3. Becoming a Mature Witness for ChristRelated Media
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. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:12-18)
What are characteristics of a mature witness for Christ—a mature evangelist?
As we look at Philippians 1:12-18, we see Paul’s description of the gospel being spread throughout Rome while he was imprisoned there. Paul had earlier stated his desire to preach in Rome (Romans 1:11-12). It was the most influential city in the world, and by reaching Rome, he would affect the entire world. However, he probably never thought he would reach Rome through imprisonment. At this point in Paul’s ministry, he had already been imprisoned for two years in Caesarea for preaching the gospel, and he was to be in prison for two more years in Rome. He was under house arrest with a Roman guard chained to him twenty-four hours a day. Yet, while there he says, “all that has happened has really served to advance the gospel” (v. 12). The word “advance” has the meaning of a pioneer advance. It was a military term used of an army advance; the army would go before everybody to clear the way into new territory.1 While in prison, God used Paul to break new territory for the gospel, and others were following. Here we see the ministry of a mature witness—a mature evangelist—who all of us can learn from.
It must be remembered that every believer is called to be a gospel pioneer as well. We are all missionaries in whatever context God has placed us—whether that be as a student, a teacher, a business man, or some other profession. Where ever God has placed us, he placed us there to be a witness. Matthew 28:18-19 says,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We are all called to make disciples. We are all called to be pioneers—mature witnesses—who spread the gospel to places where people have never heard it. However, if we are honest, many of us would admit to struggling with witnessing. We fear being rejected. We fear being incompetent in our gospel presentation. We fear pushing people away and dishonoring our Lord. As we look at Paul’s description of the gospel ministry in Rome, the hope is that we will be inspired to become gospel pioneers as well—mature witnesses for Christ.
God is looking for gospel pioneers to break new ground in schools, businesses, and nations around the world. Will you allow God to use you to break new ground for the gospel so others can follow?
Big Question: What characteristics of a mature witness do we see in Paul’s description of the gospel-ministry happening in Rome?
A Mature Witness Shares the Gospel in Every Circumstance
As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. (Philippians 1:13)
The first characteristic of a mature witness is that he shares the gospel in every circumstance. Here we see Paul, who has already been in prison for two years in Caesarea, imprisoned in Rome and still sharing the gospel. Look at the superlatives he uses in Philippians 1:13. It says that it has become clear throughout the “whole palace guard” and to “everyone else” that his chains are in Christ. Everybody was hearing the gospel through Paul during his imprisonment. We learn more about his situation in Acts 28:16, 30-31. It says,
When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him…For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul was under house arrest—guarded by a soldier all day. While there, people came to see him all the time. Obviously, having an apostle of Paul’s stature in Rome became very well known. People from all throughout the Empire started to come to Paul, and he would share the gospel and preach to them.
The palace guards chained to Paul would switch every four hours. “Palace guard” in the Greek is actually the word “praitorion.” The praetorian were high ranking military officers—hand selected to protect the emperor and keep the general peace. They received double the pay of a regular soldier with a generous retirement. There were anywhere from 9,000 to 16,000 praetorian. These soldiers were well known and became very powerful in the government. They became known as “king makers,” as they would in later years use their power to select emperors.2 There has been renewed interest in these well-known soldiers with the release of the movie Gladiator (2000) and 300 (2007). As these high ranking soldiers were chained next to Paul, they listened to his testimony, heard his prayers, and consequently the gospel started to spread among them and throughout Caesar’s palace (Philippians 4:22).
Paul’s situation was not ideal. He didn’t have freedom—he couldn’t go and visit the city. He never had privacy, even when using the bathroom. However, this never affected his willingness to share the gospel. Again, Acts 28:31 says he boldly, without hindrance, preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. This potentially could have worsened his situation. However, even the prospect of retribution or consequences, didn’t hinder his witness.
That is the type of Christians we must become as well. We must share the gospel in every circumstance. “We must never let circumstances get us down—never let our situation hinder our testimony and witness for Christ, no matter what they are...
Often it is these types of circumstances that actually quiet our witness. When talked about, criticized, persecuted, or while going through difficult circumstances, we often become self-consumed instead of gospel-consumed. We often become quiet instead of becoming even more outspoken for Christ.
This is what we see with Paul and that is what we have seen throughout much of church history in the midst of persecution. Second century Church Father Tertullian said, “The blood of the saints is the seed of the church.” When persecution against the church has increased, Christians have often been more inspired to preach and spread God’s Word. On the other side, when the church has lived in comfort—free from persecution—it has often become apathetic and stagnant in sharing the gospel.
