“I want you to know brethren, that what I have gone through has resulted in the furtherance of the gospel.”—Philippians 1:12 (Weymouth translation)
“What I have gone through.” What tremendously suggestive words these are, and how personal they are to everybody, but in so many different ways. Has there been for you a crushing bereavement which has broken your heart, or has it been a fiery trial of temptation that has threatened to make shipwreck of your testimony? Has it been a broken friendship, shattered hope, an unexpected and unwanted change in circumstances of life? Or some physical suffering, such as a prolonged siege of sickness and family trouble to which there seems to be no end?
“What I have gone through.” That list is endless, and what you and I have gone through has left an indelible impression upon our lives for better or for worse. We will never be the same again. But what impressed me about this text is that it is not the nature of the trial that Paul talks about, but the effect of it on other people and perhaps more especially upon himself. “What I have gone through” and that is all. There is no lifting of the veil, no parading of his trouble, no self-pity.
I could picture for you something of what had happened. This man had one great passion in his heart for the preaching of the Gospel and for making Jesus known. He was a master strategist as a missionary: he chose his centers carefully. He had preached at Antioch (the heart of Syria). He had preached at Ephesus (the heart of Asian Minor). He had preached at Athens (the heart of Greece). But if only he could preach at Rome also—the very hub of the universe! The great concern of his heart was to make Christ known there because the repercussions would be worldwide. He had already been assured by the Lord Jesus in a promise: “Be of good cheer, Paul, as thou has testified for me at Jerusalem, so thou shalt bear witness at Rome also” (Acts 23:11). Assured by that promise, Paul went on in his missionary career longing for its fulfillment, imagining, I have no doubt, his entry into Rome, his greeting with Christian people here and there, his freedom to spread the Gospel in that city. Well now he was in Rome—a convict and a prisoner of the Roman government.
There were two separate imprisonments in his lifetime at Rome. In one he lived in his own hired house; in the other (which, I believe, is the one to which our passage refers) he was chained to a Roman soldier for every moment—night and day. For two years he was in the company of an enemy all the time, his whole life purpose frustrated, his missionary career checked, the present and the future completely dark! “Is this the way God has fulfilled His promise to me? What I have gone through.” None of these things seem worth mentioning. All that mattered to him was that his dear friends at Philippi, who were anxious and concerned about their beloved Paul, would know that the trial through which he was passing, far from having killed his testimony was, in fact, in every possible way reacting for the furtherance of the Gospel. What concerns me and you and the Lord is this: Has “what I have gone through” redounded to the furtherance of the Gospel? Paul could say it had. Can I? Can you? Just as the effect of throwing a stone on a pond creates widening circles of impact on the water, so in this passage I can clearly see three circles in which the impact of this trial resulted in the tremendous furtherance of the Gospel.
The first I would describe as the reaction in the palace of Nero. In other words, Paul’s testimony to unsaved people. In verse 13 Paul declares: “It has been evident among all the guards and all the people generally that it was for the sake of Christ that I am a prisoner” (Weymouth). He never complained about the torture of compulsory company night and day with a rough crude Roman soldier. Every six hours his guard was changed, and the thing that thrilled Paul to the marrow was that every six hours he had somebody else to preach to, a representative of Nero to whom Paul could bear witness concerning his wonderful Lord Jesus. Some of these men probably went straight from that cell to attend upon the emperor. Though often, I am sure, their blasphemies filled the air of that prison, there wasn’t one of them who left the side of that prisoner, but who had felt for himself the impact of a man full of the Holy Ghost. How tremendously consistent Paul must have been! If only one of those men could have seen the slightest lowering of his standards, the news of it would quickly be spread throughout the whole of the palace.
He could never have got into circles like that if he had gone to Rome the way he chose. It was only because he came through the humiliating experience of being chained and handcuffed to a Roman sentry that the outcome was—there were “saints in Caesar’s household.” “What I have gone through.” How about you, my friend? Have you been flung into the company of people who are unsympathetic? Are your circumstances today very different from what you would choose? How is that circumstance affecting your testimony? Do we so conduct ourselves that other people forget about our trials, and are impressed by the absence of friction and strain, and find rather the presence of radiance? Is every new acquaintance who comes side-by-side with you a hearer of the Gospel from your lips? Is Jesus the theme of your conversation, the joy of your testimony? Are you moaning over your troubles today or are you making capital out of them for Jesus Christ? Have you learned what the apostle Paul learned—to turn opposition into opportunity? Have you stopped speaking about undergoing something and are you able radiantly to say, “I am overcoming something”?
In the second place, revival in the church, Paul’s testimony to his Christian friends. You see this in verses 14–18: “The greater part of the brethren made confident in the Lord through my imprisonment, now declare God’s Word without fear more boldly than ever” (Weymouth). In other words, his Christian friends were being made bold by the example of the beloved Apostle’s testimony. To know that, in spite of everything, there in prison he was blazing out for the Lord kindled a fire in the hearts of Christian people who had got cold. “Christ was being preached,” says Paul, “and that is the main thing that matters to me.”
As you read the verses, you see that apparently Christ was not always being preached in the way that Paul liked, not always with correct, orthodox preaching, not always in the right spirit of love. “Nevertheless, I am so thankful,” says Paul, “that the outcome of my being chained up here is that people all over the place are being stirred up into action, and there is a new breath of revival going through the church.” Praise God! Hallelujah anyway for this imprisonment if that is the result! They realized that he was set for the defense of the Gospel, verse 17. That word means he was standing as a sentry for the defense of the Gospel. What a soldier he was! Everybody knew perfectly well that he would never be in prison at all if it wasn’t that he was standing as a sentry for the Gospel.
