Seems that I will never get through preparing for the mission field. But I’ve been comforted this week thinking over the Lord’s thirty silent years of readying himself at home with family and bending over a carpenter’s bench. Were those days any less fragrant to God than His later work before the eyes of the people? I think not. A well-made piece of furniture and a healed blind man represented the same thing to the Father- a job well done; mission accomplished. So with us here. Nothing great, but what is that to Him whom there is no great or small. Jim Elliot
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. Phil 1:12-14
If you are a servant of Jesus and have a passion to be used for his glory and have not been held back at some moment by the chains of circumstances, you will.
Most of us are like the young Marine who has seen the Band of Brothers and who has been captured by the thought of risking his life in battle for the sake of his country and the glory of victory in battle. He just wants a rifle and transportation to get him to the front. He simply has no idea of the cost or the character it will take to enter into a life and death struggle with a real and well fortified enemy. He needs to be held back until he is trained and ready for his mission.
For Moses, Elijah, Paul and Jesus, it was the wilderness. Cut off from the noise of the crowds, separated from the demands of the culture and alone in the desert, each one spent time alone with the Father so that they could be prepared for future mission. In the case of Jesus, it was not a one time thing, for “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” [Luke 5:16] In Paul’s case, those wilderness “time outs” were not always chosen. They were chosen for him.
That is where we find him. He is in jail, bound by chains, not of his choosing. He is confined and bound, not because he did bad, but because he did good. That is key, for if he had done something wrong he would have seen his confinement as just, but in the natural this was unjust. To use our terminology: “It just did not seem fair. He deserved better.”
And, we can see why he might have felt this way. He was called and commissioned to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Although he was in Rome, he was sequestered in chains. He was on the fast track. He had a passion. He had proved himself in persecution and pain. He had faithfully carried out his God-given mission. He had received revelation directly from Christ and the churches were in need of his wisdom and counsel. So, why was he in jail?
Paul had a perspective that we all need to imitate. God was sovereign and in charge. There are no surprises to God and no accidents for his children. He knows all our ways and though we “rise on the wings of the dawn and “settle on the far side of the sea,” even there his hand will guide us and his right hand will hold us fast.” [Ps 139:9-10] He was God’s man and Christ promised to go with his servants to the end of the earth. [Matthew 28:18-20]. He was in chains, but those chains were not the chains of restraint, they were the chains of opportunity. Not the chains of Rome, but the chains of Christ.
I am reminded of the story of a man going into the office of a well-known minister who was pacing back and forth, obviously upset with something. The man asked the minister what could be so troubling. The preacher shot back, “I am in a hurry and God isn’t.” Even the sending of the Savior of the world, in spite of the urgent prayers of Israel, did not take place until the fullness of time had come. [Galatians 4:4] God was working out the details to make his Son’s appearance take place at the exact moment he had determined. Paul knew that God does not waste his time nor does he waste his servant’s time. So, delay was not God’s denial but his design. God had placed Paul there for a purpose.
Therefore, he looked around to see what that purpose might be. And, you know what he found? He found a soldier, a member of the elite palace guard attached to him 24 hours a day. Not only that, we are told that these soldiers rotated their shift every six hours. So, each day he had four captive listeners to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Opportunity was chained to his body. It was not long before many of these men became believers in the living Lord, who deliberately put Paul into chains so that these soldiers could be set free.
We are not sure who “everyone else” was, but some commentators have suggested that they were the Roman officials who were sent to interrogate Paul to determine exactly why he had appealed to Rome and the circumstances that got this Roman citizen into trouble. They, too, heard the Gospel and it is not too much of a leap to suggest that when Paul wrote, “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household,” [Phil 4:22], the members of Caesar’s household he referred to became believers either directly or indirectly because of these interviews with the “prisoner” Paul.
That is not all. Paul reveals that the brothers, the believers who were outside the prison, were watching to see how he would respond to his chains. Would he stand up or would he back down? Would he whimper and complain or would he rejoice and proclaim? They found out that whether in chains or not, he remained the same. He cared only for the spread of the Gospel and the glory of His Lord. Whereever he was and what ever was happening could not derail him from his destiny. As a result, they were encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly because of his example.
Now, here is what may separate us from the apostle Paul. He had one passion: to see the Gospel advance. That was his heartbeat. His next breath had one purpose, to see the name of Jesus glorified to the ends of the earth. Everything, good and bad, for him served that one purpose. The moment his deployment was over he was ready to go home. [Phil. 1:20-26] That was his reason for living. But, if our passion is to get what we want now; and to be free to do what we want to do; and be safe and secure at every moment, then delays will bring disappointment and chains will bring complaints and risk will bring retreat.
The word “advance” is the Greek term prokope. It consisted of two words, pro, “forward,” and kopto, “to cut or chop.” It was a military term that had the sense of fighting ahead in spite of the opposing forces. That is what Paul was talking about. Prisons, chains, delays, and disappointments cannot stop the Gospel from advancing. Paul says it like this: “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained . [2 Tim 2:8-9] The greatest force on the earth is released not by the explosion of a hydrogen bomb or the eruption of Mt. Helena but the proclamation of God’s Word. It is making old things new, giving life to dead souls and bringing about the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Nothing can stop it.
I know what it is like to feel like I have been set aside. I know how it feels to have doubts seep up through the floor boards of my mind that question if my usefulness is over and if my calling has been taken and given to another. I also know the joy and power of crying out to Christ on my knees, with my Bible opened, hearing fresh promises of faithfulness coming from the pages of Holy Writ: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus;” [Phil 1:6]
Even Paul apparently needed a personal word of encouragement from the Lord. We read that in Corinth Paul had a vision. Acts 18:9-11 records, “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city .’ So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.”
That is the message we need to hear in this day. God has stationed us right where he wants us. Regardless of the opposition, we must not be intimidated into silence. We must keep on preaching. God is with us. No one can rip us from his strong hands. There are those who will respond to the Gospel in time. Our part is to stay and persevere and by God’s grace and the power of the Word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ will advance!
The late Chaplain of the Senate, John Lloyd Olgilve, once gave this helpful observation. He said that he had learned that, “Everything that happens to us is for what God wants to have happen to us; everything that happens to us is for what God wants to happen to others, through us.” I think he is right. I am reminded of the seemingly “tragic” deaths of Jim Elliot and Chet Bitterman at the hands of ruthless murderers. They were so young and seemingly had so much to live for. And, then we are reminded of the spike in the numbers of young missionary recruits who left the security of America and took the place of these two young martyrs. These volunteers saw glory all over the lives of these martyrs and they too left all to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. They were convinced that nothing could stop the advance of the Gospel; not prison, chains nor even death. So, if you are being held back right now, don’t stop trusting and speaking. Look for God-given opportunities to witness. Those chains are not the chains of restraint, but the chains of release. Nothing can stop the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Dr. Gary Rieben. © Give Me That Book. Email: Grieben@aol.com. Website: www.GiveMeThatBook.org. Postal: GMTB | P.O. Box 1045| La Quinta, CA 92253 USA | 619.829.2390
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