One of the paradoxes of ministry and mission throughout history relates to the unique way that God partners with His people in bringing His purposes to pass. And while it is clear that He calls individual men and women to specific roles and responsibilities in His kingdom, it is even more essential to understand that it is God Himself who is ultimately the one at work in the entire process, through the entire Church, throughout all time.
“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)
God’s ways are not our ways. It was God’s plan in the early days of the church to set the most distinguished leader (and preeminent theologian) aside, chained in one location, with very limited freedom. (You may remember that before Paul’s arrest, prophetic believers in many cities kept telling him that chains awaited him. People interpreted this to mean that Paul should avoid the activities that would make him more vulnerable to arrest – like going to Jerusalem. But Paul was compelled by the Holy Spirit to NOT play it safe. And he ended up a prisoner in Rome.)
So while most of the church was lamenting Paul’s imprisonment and no doubt praying for his release, Paul comes to see God’s providential hand in it all! Here’s my paraphrase of v.12 above: “My dear children, you need to stop fretting and realize that God is in full control. My arrest is all part of His miraculous plan to cause the Gospel to penetrate every inch of this empire.”
Notice the two most immediate impacts of Paul’s imprisonment:
1) The elites in Rome got exposed to the Gospel, especially those in Caesar’s security detail and massive network of staff and servants.
2) Other (younger?) leaders who were formerly comfortable in Paul’s shadow now had to step up and lead in Paul’s absence.
Beloved, God has always been able to turn today’s trouble into an opportunity for the “greater progress of the gospel.” This in part explains why there is often a massive explosion of evangelism where persecution is very strong…and why there is often an explosion of spiritual growth in believers who pass through severe trials. While American Christians often focus their prayers on personal safety, protection, and constitutional “freedoms”, believers in persecuted nations are praying that Christians in the west experience persecution! They know how trouble is often essential to the greater progress of the gospel…both in the life of the individual and in the life of the church.
What trials and problems are you facing today, that God may be using to change you and cause the gospel to move into new areas?