Perseverant Woman Free-Climbing a Vertical Rock Face

Advance Through Defeat

Author: Ray C. Stedman

"I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear."

I love this passage from the letter to the Philippians because it depicts the unmistakable marks of authentic Christianity. This is a refreshing contrast with the pale, anemic variety that we often meet today. I must confess I've grown somewhat weary of the anxious, discouraged, ordinary, no different from the rest kind of Christians we so frequently run across. It is refreshing to me to think of Paul who is cheerful, optimistic and confident in Christ, undiscouraged despite his circumstances. When you meet someone like that it's as though a window has been opened and the breezes of the Spirit blow refreshingly from that life. 

I'm sure you recognize that when Christianity is reduced to the same old stuff that everyone is saying, only when Christians say it we say it with a pious, sanctimonious accent, it loses all of its appeal to the ordinary person. If you as a Christian, for instance, get discouraged when things go badly, you blow up under pressure, and you snarl back at those who mistreat you, how are you different from anyone else? This is the question our Lord put in the Sermon on the Mount. What do you do that is different, He asks. How is your life different from anyone else? When this is the case, it's no wonder that all this Christian talk about eventually going to heaven some day and excusing all the problems of earth , begins to sound like "pie in the sky by and by" in the ear of the ordinary person. It so much religious twaddle, theological pablum. No wonder Christianity sometimes presents a very unappealing picture. I thank God that kind of Christian is beginning to fade. From time to time I run into authentic, vigorous, winsome persons who show the true colors of a Christian, and when I meet them I never forget them. We have some of them in this church. I wish we had more. 

Here is one in jail in Rome, writing to his friends far across the sea in Philippi. Paul is that kind of Christian, and quite unconsciously he reveals for us four unmistakable qualities of authentic Christian faith. These are four reactions a Christian has which cannot be imitated, and that inevitably makes the world sit up and take notice. That is why I like this passage so much. I invite you to trace these actions with me .in this passage.

In the first one, we note that adversity means advance. Paul says,

"I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear."

I have learned to recognize that the manifestation of this kind of quality and attitude is a test of Christian maturity. The Christian who has become well enough acquainted with the God of the impossible whom he serves, knows that even through apparent defeat, God still is able to work His wisdom. I know that such a Christian has begun to grow up in the Lord. He recognizes that in God obstacles are really opportunities, and nothing can really imperil the gospel. That is an amazing declaration when you think about it. Nothing that is intended to defeat ever brings to defeat, that God works His way despite the obstacles, and all obstacles only serve ultimately to spread Christian faith. That is what Paul says, and that is what a true Christian discovers.

Now I hope you will remember that the next time you start thinking about Communism, because though it is indeed an obstacle to Christian faith, remember that though the years stretch on in which God permits this challenge to remain on earth, the ultimate end of it will be the accomplishment of God's will.

I ran across the story of a Swiss French pastor who was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II. He said this: I was not able to stand firm except by remembering every day that the Gestapo was the hand of God--the left hand. The worst of tyrants will only end by accomplishing Christ's will. Now that is the glorious mark of Christianity that has made it an invincible force through all the running centuries. Here is Paul, under arrest, chained day and night to a Roman soldier, unable to leave the house or the city of Rome. It's easy to imagine what this must have meant to the restless, surging spirit of this man. We read his letters and we can see how he longed to go on to the ends of the earth, always disturbed when he had to stay in one place very long. God had sent him out under His commission that was to take him, as he knew, to the very ends of the earth. He has his eye on Spain as he writes this letter, and to the regions beyond. 

It must have been easy for Paul to be discouraged. He doubtless was tempted many times as you and I would have been, to feel sorry for himself and to wonder why God would ever let this kind of thing happen to him when all he was trying to do was fulfill God's will. Do you ever feel that way? It must have been easy for him to chafe under these circumstances as month by month goes grinding on and there seems to be no change. But as we read the letters that come from him out of those days there is not one word of complaint. Instead there is a marvelous triumphant spirit, expression of confidence. Why? Well when he was tempted he undoubtedly fell back on what he knew about his God. In other words, in the face of temptation to fret and chafe, he believed God. 

Earlier he had written to these very Roman Christians with whom he was now meeting. "All things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose." He believed that! Even though the immediate hour didn't bring relief, he believed Him, and out of that confidence he could see that even those things that seem to be against him are working out the purposes of God. He can see already two things that have begun to happen. One is the wider knowledge of Christ in the whole city of Rome, beginning with the praetorian guard. That is the power of God. 