Similar to Paul’s situation, we can learn a great deal from the story of John Bunyan who wrote the book The Pilgrim’s Progress, which historically is one of the most popular books outside of the Bible. This is what John MacArthur shared about John Bunyan:
John Bunyan’s preaching was so popular and powerful, and so unacceptable to leaders in the seventeenth-century Church of England, that he was jailed in order to silence him. Refusing to be silent, he began to preach in the jail courtyard. He not only had a large audience of prisoners, but also hundreds of the citizens of Bedford and the surrounding area would come to the prison daily and stand outside to hear him expound Scripture. He was silenced verbally by being placed deep inside the jail and forbidden to preach at all. Yet in that silence, he spoke loudest of all and to more people than he could have imagined. It was during that time that he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, the great Christian classic that has ministered the gospel to tens of millions throughout the world. For several centuries, it was the most widely read and translated book in the world after the Bible. Bunyan’s opponents were able to stop his preaching for a few years, but they were not able to stop his ministry. Instead, they provided opportunity for it to be extended from deep within a jail in the small town of Bedford to the ends of the earth.
As we consider Paul and John Bunyan in prison still sharing the gospel, I can’t but think of a story Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Life, shared about his dying father. While his father was on his death bed, he suddenly became disturbed and tried to get out of bed. The family tried to calm him down and asked him what he wanted. He replied, “I’ve got to save one more soul for Jesus! One more soul for Jesus!” Rick said his father probably repeated that phrase 100 times within the next hour.4 Even while on his death bed, he wanted to share the gospel.
How do your circumstances affect your witness? Are you still seeking to advance the gospel no matter your present circumstances? This is a picture of a mature Christian witness—a gospel pioneer.
Application Question: What experience do you have with evangelism? Describe your struggles and also the grace you have received in the area of evangelism?
A Mature Witness Is Courageous and Fearless
Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. (Philippians 1:14)
Similar to the last point, another characteristic of a mature witness is that he is courageous and fearless in sharing the gospel. As mentioned previously, Acts 28:31 shares how Paul preached the Word boldly to all who came. It says, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Not only was he preaching boldly, other Christians started to preach boldly because of him. Philippians 1:14 actually says “most of the brothers” were encouraged to speak the Word of God “more courageously and fearlessly.”
With Christians being persecuted in Rome, many of the saints ceased to share their faith for fear of persecution and its potential effects on their jobs and family. However, when these Christians saw Paul’s bold witness while in prison and facing death, they began to boldly and fearlessly share the gospel as well. No longer were they afraid of losing their jobs—no longer were they afraid of what people thought or of people being offended. They became fearless.
Application Question: How can we become more bold and fearless in proclaiming the gospel?
1. Boldness is a result of prayer.
Boldness in sharing our faith is a result of personal prayer and the prayers of others. Paul himself commonly asked for prayer to speak boldly. In Ephesians 6:19-20, he said this:
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Ephesians is a prison epistle along with Philippians—something he wrote while in Rome. He essentially petitioned for others to pray for his boldness twice. He asked for prayer to preach the word “fearlessly.” It was not Paul’s natural strength which made him a bold witness. It was his recognition of weakness which caused him to depend upon God and the prayers of others. He needed their prayers to preach boldly every day, even though he knew his preaching could make his situation worse. He needed prayer to be bold while sitting next to a soldier with a large sword in his hand. Just like Paul, we need prayers too.
We must petition the Lord for boldness to witness, and we should ask others to pray for our boldness as well. We must do this if we are going to be fearless in whatever situation God places us.
We also see this need for prayer in the book of Acts when the apostles were warned to not share the gospel any more. The apostles responded with corporate prayer and casting their cares before the Lord. Acts 4:23-24 and verse 31 says this:
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them…. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
The church was empowered to speak the Word of God boldly through prayer. Maybe, we lack boldness in our witness because we lack prayer. Maybe, we lack boldness because we are not weak enough to ask others for prayer.
What else enables us to have boldness in our witness for Christ?
2. Boldness is a result of watching and partnering with other bold witnesses.
Paul says that “most of the believers” were encouraged to share the gospel because of his example. Proverbs says, “He who walks with the wise becomes wise, but the friend of sinners will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). One of the wisest things we can do with our life is witness for Christ.
