influence. And now people in Nero’s own house were coming to Christ!
Philippians 4:22 All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.
A Living Demonstration Of Scripture
People in Caesar’s household are being led to Christ because of Paul’s imprisonment. They are seeing Jesus is real! These people are seeing a living demonstration of the surpassing value of Christ. They are seeing a living demonstration of Romans 8 and coming to Christ as a result.
Romans 8:28-39 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When Christ Is Magnified, People Are Drawn To Him
Even though we may be slaughtered Paul says, we are more than conquerors! And as these people saw Paul living this out they came to know Christ!
When these truths becomes real, when Jesus and his forgiveness are real to us, when the reality that we are conquerors, really sinks into our heart and that nothing can separate us from his love; we will gladly lay down our lives for Jesus. And when the world sees that played out in real-time they are drawn to him. The Gospel is advanced when people see that Christ is worth suffering and dying for. Adversity, suffering, persecution as difficult as they are, as unqualified as I feel to even say this, are opportunities for the worthiness of Jesus to be put on display.
John Piper said “God considers it more important that the world knows that Christ is worth dying for more than that Christ makes life easier.”2
Philippians 3:7-8 But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ…
A God Given Opportunity
Adversity is not a hindrance to the gospel. It is the very thing that demonstrates the worthiness of Christ which advances the gospel. Wherever you find yourself in life, whatever situation you are in, it is a God-given opportunity to share the Gospel where one would not exist otherwise. It is a God-given opportunity to demonstrate the worthiness of Christ. And when people see that Christ is worth even dying for they are drawn to him.
Early Christian writer Tertullian wrote a manuscript called Apologeticus. It was a work demanding legal toleration of Christians in the Roman Empire. In it he said…
“We spring up in greater numbers the more we are mown down by you. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”3
Even though he was standing against persecution, and rightfully so, he recognized, persecution was the very thing that caused Christianity to spread. Adversity advances the gospel. Why? Because it demonstrates that Christ is worth suffering and dying for. It also demonstrates that…
When Christ Is Magnified, The Church Become Fearless
When we see how our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan are being faithful to the point of death, it should provoke courage in us.
Philippians 1:14 Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly.
We aren’t the ones in prison or being persecuted. The question for us is what are we doing? When we see Christ magnified through the selfless sacrifice of others it should light a fire in us.
Jim Elliot was a missionary in the 1950s who wanted to talk the gospel to the Indigenous people of Ecuador. He and four of his friends became martyrs at the hands of the people they were trying to reach. He is now famous for writing in his journal “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
To many, their deaths seemed like a failure in their mission. But when Christ is magnified, the church becomes fearless. After their death’s a high number of graduates from Jim Elliot’s alma mater, Wheaton College, become missionaries.4 Jim Elliot’s wife, Elizabeth, went back to the very people that killed her husband and friends and lead many of them to Christ. One of the men on the team who was martyred was a man named Nate Saint. His son, Steve Saint, went back to these very people and even baptized one of the very men who killed his father.5
Steve J. Lawson said, “One believer on fire for God can embolden thousands with new courage.”6 Toward the end of Paul’s life, he writes and encourages Timothy to be faithful to his calling, steadfast in teaching and raising faithful men, and as he encourages Timothy he calls him to remember Jesus. Remember that the Word of God is not bound. And because Jesus is faithful and his Word is powerful, we can courageously endure for the sake of the gospel going forward.
Jesus Is Worth It
2 Timothy 2:8-10 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and descended from David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer to the point of being bound like a criminal. But the word of God is not bound. This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
When Paul wrote 2 Timothy he was in his second Roman imprisonment. This time he wasn’t under house arrest, chained to a Roman guard. He was in the Mamertine Prison shortly before he was martyred. One of the last things he wrote was, Jesus was worth it. The Word of God is not bound. This is why I can endure. So be faithful Timothy.
When we see the worthiness of Jesus in other’s willingness to suffer and even die, it lights a fire in us for the spreading of his Word. This is how adversity can serve to spread the gospel.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apologeticus / Tertullian, and Robert D. Sider. “Apology.” Christian and Pagan in the Roman Empire: The Witness of Tertullian. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 2001. 8-70.
- Carson, D. A. Basics for Believers. Sixth printing. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.
- Lawson, Steven J., and John MacArthur. Philippians For You. The Good Book Company, 2017.