Remember, Paul was the prisoner of Caesar, having committed himself to Caesar's judgment hall. As such he was under the care of the picked palace guard. Paul sees in this the marvelous working of the grace of God. Instead of being discouraged, he is highly encouraged. He must have been thrilled that God had worked out a special training school, for one-by-one these soldiers, the pick of the empire, were brought to him and chained to him so they couldn't get away for six hours and he had a chance to preach to them all that time. Now if you want to feel sorry for someone, don't feel sorry for Paul. Feel sorry for the Roman soldiers, chained to this man, and exposed to the testimony and life of this radiant Christian. They went out changed men, unquestionably. In the closing salutation of this letter you will notice that he refers to the saints in Caesar's household. That is revealing. Evidently there were those out of the very heart of the palace who had become Christians, an infiltration of the gospel into Caesar's household by means of this exposure Paul had to the palace guard as these soldiers are brought to him one-by-one. You see the spirit of God can start anywhere. No wonder Paul was encouraged, as out of adversity there was advancement of the gospel.

Yesterday, we had a visit from Gib Martin. Some of you remember Gib as being with us a couple of summers ago. He was on his way back from Seattle where he has just accepted the pastorate of a new, independent work that has begun there, and enroute to Florida where he has been ministering this past year. He told us how he has been working in the State penitentiary at Tallahassee, and how God has been working there in unusual ways. He told us how the warden had asked them not to work among the guards but to confine their work only to the prisoners, so Gib and his partner began their work with the prisoners. Little by little the Spirit of God began to work and change lives so that last month forty-five of those men became Christians. A marvelous spirit began to take over in the whole of the prison, and the prisoners began to witness to the guards. The guards became so interested they finally came and asked if they could have a Bible class too, and it reached up to the warden's office so that he became involved.

The second result is the bolder preaching of the gospel. "Most of the brethren", he said, "have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear." The city was beginning to be reached as well. These Christians could see that even though Paul was now in the hands of Caesar, which must have represented to them the worst possible fate, nevertheless God could control that situation so as to keep the door open and it was an encouragement to them. They could see that even though they were arrested that would not stop God's plan, and so they were more bold than ever to preach the gospel throughout Rome.

And even though Paul could see this, he could not see the greatest advance of all. In fact as far as we know he never did see what was the final and greatest result of his imprisonment. I am convinced that if we had been able to interview the Apostle as he writes from his home while in house arrest, and had asked him the question, "Paul, what do think is the greatest work you are doing today?" I think without question he would have said, "it's to establish churches. God has sent me out to establish churches, and my heart longs to see new churches spring up in all the regions of earth." He loved his churches. He labored over them and he wept over them, and you can hear his concern in all of his letters. 

But from our twentieth century vantage point, looking back over this man's life, we know that he was wrong. That was not his greatest work. The churches that Paul established have long since fallen into ruins. If you visited the city of Philippi today, you would find the entire city is nothing but a pile of ruined stones, and there is no trace whatsoever of the church to which Paul wrote. The testimony that Paul established in many places has long since ceased, and in some of the areas in which Paul labored there has been no Christian testimony for centuries. The greatest and most enduring work this man did was the letters he wrote from prison. This is what has changed the West! His arrest gave him time to catch up on his correspondence! (I'm praying that perhaps I might be arrested one of these days.) Adversity means advance! Is that the way you are living your life?

But the second mark is even more personal. You can tell an authentic Christian by the fact that rivalry causes rejoicing. 

Verse 15: "Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of partisanship, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice."

Now it's evident here that certain Christians were jealous of Paul. These are not Judaizers. These are not false teachers. They are preaching a true gospel. They were genuine Christians, but they were jealous of Paul. Evidently they felt they were there first and they felt he had perhaps usurped some of their positions. There is always readiness for envy. But many false doctrines had fallen before the Spirit of power and the cool logic and authority of the Apostle as he ministered to them. Now they see a chance to regain their popularity. They begin to plan extensive campaigns in Rome and surrounding cities, hoping thereby to eclipse the apostle in their activity and zeal for the gospel. They are hopeful that when the word gets back to Paul of how much they are doing he too might feel some of the jealous pain they feel. But the prisoner couldn't care less. The magnanimous spirit he has in Christ only made him rejoice in the face that Christ is being preached. He says it doesn't matter whether they are doing it to make me feel bad or not -- Christ is being preached, and in that I rejoice.

Can you take the success of others? That's one of the hardest tests of Christian maturity, isn't it? I don't think there is a clearer mark of Christian maturity than to be able to genuinely rejoice -- not just say pious words -- but genuinely rejoice in the success of another. Most of us react like the Christian I heard of in the mountains of West Virginia
who, when asked how things had been going that year, said, "Oh things have been terrible. We've had an awful year. Things have never been worse. Instead of having any progress in the church we've had setbacks, we've lost people." But then he smiled and said, "But thank God, the Methodists haven't done any better." That spirit is the counterpart of what Paul reveals here. Rivalry caused him to rejoice!

