In his book « Future Next », John Sanei states that COVID-19 has changed the way the world works. “We must stop expecting to have certainty; there is no certainty out there,”. Everyone in ministry knows and has experienced this first hand – nothing feels certain anymore and COVID-19 has not only changed the world but also changed the way the church works too.
I, as I am sure you, have felt disheartened and discouraged at times. Church planting is not for the faint hearted when there is no pandemic, not to mention how much harder it has become in this new “changed world”. How will my church plant survive? Where will our support and funding come from? How do we church plant in this changed world? How do you “gather people” when restrictions prevent people from gathering?
Feeling very low, I believe the Lord took me to Philippians to teach me about how He is advancing the Gospel, in places, people and ways I might not even know of.
In Philippians 1, Paul describes 3 ways that God is advancing the gospel:
IN PLACES WHERE THEY NEVER THOUGHT IT WOULD ADVANCE.
“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else,” (Philippians 1:12)
Who would have thought the Gospel would advance when God’s chief church planter is locked up in prison?
From our point of view, this is a great obstacle for Gospel ministry. From our point of view, we think that with limitations of movement or with limitations of resources, surely the work of the Gospel cannot progress. The great Apostle Paul who’s seen Jesus, sent out by Him and gifted in planting churches gets thrown in prison.
Yet, God uses the very negative circumstances to advance His Gospel. These things would never have happened if Paul was not in prison.
WITH PEOPLE WE NEVER THOUGHT GOD COULD USE.
“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)
The boldness of the apostle Paul to keep preaching the Gospel in prison is not only advancing the Gospel outside the church, but also having an impact inside the church.The boldness of the apostle Paul to keep preaching the Gospel in prison is not only advancing the Gospel outside the church, but also having an impact inside the church. Click To Tweet
It is so much so that other brothers who were timid to preach the Gospel now get more boldness to preach Christ. This is because they realized that the worst thing officials can do to them, which is to put them in prison or to kill them, cannot stop the Gospel from spreading. You can imprison people but you can’t imprison the Gospel. The Gospel is powerful and it will spread to the ends of the earth as Jesus predicted.
NOT ONLY IS THE GOSPEL ADVANCING IN UNUSUAL PLACES AND WITH UNUSUAL PEOPLE BUT IT IS ALSO ADVANCING IN UNUSUAL WAYS.
“Some to be sure are preaching Christ from envy and strife but some also from goodwill, the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the Gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed and in this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18)
There were people in Paul’s day that were jealous of the apostle Paul’s ministry. These were not false teachers. These were orthodox, Bible-believing, evangelical preachers who had all kinds of motives for preaching the Gospel.
In typical Pauline style he basically says: “I don’t really care what they saying about me or their motives for saying it, but what makes me rejoice is the fact that they are at least preaching Christ”. That’s very humbling to hear from the apostle Paul. Paul doesn’t write a book about them, he doesn’t name them publicly or from the pulpit, he doesn’t get caught up in what they are saying and defending himself.
We should always look for what God is doing in seemingly negative circumstances. There are a thousand things that God could be doing that you not aware of. We should form a habit of looking for what God may be doing in our present circumstances.We should form a habit of looking for what God may be doing in our present circumstances. Click To Tweet
Paul could have focused on his circumstances in prison and how negative they were. The letter to the Philippians could have been a letter of complaints to them of how bad his circumstances were in Rome. But instead it is known as the epistle of joy! It is a handbook of how to have joy in difficult circumstances.
We have a big-God theology. Our God is not a passive God who wishes He could get involved in our lives. No! Our God is big. He’s not competing with Satan for the driver’s seat of our lives. He has a plan to get His Gospel to all who need to hear it.Our God is big. He’s not competing with Satan for the driver’s seat of our lives. He has a plan to get His Gospel to all who need to hear it. Click To Tweet
The Gospel has been advancing for the past thousand years and it will keep on advancing through the Church. It doesn’t matter what kind of circumstances, what kind of places, what kind of people we might have, God will continue to use His church to advance His Gospel.