Thursday, November 29, 2012

Advancing The Gospel

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel – Philippians 1:12  (ESV)

This is what defined the Apostle Paul.  His mission, wherever that mission took him, was to advance the Gospel of Jesus the Christ.  His mission was to tell the world, to tell all who would hear him even if they did not want to hear him, that Jesus the Christ was Lord.  Paul’s mission was to inform all men everywhere, whether they would come to believe it or not, that there was no greater principality or power or ruler than the resurrected Christ, Jesus the Messiah of Israel, the One to Whom “was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him” (Daniel 7:14a).  Paul’s message was that the realm in and over which this King Jesus ruled, was an “everlasting dominion which shall not pass away,” and a Kingdom “that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14b).  All, regardless of status or rank or privilege or supposed power, were to hear this message.    

So what was it that had happened to Paul, as we read in our text, that had really served to advance the Gospel?  He was in some form of imprisonment.  This is what was serving to advance the Gospel.  How so?  Well, it has to do with his mission, which, as said above, was to inform all people, without exception, that there was a true Lord and King Whose name was Jesus.  Being in prison, Paul said, had served to make this message “known throughout the whole imperial guard” (Philippians 1:13b). 

Effectively and for all practical purposes, Paul was in prison for claiming that there was another King, and that this King possessed a greater power, both here on earth and in the heavens, than did Caesar.  Paul was in prison for saying that Jesus was truly the Son of God, and not a mythical, play-acting son of god as was pretended by Caesar.  Paul had declared that Caesar’s instrument of power over the people, that being the cross, had been taken by a true King and been turned from an instrument of subjection and forced submission to imperial power, into an instrument of eternal life (the life of the age to come) which served to convey the message of Resurrection power.  Paul was declaring that Jesus had stripped Caesar of his power by His actions on the cross.  Paul said that when Jesus came out of the tomb, in a bodily Resurrection, that He was declared by that to be the true Son of God, with real power (Romans 1:4).  This flew directly in the face of the claims of Caesar and the cult of worship that was associated with his rule. 

With that established, Paul echoed what he may have known to be the words of Jesus, putting Caesar in his rightful place, by saying, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7).  Regardless of what is here being communicated, Paul seems to make it clear that one thing that was not owed to Caesar was worship.  That belonged to Christ alone. 

We must bear in mind that this message was being made known to the whole imperial guard.  This was being made known to those who were most likely immersed in emperor worship, or forced to participate at some level, as part of the Caesar cult.  Paul was not being sensitive to their culture and religion, nor was he changing his message in the least little bit.  Though some were obviously being changed by this message of power, it is reasonable to presume that not all came to belief, so we can imagine this was not making his time in prison any easier.  Nevertheless, he did not back down, saying that not only was it being made known to the imperial guard, but that it was being made known “to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (1:13b).  Who these “all the rest” were is unknown, but we can surmise that some were people of influence, because the message of the Gospel appeared to be having an effect, especially as it relates to the governing authorities (Caesar’s household, as we shall shortly see).  We can make that connection because Paul says that “most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the Word without fear” (1:14).  It was the very fact of Paul’s imprisonment, and his continuing to proclaim and prove the message of Jesus as Lord of all without change or alteration, that created an environment in which there need be less fear of persecution by the authorities (though the persecution would come, Caesar and his authorities could merely kill the body). 

The very proclamation of the Gospel message (Jesus is Lord of all), without addition or insistence upon any type of sanctifying performance, was what was changing hearts and minds, and creating fallow ground for the continued propagation of the Gospel, the growth of the ministry, and the extension of God’s covenant to the people that were desired to be a part of His Kingdom.  The Gospel itself, as Paul would write to the Roman church, was and is “the power of God unto salvation” (1:16), which aped the claims of Rome and Caesar, who was also looked to as a bringer of “salvation” to the world.  When Paul looks at his imprisonment and can say that what was happening to him was really serving to advance the Gospel, it can truly be said that the preaching of Jesus as Lord was indeed turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6).  This was so much the case, that Paul comes to the close of this letter to the Philippian church, writing “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (4:22).  Yes, the Gospel was being advanced.       

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