Now the third mark of authentic Christianity is found in verses 19-20.  Testing produces triumph. Vv. 19-20:

"Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death."

Note the confidence he expresses. I think if we were in these circumstances we would say something like this. You follow along and I'll read it a bit differently: "I hope that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this may turn out in my deliverance, as it is my desire and hope that I shall not be greatly ashamed, but that with some courage, as occasionally before, Christ will be honored in my body, or, if necessary and there is no way to escape it, by death." That's the way we say it, but you notice the supreme spirit of optimism that prevails here? There's no lack of faith here whatsoever. The man is facing his trial before Caesar. He knows that sooner or later, though he has been waiting patiently for almost two years, he must at last come before the Emperor, who was none other than the infamous Nero. His life is at stake. He knows the cruelty of this man, the cheapness with which he regards human life, the self-centeredness that causes him to demand his own will in every situation. When he says "I know this will turn out for my deliverance it implies that he knows he will be brought out from Nero's control, from his hand, he will escape safely. The words he says a bit later on show that he knows it could mean his death, "that Christ will be honored, whether by life or by death."

The word here is really "salvation".   He does not use it in the sense of eternal salvation, but in triumph, victory. I know that this experience is going to turn out in triumph, whether it means life or death. I know that Christ will be honored. That is the triumph! There is no consideration here of even the possibility that he might slip or unwittingly fail and thus dishonor the Lord. Notice that? He sounds utterly confident, as confident as Cassius Clay does before a fight. Why? Is he a super-egotist? No, in chapter three he says, "for we are the true circumcision who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh." It isn't his own resource or ability. None whatsoever.

There are two things that mark the ground of his supreme confidence there is no possibility for failure. First, because of your intercessory prayer for me. No one believed more strongly in the power of prayer than this man, Paul. He knows that by prayer he is not alone in this battle, and that it is not just a political battle. It isn't just a courtroom trial. It's a spiritual wrestling contest. The real powers are not Nero and his cohorts in the Roman Empire, but those invisible spirits behind it all, and he knows this is where prayer has its most potent and powerful effect. Prayer is the spiritual weapon that can bring down strongholds and bring into captivity everything that is against the knowledge of God, Paul said. He knows the saints are praying, and this give him great confidence.

The second thing is even more important:  the resources of the Spirit. The word "help" is a feeble translation. It should be "resources". "I know that through your prayers and the resources of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance." You see the One who was indwelling him was capable of anything. He was fully competent to handle any possible situation, and to direct Paul in whatever response was required, therefore there could be no failure. How could there be? Can the Spirit of God dwelling within fail? Paul is not trusting in himself; he is trusting wholly in the One who can carry him through, so whether life or death there was no possibility of failure.

This is the same note of confidence that breathed so strongly in the record of those five splendid young men down in Ecuador who laid down their lives under the Auca spears. I've just been re-reading that account for my own spiritual benefit, and to realize that though there was fear in the contemplation of the savage unknown, and though they realized anything could happen, and they went in with a great deal of trepidation and uncertainty, nevertheless there rang through all that account a quiet, certain confidence that regardless of what happened, whether they lived or died, Christ would be honored. How marvelously that has been fulfilled, as once the most feared and hated tribe in all the Amazon basin, though a little tribe of only a few hundred people, is now rapidly becoming one of the most Christ-centered Christian tribes in the Amazon. Amazing, isn't it! And the very children of the missionaries are now in the forefront of carrying the message of the gospel to the rest of the tribe who have not yet heard. That's the victory in Christ.

Now the last unmistakable note of authentic Christianity is death unveils delight. 

vv. 21-26 "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again."

The Christian view of death is given in just four words in this passage: "with Christ, far better." That sums it up. But before we look closer at that, it's important that we see what this man's view of life is, because these are not the words of a man who is sighing after heaven but resigned to living on earth. This is not the utterance of someone who is fed up with living and couldn't take life any longer so now the only hope is that heaven is close at hand. For Paul, to live is Christ, and that is exciting! Living, he says, means fruitful labor, in which I can take the greatest delight. The prospect of continuing to live is not an unwelcome prospect here, in fact he says "I hardly know which to choose", both prospects are so enticing and inviting. You know the Christian is not so neurotically desirous of death that he no longer wants to live. I think we sometimes give the wrong impression. We sing about won't it be glory up there, face-to-face-these are wonderful songs and properly express the Christian hope, but sometimes, unfortunately, Christians leave the impression that this is that really all they're living for is what comes at the end.