This boldness is increased by being around wise Christians who are serious about God and serious about the gospel. Our relationships always affect our witness for Christ. They can affect it positively by helping us become bolder or negatively by silencing us.
Paul said this in Philippians while he was in prison. He called the people to follow his example which no doubt included his faithfulness in sharing the gospel even while being persecuted. Look at what he said: “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17).
We should all have people we are watching and/or who are mentoring us to help us grow in the faith and to help us share the faith. This includes studying faithful witnesses like Paul in Scripture and also the faithful throughout the history of the church. I have read the stories of many contemporary pastors who were deeply impressed and encouraged by the witness of Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliot, Martin Luther, and other great saints. Their lives and examples challenge us and encourage us to become bolder in our witness for Christ.
Application Question: Who has inspired you the most to grow in your spiritual life and to become a mature witness for Christ?
A Mature Witness Encourages Others to Share Their Faith
Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. (Philippians 1:14)
As mentioned previously, the Christians in Rome were encouraged to speak the Word of God fearlessly because of Paul’s chains. Paul said the things that happened to him worked out for the advancement of the gospel, and Christians becoming encouraged to spread the gospel was one of the ways God worked it out (v. 12).
Again the word “advancement” Paul used is a military term for an army going ahead to prepare the way to enter into new territory. Paul’s imprisonment in Rome was used to make a military advancement into the kingdom of darkness. There, he not only preached the gospel but made a way for others to preach it. He cleared the path like a pioneer. We can be sure he did this not only by his example in prison but also by challenging the church to share their faith. We see this with Philemon whom he wrote to while also imprisoned in Rome. In the letter, he said, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Philemon 1:6).
He prays that Philemon would be active in sharing his faith so that he could fully know the blessings we have in Christ. As you can imagine, this would have been very challenging coming from a man who was in prison for sharing the faith. While Paul was in Rome, he called the church to stand up and be pioneers—he called them to be mature witnesses.
Paul did this not only so the lost could hear the gospel, but because he realized sharing was important for Christians to grow. With Philemon, Paul said that if he shared his faith, the result would be coming to a “full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Paul realized that if Philemon shared the gospel that God would give more understanding of himself—more grace.
Christians who faithfully share God’s Word—God can entrust with more. Those who do not, God cannot entrust with more. God will not give them more because they are not trustworthy. They will become like the Dead Sea which is dead because it has no ocean, sea, or tributaries to pour into.
Many Christians are like this. They read every Christian book they get their hands on and listen to all the famous preachers’ sermons, but they will not share the gospel. When this happens, instead of growing, they actually start to decrease in faith. Christ said this:
“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Mark 4:24-25)
Many Christians do not share and actually experience a taking away instead of receiving more blessings from Christ. It is crucial for us to share our faith not only for others to hear but also for our faith to grow.
Therefore, Paul and Christ both encouraged Christians to be faithful in sharing what they received. Pioneers of the gospel—mature witnesses—encourage others to share their faith. They do this by their faithful example and also by their teaching. We can have no doubt that the church was emboldened to preach not only because of Paul’s example but because he encouraged them to do so, as he did with Philemon.
Let us understand that we must encourage other Christians to witness as well. This is crucial for those we disciple. They cannot know every good thing, every blessing they have in Christ, if they do not share their faith. With the measure we use what God has given, he gives back. Some are abounding in the knowledge of Scripture, abounding in peace, abounding in grace because they faithfully share God’s Word. However, others do not, and therefore, they become spiritually stagnant.
Are you sharing your faith so you can know every good thing we have in Christ? Are you encouraging others to faithfully share their faith? It is crucial for their spiritual growth.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced spiritual growth by consistently sharing your faith and serving? In what ways have you experienced spiritual stagnation for not sharing and not serving?
A Mature Witness Should Expect Attack and Respond to It in a Godly Manner
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill... The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains… But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:15, 17-18)
The next characteristic of a mature witness that we can discern from Paul’s account of his ministry in Rome is that a mature witness should expect attacks and respond to it in a godly manner. It should be noticed that Paul was not describing attacks from those in the world or even from false teachers. The attacks Paul shared about were from other peers in the gospel. They had an orthodox faith—they taught Christ. However, they taught Christ out of envy and rivalry.
When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, many congregations and ministers started to make pilgrimages to hear him preach and teach at his rented home which may have caused a spirit of rivalry in other minsters. The word “envy” has the connotation of jealousy—they wanted the prominence and favor that God gave Paul’s ministry, and they also wanted to see him fail. They were hoping to stir up trouble for Paul as they preached to their churches.
