God’s Word Unhinged
One of the ironies of Church history is that when the Church has many resources and much money, popularity and public will, some of its greatest mission ventures turn into failures. On the other hand, when matters seem their worst, when resources are few, when Christians are persecuted and popular will and the engine of government is turned against the Church, the gospel marches on and conquers the hardest hearts. An ancient teacher (Tertullian) said, “The blood of the martyrs is seed for the Church.” This has been proven again and again.
Philippians is one of Paul’s “prison letters.” Scholars argue over where he was imprisoned when he wrote the letter (Rome, Caesarea, or Ephesus?). One might have thought that the imprisonment of Paul would have been a terrible blow to the Church—its greatest missionary kept from preaching Christ in city after city throughout the empire. But no. Paul tells us the exact opposite: “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.” Apparently the officers and soldiers in the barracks were aware why Paul was in prison: For preaching Christ and for the defense of the gospel. Moreover, Paul’s imprisonment had the effect of filling other Christians with courage to go out and do the same, and with great boldness.
It is sad that, as Paul tells us, some of those preached Christ out of rivalry, even hoping to afflict Paul while in prison, perhaps thinking him as jealous as themselves. Yes, many have preached Christ from rivalry and pretense down through the ages. But though they shall be judged on that day for their hypocrisy, those who received Christ through their treacherous lips will still enter glory, for God uses even donkeys to speak His word (Numbers 22).
“What then,” says Paul, “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” No, Paul wasn’t approving of the motives out of which they preached—and for those ill motives they shall be judged—but he still had to rejoice that Christ was preached. You see, whether it be from pagans without or false brethren within, God’s word will not be bound. Paul was in chains, but the word was free and ever shall be. Why? Because it is God’s word whereby He calls out those whom He shall save. And in this way, God proves His sovereignty, His power, and the triumph of His will over the objections of men.