“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.”
Paul is in prison when he was writing this. It’s never a good thing to have a man of God in prison, primarily because prison is a place for criminals. Paul, however, was in prison for preaching the gospel. There some laws we follow as Christians, and some laws we don’t. If the president suddenly declared himself to be God and demanded that everyone who did not bow down and worship him would be imprisoned, we would have problems. This was Paul’s situation. He declared that Jesus, and not the Emperor, was God, which was illegal.
Now, Paul says that his imprisonment advanced the gospel because his message sounds different when it comes from a voice of suffering. He was preaching that salvation and freedom is in Christ. He was preaching that chains would never stop him. That is, at most, an inspiring message coming from a popular, affluent tent maker. When its coming from inside the prison walls, though, it is a different message. In prison, Paul is still preaching freedom in Christ. The guards are starting to realize that this isn’t just Paul’s way of getting famous. They are starting to see that he is preaching truth. Chains really can’t hold his message back, because it isn’t it his message to begin with. The people outside the prison are starting to see that Paul is serious when he talks about suffering for the gospel. He is serious when he says that Jesus is more pleasurable than earthly freedom and comfort and even life itself. His message is being heard differently because it is coming from a voice of suffering, yet with the same bravado.
Even in prison Paul says “Put me in prison! Jesus has freed me from the world (Gal 5:1)! Kill me! I’m baptized into Christ’s resurrection (Romans 6:4)! Take my money! Love of money is the root of all kind of evil (1 Tim. 6:10)” His message is not changed or watered down when spoken with a voice of suffering. And that leads people to really listen and advance the gospel even more.
There is a man named Matt Chandler. He is pastor of The Village Church in Dallas and author of The Explicit Gospel. He is perhaps the best bible teacher on the earth today. His message has always been that the point of the gospel is not that you get saved and life goes easy for you and you get what you want. The gospel of Jesus is not that He will give you a comfortable, middle class, suburban, college educated life. The point of the gospel is that you get Jesus and He’s enough. Matt’s message is that, even through suffering and pain, Jesus is satisfying enough. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. After a few weeks of chemo, he got on a tv interview and quoted Daniel 3:17-18 “He can heal me, He will heal me, but even if He doesn’t, I will still serve Him and still follow Him until the day we meet face to face.”
This man has cancer!! Life is hard. Before, his message was coming from a young, healthy man with a beautiful family. He was living the dream. His message was easy to ignore. But now it’s coming from a voice of suffering, and people start to listen. He said in an interview with The Resurgence that it has been such a blessing preaching from this place of pain because people know that he means what he says. Jesus really is enough. Jesus really is sufficient, even in our suffering.
Paul never asks for the people to help him get free. He never prays for God to help him get out. See, Paul’s only hope is that the kingdom of God is always growing and that he gets to be a part of it. The Christian should never pray to ask for anything but to be part of the mission of God. If you really believe that Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the world, then you should not ask for anything but to be part of His mission. If your feet are steady in the ground and your grip is firm on the Sword (Eph 6:17.) then your only desire will be to advance the gospel.
When faced with pain and death, the true Saint says “God can, God will, and even if He doesn’t”
In prison, in pain, in rejection, in hatred, we will never stop advancing the Gospel.