I remember when I traveled with Dr. Ironside we were together at Montrose Bible Conference in Pennsylvania and in one evening service a well-known gospel singer on the east coast sang very beautifully the song, "Homesick for Heaven". He sounded as though he was about to soar right off the platform right up into glory. After the service we were meeting together in what they call the "tuck shop" having a little refreshment. Several had ordered hamburgers, including the singer who was among us. He noticed the top of the catsup bottle had somehow been broken and there was ground glass at the top of the bottle. He had already taken a couple of bites out of his hamburger, and the thought occurred to him that perhaps he had unwittingly eaten some ground glass. They checked it out in a hurry to see whether any ground glass had gotten into the bottle and it didn't appear that it had. But he said, "you know, for a moment there I don't think I was quite as homesick for heaven as I thought I was."

The Christian does not live with some unutterable longing to escape, to evade life, to run from it. No! Paul is not at all saying that! He says, "to live is Christ"-I love it! And evidently the Spirit of God tips the scale here in favor of life, so he goes on to say, "convinced of this I know that I shall remain, and continue with you all"-because you need me and I will have the joy of coming to you again. But facing the possibility of death does not mean he is tired of life, but that death can only mean a more wonderful and deeper companionship with Christ. That is what makes life worth living. He says, "to die is gain", and you can only say that if you are prepared to say, "to live is Christ"!

What do you think is really living? What kind of circumstance do you have to have before you can say "Oh, now I'm really living"? What do you substitute for "Christ" in these words of Paul? "To me to live is money"? Then to die is to lose it all, isn't it? "To me to live is fame"? To die is a name in the obituary in the paper and never have it there again. "To me to live is pleasure"? To die is to go out into an unknown. "To me to live is health"? To die is to lose my health. You see the only thing that makes sense in life is to say with the Apostle, "for me to live is Christ," because then you can say "to die is gain." The truth about the Christian faith is that heaven begins down here.

D. L. Moody's favorite hymn he loved to sing and that was sung at his funeral, is that old song, In Immanuel's Land, the words of which are made up from phrases taken from the letters of Samuel Rutherford, one of the Covenanters of Scotland. Some of the words go like this:

The sands of time are sinking. The dawn of heaven breaks.
The summer morn I've sighed for- The fair sweet morn awakes.
Dark, dark has been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land.

Then the Christian philosophy comes in:

Oh Christ, He is the fountain, the deep sweet well of love.
The streams on earth I've tasted, more deep I'll drink above.
There to an ocean fullness His glory doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land.

The bride eyes not her garments but her dear Bridegroom's face.
I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand.
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel's land.

You see the Christian life transforms death; it robs it of its sting, unveils its delight.

I remember when I was in the Philippines a few years ago, speaking at a little pastor's conference down in the island of Panay, there was a dear Filipino pastor who was asked to speak one afternoon. He had only one leg, and he hobbled up to the platform and as he began to speak I could see a real sense of the light of the glory of God on his face. I don't remember all of his message, but I do remember one illustration he used. He told about a wealthy American man who had gone abroad and visited all the ancient capitols of Europe and bought all the rich furnishings, tapestries, paintings in the castles and brought them back home. He even bought a whole castle, tore it down and imported it to the States where he erected it stone-by-stone so he could make it his home. All his wealth, affection and interest he poured into this home, and he loved it. But the day came
when he died, and as he lay dying he said to the doctor, "Don't let me die. Don't make me leave my home." Then this dear Filipino pastor compared that with the death of a Christian who didn't have a home on earth and lay dying in a little nipa, palm-thatched hut. As he lay dying he looked at his family gathered around him and he said, "Thank God, I'm going home!" That is the difference between the Christian and one without the Christian hope. If you say to me to live is anything else than Christ, then you have to leave it all behind when you go. 

These are the four unmistakable marks of the believer: 

Adversity means advance--do you believe that? 

Rivalry causes rejoicing. 

Testing produces triumph. 

Death unveils delight.


Our heavenly Father, this glimpse into the light and life of the Apostle has warmed and thrilled our hearts and lives even this day. We consider the marvel that it was written twenty long centuries ago, still the power of the Spirit teaches, transforms, changes us. We pray that we may recognize that it doesn't come by some effort to convince ourselves, some struggle for positive thinking, but a quiet resting upon an unchangeable fact, that Jesus Christ lives His life within us, and that He is quite competent to meet every situation. May we look to Him, and stop looking at our circumstances and learn to rejoice in His victory. In Christ's Name. Amen