The Christian who, by God’s grace, learns to confess the Lord Jesus in circumstances which might normally be calculated to silence him, is a Christian whose life is a tremendous challenge to other people. Watch a child of God who has grown cold, as he listens to the testimony of a fellow Christian going through trial and suffering—“If he can be bold for Jesus there, so can I where I am.” Every real revival of the Spirit of God in the hearts of Christian people has begun like that—a flame kindled by one Christian on fire for the Lord, who in the midst of desperate oppression, sorrow, heartache, trouble, unhappiness, refuses to live under the circumstances but lives above them in Jesus. Would your Christian friends (never mind about the unconverted ones at the moment, because the first influence you must have is with the fellowship of a Christian church) be challenged to witness for Christ by their contact with you? Would they feel that they have been brought right in touch with the fire of God in your heart, or will they feel they have been shut in a refrigerator. How has “What you have gone through,” reacted on your Christian friends? There is no greater blessing that ever comes to a minister of the Gospel than to sit alongside someone who is going through suffering and pain and anguish, and to see the radiance of the Lord on his face. Has that testimony and reaction of yours weakened the faith of other people, or has it strengthened it?
Thirdly, and most important of all, a revelation to his own heart, Paul’s testimony before the Lord, verses 19–26. The most important effect of any adversity is not its outcome on the world or upon other Christians, but its outcome in your own life. We are not saved in order to be a blessing to other people—you will be that inevitably—but primarily we are saved in order to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. In order to fulfill that purpose, God will put His children through any fire if only He may mould and fashion them and make them what He wants them to be—like Jesus. Everyone of us, without exception, as we apply these words to our own lives, would support the statement I have made because “what you have gone through” has either hardened you or melted you. What has Paul got to say about this? I find it very, very wonderful and challenging. His surroundings were hostile, his plans are in confusion, his missionary campaign is checked, but that wasn’t everything. Behind all this scene there was God—an unchanging, eternal purpose—and therefore, Paul says, “I know this shall turn to my salvation” (v. 19). Quite clearly he was thinking of much more than possible release from prison. He wasn’t sure about that, quite clearly from the language of the verse, but rather he was saying this in effect: “This humiliation, this agony, this apparent frustration, this chained up to somebody I can’t stand, this proximity to an enemy, so much so that even when I pray I am not alone.” (Have you thought about that? Quiet time—alone—Paul didn’t know anything about that. His quiet time was in the company of a man manacled to him.) Even in that Paul says, “I see that this imprisonment has actually been part of the way in which God’s great purpose for my life is being fulfilled. As always, Christ shall be magnified in my body.” In my body? Yes, my lips shall speak of Him. Magnified by my hands which even here can serve Him. Magnified by my feet which even here, within the limited space at my disposal, can run His errands. Magnified by my knees which are bent constantly in prayer. Magnified by my shoulders which gladly submit to this burden and bear it for Jesus’ sake. Christ shall be magnified in my body. “For in this experience I have learned,” says Paul,” to be willing for all the will of God.” Hallelujah—anyway!
There are two ways in which you can magnify something, and there may be more, but I am just thinking of two. One is by use of a microscope, by which, you will make little things big. There was nothing little about Paul’s Savior, and he was not magnifying in that way. The other way you magnify something is by using a telescope and that brings distant things nearer. It makes them stand out in their correct proportion to their surroundings.
That is what imprisonment had done—it had brought Jesus near. He shall be magnified. Has it had that effect—a Savior who was only at a distance has been brought wonderfully near? “I don’t know,” Paul says in these verses, “whether I am going to escape or not. I will magnify Christ whether by life or by death. Do you know that in this desperate experience, death has taken on a totally new meaning? Personally, if it was left to my choice, I would rather die right now. I just long for that. It would be gain for me because it would be to depart to be with Jesus, and that is far better.” Don’t let that phrase pass. “To depart” is one thing. Even more wonderful, it is to be with Jesus.
“Oh, think to step on shore, and that shore heaven.
To take hold of a hand, and that God’s hand.
To breathe a new air, and find it heaven’s air.
To feel invigorated, and find it immortality—life forever more.
Oh, think to pass from the storm and the tempest to one unbroken calm.
Oh, think to wake up and find it glory!”
Hallelujah—anyway! “If you leave it to my choice,” says Paul, “with all my heart I long for death. But perhaps it isn’t God’s will for me. For me to abide in the flesh is more needful for you, my beloved Philippians. I am prepared to sink every personal preference, even my longing to see Jesus face to face, if by my staying a little longer, I can be a blessing.”
The word “Paulos” means little. Have you ever met a giant like Paul? A man of intellectual stature, though in bodily presence little, and if there is one thing that stands out among all his characteristics, it is his utter humility. “I am what I am by the grace of God. To me to live is Christ. I live, yet not I.” Wonderful words that you and I have taken on our lips many times. They are easy words to say, but they are only a profession of our lips. Until I see a man go through all that Paul had been through and then say in it, “I will sink anything for your sakes; for if there is one thing that this ‘That I have gone through’ has done for me,—it has made me absolutely selfless.” The hardest of all graces is real humility. If you pray, “Oh, God, make me humble,” be careful, for to make you and me humble is going to mean somewhere along the line the fire of God’s chastening.
“What I have gone through.” Have you been applying it personally as a message from God to your own soul? How have you come out of it all? What effect has it had upon the unsaved around you? What effect is it having upon Christian people? But most of all, what effect is it having on you?