12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, 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. 14 Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly. 15 To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. 16 These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice. — Philippians 1:12-18
Perspective for Prioritizing the Gospel
by J Carr
Let’s be honest.
We all feel dissatisfied or even grieved by our weakness in evangelism. There is no devout Christian who feels perfectly content with his or her effectiveness in this area. We regret missed opportunities, and loath our own timidity. We feel ignorant and fearful. We feel like frauds because we don’t share what we claim to believe is the greatest truth and the only way of hope. We feel guilty because we lack compassion for the lost. All of this can leave us burdened by a sense of failure that results in self-defensive avoidance of the issue and fear of sermons or, in this case, devotionals that bring it up.
So let’s be honest with each other and with ourselves about this. That is the only way to be free from it and move forward—because I believe most of us do want to move forward. We all want to be used of God to win others to faith in Christ, but we all face seasons of little success to varying degrees. Don’t think I am immune to this. It is true of all Christians of all ages. It was even true of the Christians in the first century.
That is what we see in this passage. But for these Christians, something changed.
In verse 16 Paul tells us, “Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly.” So if these Christians gained confidence and daring and fearlessness in their evangelism, that means before this they were insecure, timid, and fearful. So what happened? How did they change?
They saw, through Paul’s example, that the gospel is greater than their circumstances. They saw the fruit, joy, and freedom that comes from arranging our lives around the gospel rather than arranging the gospel around our lives. They saw that God does great things through us when we are devoted to advancing His kingdom, even in circumstances that would make it seem impossible for us to do any good.
Paul had been imprisoned for three years by this point, but rather than feeling defeated or groaning about how difficult his situation was, he rejoiced in the advance of the gospel. Paul could see the all-powerful, all-good hand of God in his life, even in the midst of a wrongful imprisonment. This perspective sustained his joy and ministry. Paul’s example reminds us of the importance of evaluating all of our circumstances in light of the greatness of God and the progress of the gospel.
Believers can fall into the common trap of thinking that God’s blessings and gifts are an end in themselves, rather than a means to advancing His gospel. But if we long for the joy of Paul and the boldness of these “brothers,” we must view our lives the way God does. We must think through our difficulties, our suffering, our prosperity, and our opportunities as being the means by which God is advancing the reach of the gospel in and through our lives.
- How might God advance the gospel through my present circumstances if my ultimate goal was the progress of the gospel and not my personal comfort?
- Do I see evangelism as a painful obligation, or as an opportunity for great joy?
- What obstacles keep me from personal evangelism, and do these obstacles hold up when viewed through the lens of the power of God and greatness of the gospel?
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.