Can't Stop the Gospel, Part 1
Kathryn and I’s first year of marriage was really wonderful. The Lord greatly blessed us that year. I worked as a mailman that year. I loved my job. I’m a pretty boring person. I love routine. That’s how the mail is—boring and routine. I love it. Kathryn finished up her Senior year of college. She was involved in some campus ministries. She was also learning how to be a housewife. It was a low stress, low key year. No kids. Not really too much responsibility. Overall, it was a really enjoyable year.
During that first year, Kathryn and I taught a first and second grade boys Sunday school class. We maybe had, at max, fifteen boys in the class. They were fun. Lots of energy.
In the classroom, they had a lot of decorations. As with most Sunday school rooms, pictures of Bible characters and Bible stories on the wall. There was one picture on the wall, though, that Kathryn and I still talk about. The picture was of a stop sign. And in the stop sign was written these words, “Can’t Stop the Gospel.”
I don’t know why both Kathryn and I have remembered that little picture. It’s hard to know why certain memories last, while others don’t. Nevertheless, if I were to take a stab at why we remembered this little sign I would guess because it expresses an absolutely amazing truth. And that truth is exactly what it says. The gospel is so powerful that no one—not the devil, not an evil government, no death, nothing—can stop it. Remember Rom 1:16. Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Can’t stop the gospel.
This sign is a childish yet accurate way of reflecting what Paul says in the passage in Philippians that we will be covering this morning and next week. Let’s go ahead and turn to Phil 1:12. For this morning’s sermon, we will cover Phil 1:12 through 1:14. The passage reads,
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.
We’ve just concluded Paul’s prayer in Phil 1:3–11. Now in our passage there is a structural pivot. In this pivot, Paul ends his prayer and begins speaking of the circumstances that he finds himself in. He is imprisoned. Paul discusses this imprisonment and the struggles of this imprisonment v. 1:26. At 1:27, we will experience another structural pivot to a new subject. For this week and the coming several week, we will explore Paul’s self-reflection during his imprisonment.
As already alluded to, the sermon title for this week and next week’s sermon is “Can’t Stop the Gospel.” This week is part 1. Next week is part 2. This morning I have three points for you. We are covering three verses this morning. Each point will cover each verse. For each verse, I will explain its meaning, dive into the Bible’s broader theological context regarding the meaning of the verse, and then apply the passage. Sound good?
The Gospel Advances
For our first point, we will look at 1:12. For this first point, write, “The Gospel Advances.” Paul states, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
While some verses in Scripture are hard to understanding, this verse, and the passage that we are covering this morning is not. What Paul is saying here is that his imprisonment has resulted in an advancement of the gospel. The gospel is advancing in the Roman empire, even though Paul is imprisoned. Paul is comforting the Philippians here. Rather than hinder to the gospel, his imprisonment has led to the gospel advancing. This notion of “advance” is referencing evangelism. People, both Jews and Gentiles, are coming to faith at a greater rate because Paul is imprisoned. Paul’s imprisonment is not stopping the gospel.
Paul does not elaborate here how it is theological that this is so. He states that it is the case—that the gospel is advancing—but he doesn’t portray for us in this Philippians context how this is. I’d like to fill this gap in here. The theological context that we need to interpret this verse in light of is the context of divine providence.
Providence is a theme that we explored heavily in the book of Ruth. All of Ruth was about providence, about God bringing about circumstances in which his purposes were accomplished. The same God who authored the book of Ruth also authored the book of Philippians. Therefore, we see similar themes arise in both books. The Bible, over and over again, in Ruth, in Philippians, everywhere affirms the idea that God is in control of human history, that he is sovereign, and that he brings good out of bad circumstances.
To further explore this idea, turn with me to Acts 2:22. I will read through verse 24.
Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of
death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
What we see in this passage is what Paul discusses in Phil 1:12 regarding God bringing about the advancement of the gospel through his imprisonment—God working good out of bad—is at the heart of the gospel itself. The idea that God brings about good through bad is the gospel message. In our Acts passage, Peter tells the Jews that even though they killed Jesus, God used Jesus death to bring about the salvation of the world. Verse 22 and 23 mention the bad circumstances. Verse 22 specifies what type of righteous man Jesus was. He did miracles. Jesus was the pinnacle of goodness. And yet, as v. 23 specifies, the Jews killed him. They put him to death by crucifying Jesus. That’s awful. To kill Jesus Christ—the perfect God-man—is the greatest act of evil ever committed. Nevertheless, God brought about good through that evil. Look again in v. 23. Peter mentions God’s sovereign control even in the evil acts of the Jews. This evil act happened in accordance with God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge. God was sovereign here. He was in control. Even in the most heinous act of evil, God the Father’s plan was accomplished. And then, in v. 24, Peter mentions the resurrection. God the Father raised his Son from the dead. The Father brought about the salvation of the entire world through a set of extraordinarily evil circumstances. He saved the world through the death of his Son.