Maybe they were saying his imprisonment meant that he was not really an apostle or a godly man or that he was in sin. We saw this mentality with Job’s friends. They had an early form of the “prosperity gospel.” The fact that Job was sick and lost his wealth meant to them that he had sinned in some way. They believed this because for them, it was never God’s will to allow trials in the life of someone who was righteous. Possibly, it was this form of false doctrine that was used to attack Paul and his ministry in prison.
Let us understand that if we are going to be faithful witnesses for Christ, this will stir up animosity towards us. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Sometimes this attack will come from the very people that we love most. It will at times come from people you expect to support you. It will come from the people you pray for and often minister to.
I remember when I went through my ordination process, one pastor said to me that if I was going to remain in pastoral ministry, I needed to develop the “hide of an alligator.” I must develop thick skin. To serve faithfully in ministry, to step up and preach the Word of God, means to be an open target for criticism, even at times by those I love.
In the book of Corinthians, Paul was attacked by some false prophets who had turned many in the church against him. Look at some of the criticism Paul received: “For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing’” (2 Corinthians 10:10).
They criticized his writing, his looks, and his speaking. Nothing was off limits, and these were people who he loved and served. If we are going to be faithful witnesses for Christ, we should expect attack.
In fact, if we are not receiving attack, whether through persecution, criticism, or even spiritual warfare, I would be concerned. Satan has no reason to attack somebody who is content on the side-lines not working for God. But those who are faithful should expect attack to come, even at times from those they invest in most.
If we are serving God—speaking his Word—and by God’s grace we suffer criticism and attack, let it not weigh too heavily upon us. Yes, let us consider the criticism and evaluate it, for it might be God speaking to us. But, we also must realize that attacks from the enemy are common to those who speak for God. Let those who are faithfully serving the Lord and being attacked be encouraged—for this happened to the prophets and faithful men and women of God before us. Christ said this:
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
This happened to the prophets before you, and it also happens to other faithful witnesses around the world today (cf. 1 Peter 5:9). Let us therefore be encouraged.
Observation Question: How did Paul respond to these attacks from the brethren, and what can we learn from his response?
Not only should we learn to expect attacks as we consider what Paul endured, but we also should learn how to respond to attacks. When it came to false teachers attacking God and the church, Paul was fierce. He was like a lion. Look at what he said to the Galatians:
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8-9)
Paul said, “Let him who preaches another gospel be condemned—eternally condemned!” Listen to what he says in Galatians 5:12: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”
Paul said he wished that those who preached circumcision would just completely emasculate themselves. When it came to the gospel, protecting the church, and honoring God, Paul was like a lion. However, when it came to personal offense, Paul was like a lamb. He said this to the Philippians: “But what does it matter?” (v. 18). “What does it matter? Who cares if they mock me—make up lies about me? Who cares if they mock my appearance and talk bad about my sermons? All that matters is that Christ is preached”—that was his primary concern because that concern would affect eternity.
How do you respond when people criticize you—when people treat you wrong, possibly out of envy and a desire to see you fail? How do you respond? Are you quick to fight and get angry? Or are you like Paul—willing to overlook the wrong? Are you like Christ—willing to turn the other cheek and at times even practice silence?
I’ll be honest as a pastor who also suffers criticism—sometimes just, others unjust, or simply unwise. It is a great place to practice sanctification. I commonly think of Paul and Christ, and I take comfort. I practice biting my tongue even when I feel my rights have been violated. “What does it really matter? As long as the gospel is being preached, what does it matter?” A mature witness should expect attack and also respond in a godly manner.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced attacks for being a faithful witness for Christ? How can we practice a wise response to attacks? What does a wise response look like?
A Mature Witness Has the Right Motives
The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. (Philippians 1:16)
Application Question: What are possible wrong motives one might have in sharing the gospel or serving in ministry?
Another characteristic of a mature witness is having the right motives. Why do we share the gospel with others? Why do we serve in children’s ministry, youth ministry, or worship ministry? What are our motives?
In this scenario, we see both those who served out of envy and rivalry and those who served out of love. Let us realize that a lot of ministry is done out of wrong motives. The disciples commonly argued about who was the greatest. A competitive spirit was still in them from their life in the world. Many churches are competitive. I talked with one pastor who previously started a church plant in a city. When he started this church, a local pastor called his father and said that he was really bothered that his son started a church in the same city because now they were going to be competitors.
