A Strange but Effective Strategy
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
…so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Having established that his imprisonment had actually served to advance the gospel (verse 12), Paul explained two specific ways in which this was true. What feels like a tragedy from a human perspective is truly a providential blessing. Paul and his preaching abilities were not being wasted, and God most certainly was not asleep at the wheel! Something meaningful was taking place through Paul even as he languished in prison.
The seed of truth found new fertile ground as the whole imperial guard and others learned that his imprisonment resulted from Paul’s passionate preaching of the gospel. The palace guard was established by Caesar Augustus and held the responsibility of maintaining peace in the Roman Empire. It was common that a prisoner is handcuffed to a guard while confined. This ensured that escape, as well as privacy, was impossible. However, just as Paul was unable to distance himself from the guard on duty, neither was the guard to have a respite from Paul! Paul literally and providentially had a captive audience as he continued to share the gospel while in prison. These men, who otherwise may never have heard about God’s salvation plan, found themselves front and center as Paul preached the gospel. Tied to Paul, they were never more than roughly eighteen inches away from the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What an amazing and unexpected plan God had for the preaching of salvation!
The fact that Paul was arrested and imprisoned in chains did not change his calling. No human obstacle can stop the work of God. Paul accepted God’s sovereignty and sought to be an instrument for the Lord. He established a jail ministry and continued the mission he had been given. His location worsened, the audience changed, yet his message remained the same: salvation is found in no other name than Jesus!
Paul could have protected himself in jail by staying silent. After all, although his audience was close enough to hear and receive the gospel, they were also quite close enough to reject it with a physical reminder of their displeasure! Paul’s time in jail was not easy, and he likely bore the marks of his new and dangerous mission field. Yet, he chose to trust the lord and shared the message of God’s love. There is much for us to apply from Paul’s response to his imprisonment. Maybe your audience isn’t as big as you’d like, or your influence is much more narrow than you desire. Just be faithful to preach Christ. Perhaps your career hasn’t flourished as you anticipated. Continue to point people to Jesus wherever you can. Maybe you are afraid because you have to live with someone who may vehemently reject the gospel. God does not forget His people, and He is always at work. Paul was given a captive audience to be heard by men who otherwise would never have listened. It could be that God has placed someone specifically in your life for the sole purpose of hearing the gospel from you.
Paul’s imprisonment also affected those who already believed as they became emboldened by his example. An arrest that was meant to silence and intimidate actually strengthened countless believers to increase their evangelism. The gospel went forth even stronger as a result of Paul’s incarceration.
No doubt Paul’s letter was read publicly and cherished over and over as the Philippian believers realized that his circumstances did not inform his faith. Because of Paul’s unwavering trust in the Lord, others became more courageous. God was not only faithful to Paul’s ministry but was using it as a means to build up the ministry of others. Those called to preach the gospel must have true courage that will not falter in the face of persecution. It was through Paul’s influence, though significantly decreased, that so many others found their ministry increase through his example. If Paul can be faithful in his chains, then his spiritual children can be faithful in their freedom. If Paul can retain his joy in the harsh reality of confinement, surely joy can be found no matter the circumstance!
In verse seven, Paul reveals that God was at work through the defense and confirmation of the gospel. The work of the gospel is defended when it is explained to the outside, with unbelievers. Confirmation of the gospel happens in the hearts of Christians as their faith is built up even stronger. Paul is telling us that through his imprisonment, the gospel is at work in the lives of those on the outside and inside. In the same way, Paul states that while in jail, those on the outside (the imperial guard) are hearing the gospel, and those on the inside (most of the brothers) are gaining in courage.
It is incredible to think that if not for Paul’s imprisonment, the guards would likely have never heard the good news. You could say that his chains actually freed him to share with Roman soldiers who would have otherwise been out of reach. God can use any circumstance to pave a pathway to ministry!
What about your life? In what ways can you be faithful today? Maybe your opportunities seem small or inconsequential but rest assured God is using your life in ways beyond your understanding. Just like Paul, God will use you to be a light to those nearest you, and He will use your example to bless those who are watching. Be encouraged!
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