That’s what we see in Phil 1:12. Paul was imprisoned for the gospel. That is a horrendous act of evil to Paul. To be punished for doing good is evil. Nevertheless, God the Father, like he has done in the gospel, brought about a great advancement of the gospel through Paul’s imprisonment. That is how our God works.
This is what this means for you: You must trust God in the trials and difficulty of life. You must trust him. The way God works is that he brings about good through bad. That is the gospel. That is how he works. If you are struggling, if you are suffering, if your circumstances are terrible, God wants you to trust him. God wants you to cling to him. Like he did with his own Son and with Paul, his intent is to use those circumstances to bring about something glorious. Trust him. Trust that he will. Trust that he will be faithful to you just as he was faithful to Paul and to his Son. Anyone who trusts in the Lord will not be put to shame. The Gospel Advances among Non-Christians
Now for the second point. Look at v. 13. Paul states,
so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
What Paul does here is he is giving the first line of evidence for his statement that the gospel is advancing. Paul states in v. 12 that the gospel is advancing. How, Paul? What’s your evidence? The evidence is that it is advancing to the “whole imperial guard and to all the rest.”
Paul’s reference to “the whole imperial guard and to all the rest” is a reference to those persons employed by the Roman Emperor. The Emperor during this time was Nero. Some decades later, Paul was beheaded by Nero. Paul is not ashamed, though. He is a proclaimer of the gospel. He had been commissioned by Christ to fulfill a task, and Paul was going to do that. It didn’t matter if Paul was imprisoned or not. He preached the gospel.
We might imagine the situation of how the imperial guard and the Emperor’s government subjects might come to know this of Paul. Imagine a guard coming on duty to watch Paul. Over time, they strike up a conversation. The soldier asks Paul, “What are you here?” Paul preaches the gospel to him. “I’m here for the testimony of the gospel. Christ is Lord. He is risen from the dead. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Even Nero will bow before Christ. You must repent.” That soldier goes off and tells another soldier. Paul continues to testify to the soldiers who watch him regarding the gospel. Over time, the whole guard in the prison knows of Paul and of the risen Lord. Wow. That’s how God works.
Let’s situate this point in a theological context, as we did with our first point. Turn to 2 Tim 3:12. This is a passage we are all aware of. Paul states here,
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
Our passage in Phil 1:13 is built upon this verse in 2 Tim 3:12. Persecution comes to those live godly lives, who love Christ, who love the gospel, who love the truth. The reason why this is is because Christian’s are conscience agitators. We are called to stand up for the truth. That’s our job. We are called to spread an offensive and abrasive message. That is basic to our lives. We are called to call sin sin. People usually don’t want other people to rock the boat, to be offensive, to be abrasive, to call people out for their wrongdoing. That is exactly what we are supposed to do. When we do this, the ungodly don’t like it. The darkness hates the light. People don’t like to be told that their lives are evil, that sin is bad, that they need to repent. In response, rather than confessing that Jesus is Lord, they attack us. In our culture, this mostly comes through verbal persecution. You judgmental, you’re a hypocrite, you’re holier than though. Rather than address the issue, the attack those who speak truth. It is through that offense, through the word of judgment, that the Spirit convicts and brings salvation. If we forsake the gospel’s offense, we forsake the gospel’s power.
Sometime ago, Nike ran an ad of the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick is a controversial figure. He is the quarterback who started the kneeling campaign in the NFL during the national anthem. His intent in doing that was to draw attention to the oppression of minorities. I believe the thinking was that he couldn’t support the national anthem because of how badly minorities were treated in America. Nike rallied around him. And they gave him this ad. The ad says: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” It’s a stupid ad. What makes it so stupid is this notion of “something.” It’s undefined. A Muslim terrorist could support this idea. In fact, they do. Don’t look to Nike for moral, theological guidance.
Nonetheless, this ad does highlight an massively important truth. I always try to find the truth in error. And there is a tremendous amount of truth here. What this ad rightly identifies is that some things in life are so valuable, so worthy, so tremendously valuable that they are worth losing everything for. The ad doesn’t identify what that “thing” is. The Bible does. Paul does.