A competitive spirit is not uncommon among ministers. “Which seminary did you go to?” “How big is your church?” Often when there is a publicized fall by a well-known pastor or a divide in a church, people are quick to point fingers and criticize, instead of mourning for those hurting and over the dishonoring of God. Like the disciples, a competitive spirit is still upon us from the world.
In considering this, there are many wrong reasons to do ministry. Some do it to compete with others; some do it for glory, prestige, and exaltation. We saw this with the Pharisees who loved to be greeted by others. They wore long robes so people would know they were ministers (Luke 24:46). That was the problem with Paul’s critics; they preached, but they did it for the wrong reason.
It should also be noted, as we consider those who did it for the wrong reasons that many times God probably blessed their ministry. They preached the gospel and people got saved, and yet their hearts were not right with God. We see this throughout the Bible. Jonah hated the people he preached to in Nineveh and was angry at God, and yet, the Lord still brought a great revival. The false prophet Balaam prayed a blessing upon Israel and through the Holy Spirit gave a prophecy about the messiah, and yet he still worshiped another god.
Application Question: Why does God use and often bless those serving in ministry even though they have wrong hearts?
The primary reason God many times prospers their ministry is because God is committed to honoring his Word. Paul said the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). In Isaiah 55, God says he watches over his Word. It is like water and dew, and it will never return void.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10 -11)
Many times the ministries of those who are corrupt and ungodly will excel, and the primary reason is because God is faithful to his Word. He will not let it return void. That was no doubt true of the people attacking Paul.
However, the best ministers—mature witnesses—serve out of a selfless, loving heart. Listen to what Paul said about the majority of the believers who were emboldened to witness and share the gospel: “The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:16).
Similarly, when Paul talked about his motivation for sharing the Word of God with others, he said this in 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
He said that he was compelled by love. He proclaimed the Word of God, suffered, and wrote letters to encourage churches all because he loved God and loved people.
What is the real reason we don’t evangelize? It is not because of fear—it is because of a lack of love. I don’t love others as I should, and therefore, I don’t witness as I should.
Paul said that love compelled him. The Christians throughout the Roman Empire who were sharing the gospel felt compelled by love—love for God, love for others, and love for Paul. Love compelled them to preach and proclaim the gospel.
Love is the only true motivation to do gospel ministry, and it is the only motivation that will be rewarded by God. Paul said this about his ministry:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
He said that nothing he did for others or God mattered if it didn’t come from love. Mature witnesses serve others out of love. Love means that it is not about me. It is not about what I get in return. Love can be criticized and hated, and it won’t matter because love is only concerned with the object it loves. Love is not selfish—it is not concerned with self-interest. It is consumed with the glory of God and the good of others.
Why don’t we witness? It is because we don’t love properly.
Application Question: How can we grow in love in order to become mature witnesses of Christ?
1. Love increases by prayer.
First Thessalonians 3:12 says, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”
Paul prayed for the love of the Thessalonians to increase. Love is increased by prayer. We should pray for our love to increase and also for our church’s love to increase.
2. Love increases by an act of the will
John 13:34 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Love is not necessarily a feeling but primarily an act of the will. We grow in love by choosing to act in love towards people and God. Jesus said if you love me, obey my commands (John 14:15). We love God by obeying him. We love others by serving them. Consider what John said: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
We grow in love by acting in love. Love is not primarily an emotion but an act of the will that may include emotions. We grow in love by choosing to serve, share, listen, forgive, etc. Love grows as we choose to act in love towards others.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to love others in order to be a better witness?
A Mature Witness Is Gospel-Centered
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:18)
Application Question: What are some common things that take away your joy or give you joy? What does that say about what your life is centered on?
The next thing we see with Paul is that he declares that, even in the face of prison and the attack of other Christians, he could rejoice because of the gospel’s advancement. In fact, he repeats the word “rejoice” twice in verse 18 to emphasize his joy in the gospel.
I believe one of the things this teaches about Paul is that his life was gospel-centered. His life was centered and focused on the gospel. You can tell what your “center” or “focus” is by what gives or takes away your joy. People who constantly lose their joy when criticized or their joy increases when praised show what their center is. It is probably self. Their joy or lack of it is based on how they are treated.
But for Paul, his joy was primarily affected by the advancement of the gospel. It didn’t matter that he was in prison. It didn’t matter that he lost his freedom. It didn’t matter that he was away from his family. It didn’t matter that he could potentially lose his life. In fact, in speaking about the Jews in the letter to the Romans, he wished that he could be cursed and cut off from Christ if only his brothers could know Christ (9:3). His life was not about himself; it was about the gospel advancing. His life was gospel-centered. This made him an effective and mature witness for Christ—it made him a pioneer.
