Philippians 1:12-14, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 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.”
Have you ever been persecuted for taking a stand for something you believe in? Have you ever faced friends turning their backs on you because you changed? Have family members shut you down and out because of differences in how you thought politically, socially, or morally? Have you lost a job because you stood up for what was right rather than what was more profitable?
For many of us in the United States being persecuted for our faith, the way Paul was is highly unlikely thanks to the Constitution and the religious liberty protections it affords us. Many of us though, will be persecuted in some way or another on a small scale due to our Christian beliefs.
In the morally backwards society, we live in today; you can’t even quote a Bible verse or promote a biblical stance on marriage, gender, divorce, abortion, or justice without getting someone riled up and they, in turn, releasing the proverbial “dogs of hell” loose upon you. Many Christians in the United States who have taken stands on critical biblical issues find themselves ostracized and routinely the butt of nasty jokes, courtesy of late-night comedians. For the most part, Christians in the United States live in relative peace and harmony, knowing that they are safe from being imprisoned for the faith.
Such is not the case for our dear brothers and sisters in China. The tragedy of Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu comes to my mind as his story has been in all the world’s major newspapers the past few years. Pastor Wang finds himself in almost the same predicament Paul is in when he writes this epistle to the Church of Philippi. Pastor Wang is currently being imprisoned for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, promoting a biblical worldview of living and government, and “inciting rebellion” against the Communist Party of China. Throughout all of the torture he and over 100 members of his church have endured over the past few years, Pastor Wang has remained steadfast in his faith in Christ and has joy in his heart, knowing that the gospel is being made known by his imprisonment.
People all over the world, Christians and non-Christians alike have heard his testimony and have been awestruck by how steadfast he is in his declaration that Jesus is Lord. It is in this quote from Pastor Wang that I most see a resemblance between him and Paul:
“I firmly believe that Christ has called me to carry out this faithful disobedience through a life of service, under this regime that opposes the gospel and persecutes the church. This is the means by which I preach the gospel, and it is the mystery of the gospel which I preach.”
The Lord’s brother, James, reminds us that we will face persecution and trials in our lifetime, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). It is in these trials, and amidst persecution, that faith is tested and proven genuine. It’s true for us and it was true for Paul while he was in prison.
Just like Pastor Wang, Paul’s primary concern is preaching the gospel and making sure the gospel is made known even amidst his intense persecution. The incredible thing is that God uses Paul’s imprisonment to advance the gospel! God uses Paul’s persecution and trials to show an entire army and imperial guard that there’s more to this life than Rome, Caesar, and glory on the battlefield.
It is in Paul’s imprisonment that he has positioned himself to become the missionary and evangelist to the Roman soldiers and guards. He is perfectly situated in prison to share the gospel with hundreds of soldiers and prisoners alike. Paul even says that the entire imperial guard has heard the gospel because he’s told them why he’s in prison. Inferences can be made that soldiers came to faith in Christ because of Paul’s testimony and joy amidst his imprisonment. So, not only is the gospel preached, and not only is the gospel made known to Gentile Roman soldiers and guards, but furthermore, Paul’s imprisonment encourages and strengthens the faith and resolve of other brothers in Christ.
Christians who were terrified of being found out and fearing imprisonment or death are now emboldened by Paul’s living testimony and witness for Christ while in prison. Christians are becoming more and more confident in the Lord and gathering the courage to speak the truth of God in the face of persecution. Even while under guard and lock and key the gospel of Jesus Christ is made known. It advances amidst persecution, trials, and strife because not even the gates of Hell will prevail over the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows this, believes this, and lives this out because his hope is not built on men but on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Therefore, like Pastor Wang and the Apostle Paul, as Christians it’s our duty and joy to make the gospel of Jesus Christ known to all people; especially when we face persecution because it is in the midst of persecution that the gospel will advance far greater than we could ever imagine. The hymn Be Strong in the Lord comes to my mind, and I close with this, with Christ on our side and the armor of God adorning us nothing can stand against the advancement of the gospel:
“Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage:
Your mighty Defender is always the same.
Mount up with wings, as the eagle ascending:
Vict’ry is sure when you call on His name.
So put on the armor the Lord has provided:
And place your defense in His unfailing care.
Trust Him, for He will be with you in battle,
Lighting your path to avoid ev’ry snare.
Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage:
Your mighty Commander will vanquish the foe.
Fear not the battle, for the vict’ry is always His;
He will protect you wherever you go.”
James Forbis is a graduate of The University of Arkansas, a former Jr. High and High School football coach, and American history teacher. He is completing his M.DIV at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission Studies and Expository Preaching. He’s a self-proclaimed sweet tea connoisseur and Tex-Mex addict. Most Saturday’s you can find him cheering on his Arkansas Razorbacks, hiking or fishing, or reading up on his favorite subject, the Revolutionary War, or spending time with his wife.