The gospel is of such value and worth that it is worth sacrificing everything for. It is worth losing one’s life for. The gospel is worth suffering for. The gospel is worth going to prison for. The gospel is worth loss, pain, and difficulty. It’s worth the ridicule. Bring on the ridicule. Bring on the pain and difficulty. Bring on the imprisonment. It’s worth it. The gospel is worth it. Jesus is worth it. The darkness hates the light. God’s word is a word of judgment upon this world’s wickedness.
And when criticism comes because of our stance upon the truth, don’t back down. Don’t apologize. Rather, accept it as God’s will. And continue to uphold the gospel and proclaim with love and gentleness.
The Gospel Advances in the Church
Last point. Turn with me back to Phil 1, v. 14. This is our last point this morning. It is this: “The Gospel Advances in the Church.” Verse 14 reads,
And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Paul provides in v. 14 the second line of evidence for the advancement of the gospel. Again we ask of Paul. Question: “Paul, what’s your evidence that the gospel is advancing even though you are imprisoned?” Answer: “My Christian brothers and sisters are much more bold to evangelize now that I am in prison.” The previous answer Paul gave was a line of evidence outside the church. In v. 14, Paul’s line of evidence is inside the church. A very simple idea.
As I’ve done with the other points, I want to situate what Paul says here within a theological context. That context is the church. In the church, we are called to love another. That is basic to what we do. We are called to love one another.
The main way we express our love to one another here in this church is we seek to see their growth in Christ. We are called as Christians to seek spiritual fruit in the lives of other Christians. This is an important duty we have towards one another in the church. We ought to desire to see one another grow in Christ.
To further explore this idea, turn with me to Heb 10:24. The passage reads,
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.
I believe that are two commands here for us to dwell on. The first is the duty of stirring up in one another love and good works. That’s essential. You need to seek out in your brothers and sisters love and good works. Also, we are to “consider how” to do this. There is a myriad of ways we can do this. It’s up to us to consider how to.
One way we can stir up in others love and good works is through our example. If we connect this back with Paul, Paul’s imprisonment for the gospel led other Christians to speak the gospel more boldly. His example inspired the Philippian Christians. Paul’s boldness to preach the gospel to the point of imprisonment led others to preach the gospel with more boldness. Paul’s obedience led to obedience within the Christian community.
A wonderful aspect of Christianity is that you can make a profound impact upon others through the way you live. Through your example of Christian faithfulness, you can inspire others to Christian faithfulness. You can leave a lasting, eternal impact upon others. Not only can you, you must as a Christian. This is your duty to other Christians. You must be obedient so that others will be obedient. You must be bold with the gospel to inspire others to be bold with the gospel. You must live for Christ to inspire others to live for Christ.
We’ve been talking about the gospel, it’s power, how it is unstoppable. You can’t stop the gospel. It is so great, it’s worth dying for. It’s worth forsaking everything for. The Nike ad says, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” We want to change that this morning. “Believe in the gospel. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
This morning I want to end this sermon with a story that I hope and pray inspires you to faith and good works, inspires you to greater sacrifice for the gospel. This is a story about a man by the name of Dirk Willems. I heard of this story during my time at DTS. It is a powerful story of love for one’s enemy, a love for the gospel. This is the type of love that we need here at CBC. No story of an Anabaptist martyr has captured the imagination more than the tale of Dirk Willems. Dirk was caught, tried and convicted as an Anabaptist in those later years of harsh Spanish rule under the Duke of Alva in The Netherlands. One winter, he escaped from prison by letting himself out of a window with a rope made of knotted rags, dropping onto the ice that covered the castle moat. Seeing him escape, a palace guard pursued him as he fled. Dirk crossed the thin ice of the frozen castle moat safely. His own weight had been reduced by short prison rations, but the palace
guard who pursued him broke through the cie. Hearing the guard’s cries for help, Dirk turned back and rescued him. The less-than-grateful guard then seized Dirk and led him back to captivity. This time the authorities threw Dirk into a more secure prison, a small, heavily barred room at the top of a very tall church tower, above the bell, high up where he would never be able to escape again. Soon he was led out of
his cell and was burned to death.
Basic to the gospel is the idea of loving one’s enemies, of blessing those who curse you. That is exactly what Dirk did. He believed in the gospel and sacrificed his life for it. He ultimately lost his life because of his love for his enemies. Dirk’s example inspires us to sacrifice everything for the gospel.
Through your example, your life, you can inspire others to love the gospel more. Our lives can be like Dirk Willems’s. Our lives can be like Paul’s. Through your obedience to Christ, you can inspire others to be obedient to Christ.