People who are the most effective witnesses are gospel-centered. That is where they get their joy. They get joy from seeing the gospel shared and accepted by others. They get a tremendous joy from supporting the work of missions financially and praying for the work of missions. Their joy is not tied to what they own or do not own but to the kingdom of God advancing. This is a gospel-centered person.
Where is your joy centered? What is your heart tied to?
Application Question: Why are so many of us not gospel-centered? Why is our joy not primarily in the gospel and its advancement?
The reason many of us are not gospel-centered is because we have a heart problem—a heart defect that affects our focus and our joy in the work of the gospel. Solomon said this: “Guard your heart for out of it flows the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Because of this reality, Jesus commanded us to not store up riches on this earth in order to protect our hearts—in order to make our hearts kingdom-centered. He said this:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
One of the reasons many of us are not gospel-centered is because our hearts, and therefore, our joy is tied to the things of this earth. It is tied to our phones, our computers, our cars, our clothes, and many other materials. It is tied to our promotion and our advancement instead of kingdom advancement, and therefore, we are not mature and effective in witnessing for Christ. Paul’s heart was centered on seeing people in heaven. Consider what he later says to the Thessalonians: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
This was Paul’s joy. His joy was seeing the Thessalonians in heaven. His heart was tied to the gospel. He lived a gospel-centered life, not primarily concerned with the temporary things of this earth but the things of heaven. Christ commands us to have a similar heart and passion. Look at what he said in Luke 16:9: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
Christ said to use our wealth on earth to make friends in heaven. Christ says we should be motivated by this picture of people in heaven welcoming us and thanking us because we gave to the work of missions, and they came to know Christ because of it. Christ essentially said, “Make that your ambition—live a gospel-centered life.”
In fact one time Christ had a very crude response for two disciples who put off the call of the gospel for something else. Look at Christ’s interaction in Luke 9:59-62:
He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Christ essentially said this call must be first before all things; neither job nor duty to one’s family can come before the call to preach the gospel. If it does, we are not fit for his kingdom. His disciples must be gospel-centered.
This is true for us as individuals, but it is also true corporately. It is very easy for churches to lose their focus on the gospel. Sometimes their focus can become worship, helping the poor, or some other social cause. All those things are important, but they are not more important than the gospel. Churches must be gospel-centered. Commentator Kent Hughes said this about the fall of many denominations into liberalism:
The history of some of the mainline Protestant denominations in our country serves to make the point. There were generations that believed the gospel and held that there were certain accompanying social and political entailments. Then came a generation that assumed the gospel but identified with the entailments. The next generation denied the gospel but made the entailments everything. This is a caricature that is simplistic and reductionist. Nevertheless, in broad swaths it describes Protestant liberalism in America.
When the gospel is no longer the main thing, when it becomes assumed, the next generation may be lost. As evangelicals we must take note. All kinds of issues cry for our attention—abortion, pornography, media bias, economic justice, racial discrimination, classism, sexism, to name a few. And we need to be alert and involved in certain of them. But if any of them become the main thing so that the gospel is marginalized, beware!5
What are our lives centered around? What are our churches centered around? Is it centered around our success? Is it centered around our comfort and safety? Or is it centered on the gospel and seeing multitudes of people from every language, tribe, and tongue worshiping God together? Lord, help us and our churches to live gospel-centered lives for only that really matters.
Application Question: How can you develop a more gospel-centered life? In what ways is God calling you to make your focus evangelism and missions?
What are characteristics of a mature witness for Christ? What are characteristics of a gospel pioneer—someone who advances the gospel into new territory so others may follow? We see these characteristics in Paul and his gospel ministry in Rome.
- A Mature Witness Shares the Gospel in Every Circumstance
- A Mature Witness Is Courageous and Fearless
- A Mature Witness Encourages Others to Share Their Faith
- A Mature Witness Should Expect Attack and Respond to It in a Godly Manner
- A Mature Witness Has the Right Motives
- A Mature Witness Is Gospel-Centered
1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 67). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 61). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Philippians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.
4 Accessed 7/1/15 http://www.christianpost.com/news/pastor-rick-warren-shares-story-of-fathers-final-dying-words-reach-one-more-for-jesus-126720/
5 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (pp. 51–52). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.