Restricted Yet Advancing

Restricted Yet Advancing

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel

Philippians 1:12

This past year has been undeniably tough. Churches across the world have reluctantly gone without many ministries and activities. Camps, mission trips, and numerous large gatherings are now all but unheard of across our country. It can be understandable to think that Kingdom work has been suspended for the present, if not in full retreat. But take heart, dear Christian, our God does not require ideal circumstances to build His Kingdom. His plan will be accomplished!

Only with the eyes of faith could Paul see the gospel advancing while he himself was trapped in jail. He understood then what we must understand today: God works on a global scale regardless of our personal understanding of His plans. As we know, Paul penned Philippians while in prison, yet no matter his uncertainties, he was confident that God was at work regardless of his circumstances, and further, God was at work through his circumstances. Whatever may befall you, the gospel will never cease to flourish. As painful as it may be, cancellations, altered plans, and even persecution can still yield a harvest of good for those who purpose their lives according to God’s will.

As Christians, we do not always understand what God is doing. Paul’s situation was no less confusing for believers in New Testament times. As the world’s most influential preacher of the gospel, Paul excelled in defending the faith, yet found himself without his usual means of bringing truth to the masses. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul penned words that have brought endless comfort to Christians throughout the centuries.

When did he have the time to write such lengthy, detailed letters? Paul was an active man. His travel was constant; his work: unending; and his time: stretched thin. Paul’s imprisonment not only forced him to slow down, but he was sovereignly given permission and materials by his jailors that enabled him to record letters to churches he had established. Two thousand years later, his writings still bless God’s people. Yes! God had a plan to advance His gospel in a way no believer could ever imagine. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The Lord inspired Paul to write these words from a heart that had experienced this truth firsthand.

How tempting it might have been for Paul to conclude he was the exception to his own words. After all, common sense suggested that isolation was not the best strategy for changing the world. What coach benches his star player in the final moments of a close game? Yet, Paul’s circumstances seemed to indicate that the Lord had relegated him to the sidelines during this most dependent and needy stage of the church age. Jesus had returned to His Father’s side, the church was in its infancy, and Paul was isolated from his spiritual children.

How did Paul interpret this seemingly illogical separation? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he wisely concluded that the events of his imprisonment had actually served to advance the gospel. The church was not only surviving but thriving during Paul’s incarceration. The gospel was growing, moving … and advancing!

Typically a prisoner is the recipient of comfort and encouragement from those closest to him. Yet, Paul gave both to his brothers and sisters in Christ, as he was more concerned about the progression of the gospel than the trials of his own life circumstances. What an example! Unlike Paul, we often live in a very small world, reduced to our address or, even more specifically, our lives alone. Paul did the opposite! He refused to fixate on his own suffering and instead rejoiced that the gospel continued to spread.

When Paul chose a word like advance to describe the gospel, he gave great insight into the work of preaching it. The word translated as advance does not merely mean to make progress but refers to moving forward against obstacles. The word could be used to describe a person who hacks a path through trees and brush. And while Paul may have been opposed and persecuted inside his prison, the gospel of Jesus Christ continued to cut down strongholds beyond it, creating a path for those who would believe and receive the gift of salvation.

A crucial insight that must be grasped is this: no matter how challenging our present circumstances may be, God desires for us to move forward by concentrating on the reality that God is at work. Thoughts of past mistakes or missed opportunities can cause spiritual paralysis, immobilizing our commitment to God’s work. In the same way, present trials can cause such pain that we fail to acknowledge that God is still moving.

Philippians 1:12 is a glorious truth that reminds us of God’s sovereignty, which cannot be diminished. We can always be encouraged by remembering that God is at work, even in the most challenging circumstances of life. For this to be true of us, we must keep our spiritual eyes open, eagerly seeking what is ahead rather than looking back. 

There is a story of an old farmer who owned a horse. One day the horse ran away.
Neighbors heard the bad news and comforted the old farmer. He answered them,

“Who can know about these things?”

Just a few days later, the horse returned home, followed by a herd of horses.
Again, his neighbors stopped by upon hearing the news and congratulated
him on his good fortune. The farmer again replied,

“Who can know about these things?”

Not long after, while riding the horse, the farmer’s son was bucked off and broke his leg.
When the farmer’s friends bemoaned such bad luck, the farmer softly replied,

“Who can know about these things?”

A few days later, an army marched through the city as they recruited all the healthy
young men for military service. Upon seeing the farmer’s son with a broken leg,
they passed him over. The farmer’s neighbors were delighted
at his good fortune. The farmer, as expected, gently replied,

“Who can know about these things?”

The farmer had learned that a conclusion, drawn at the moment, was imprudent and unwise. Current hardships could very well be future blessings! Was Paul in jail? Yes! Was he unable to preach to crowds or start churches? Yes! Was this a failure of God’s plan? Absolutely not! Though our trials may appear as a disadvantage to our earthly eyes, we must choose to see God on His heavenly throne, sovereignly planning the events of our lives, both joyous and distressing, for our good and the glory of His Kingdom. We must choose to trust that the Lord is always at work—ever seeing, ever perceiving—though we at times are blind to His purposes.

God has promised to build His church, and His work in doing so never stops. So take heart, dear Christian, your life and your situation are not the exceptions! The gospel continues to advance. Of this, we are sure!


Michael Staton

Michael Staton

Michael Staton (D.Min., The Masters Seminary) is the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Mustang, Oklahoma, where he has served since 2000. He has been married to his wife Marcy for 24 years and they have two sons. For sermons and other writings, visit his ministry website at everywordpreached.com.

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