Every once in a while, a leader, whether it be a judge, a king, or a Czar, tries to do the impossible and shut down the Gospel.
All throughout history many have attempted this impossible feat. Perhaps one of the most famous attempts occurred in 1673. The Lord Judge Magistrate of Bedford was fed up with John Bunyan and his preaching of the Gospel. John Bunyan was reaching thousands with the truth of scripture, and the judge obviously hated sound preaching. But when John Bunyan was told to stop, John Bunyan famously answered, “If I am freed today, I will preach tomorrow!” And so the judge sentenced him to jail and said,
“At last we are done with this tinker and his cause. Never more will he plague us: for his name, locked away as surely as he, shall be forgotten, as surely as he. Done we are, and all eternity with him.”
A sillier statement has never been spoken.
John Bunyan went on to write The Pilgrim’s Progress, along with other books that the Lord has used for centuries to lead men and women to himself. That chief magistrate was not only wrong about John Bunyan, but he believed that he could put a stop to the Gospel. By sentencing Bunyan, he ended up spreading it further than even Bunyan himself thought possible.
The Gospel cannot be stopped. No one on earth has the power to shut up a man or woman consumed with it.
Recently, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, put into law measures that banned anyone in Russia from sharing their faith. These laws ban evangelizing in the streets, at their jobs, online, and even in their own homes. Putin is not the first to attempt such a measure. Nero himself attempted that with Paul.
In the book of Philippians, Paul is writing from prison. The greatest evangelist of the early church, the man who God used to start many churches, seems to be “wasted” behind bars. And in Philippians 1:12, it seems as if Paul is addressing these rumors. He says, “Now I want you to know” almost as if he knew the thoughts they were having. He knew the rumors that were going on about how his ministry was over. Perhaps the men preaching against Paul in verse 15 are spreading rumors that Paul is being cursed by God, that he is no longer being used by Him and is somehow being punished by God for something. But they couldn’t be more wrong.
And perhaps the Philippians are starting to believe the rumors, or at the very least are questioning God as to why he would waste the great missionary in jail. And Paul reveals here in Philippians 1:12-14 that not only is the Gospel not being stopped, but it is spreading even further with him in chains than it would have had he been free to go wherever he wanted. And it is happening because of two reasons.
First: He has a captive audience
“my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.” Philippians 1:13
As we know from church history, Paul was imprisoned in Rome and chained to a roman guard at all times. Every 6 hours, a new Roman guard would be brought in to be bound to Paul. And Paul, because the Gospel was on his lips at all times, couldn’t help but share the gospel with these guards, who would go home and tell their families what they heard from Paul. And slowly but surely, the Gospel was spreading throughout Rome, all the way up to Caesar’s household.
Of all people, the Philippians should have known that Paul in prison wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Gospel. It’s possible that the jailer, who was stopped by Paul from committing suicide in Acts 16, was present when the letter to the Philippians was being read out loud, and Paul in prison is what the Lord used to save him and to start the church.
Second: increased courage in the Roman believers
“And that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” philippians 1:14
Paul shows us here the power of bold Gospel preaching. The roman believers who have heard of Paul and who visit him in prison are gaining courage to speak the Gospel because of Paul’s example. This boggles the mind. After all, one would think that watching a fellow believer imprisoned for sharing the gospel would cause you to be less likely to share it! And yet Paul tells us that as they watch his courage, faith and trust in God’s sovereignty, they are leaving encouraged and more likely to spread the Gospel. What the Roman government thought would stop the spreading of the Gospel not only failed, but ended up being counter-productive.
Putin, like Nero before him, arrogantly thinks that he can stop the Gospel. But when the Lord changes the heart of a man or woman and gives them a great love for the souls around them, it doesn’t matter if you threaten them with fines, higher taxes, or even prison and the loss of life. They will courageously and boldly proclaim their love for Christ no matter the cost. Like John Bunyan and Paul, God will raise bold men and women who will continue to spread the Gospel.
Let’s keep our Russian brothers and sisters in our prayers as they will see increased persecution in the next few years, and let’s pray that they will courageously proclaim the Gospel and store up for themselves treasures in Heaven, rather than on earth. And let’s pray for us, that we will preach the Gospel boldly now while we have so much freedom, and that our boldness will only increase in the days ahead.