“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,”
Today we come to the last phrase of verse 12. This is the reason for the sovereign hand of God upon Paul.
“for the furtherance”
The word “furtherance” was used to refer to a group of people who cut brush and trees down in an impenetrable forest before an advancing army. The word means literally to cut down in advance.
The point here is that “the things which happened” to Paul “advanced” the gospel. The adverse circumstances were the divine woodcutters. How could losing his liberty by imprisonment “advance” the gospel? He was chained to a Roman guard. He had what appears to us to be handicaps against preaching the gospel. He was no longer free to roam the Roman Empire. But to Paul these hindrances were stepping stones to further the gospel throughout the Empire.
Paul had traveled thousands of miles to advance the gospel; how could he now say that the gospel advanced while he was in prison? He was now in one location. He did not have a great number of contacts with non-Christians.
As we will see in the next verse, Paul led some strategic people in the Roman Empire to the Lord Jesus. Instead of one person carrying the gospel to the Empire, it was now a number of people. These were people of great influence politically. Instead of everyone banking on Paul to do the strategic evangelism, now his number had multiplied. One of the most important things that ever happened to Paul was that he was put into jail. The number of people dispersing the gospel had multiplied.
Going into prison he thought that his missionary career was ruined. It seemed to him as if his years in jail were going to be years wasted. But God overruled the Roman Empire! God expanded his number. Many more people came to Christ as a result.
“of the gospel”
In verse 5 we have the phrase “fellowship in the gospel,” in verse 7 “confirmation of the gospel,” and now “furtherance of the gospel.” The gospel is one of the cardinal reasons for our taking up space on earth. What part have we played in the furtherance of the gospel? God is far more interested in the furtherance of the gospel than He is in politics. Are we coupled to the Great Commission? The reason Paul could recognize God’s plan for his imprisonment was that it advanced the gospel.
When we get to the Judgment Seat of Christ, God is not going to ask us how well we manicured our lawns. He is going to ask us what part we played in advancing the cause of Christ. Obviously God wants us to care for our lawns, if only for our neighbor’s mental health! But it is a question of majoring on majors. However, we often major on minors. We make much ado about things of little consequence. We squander our energies. We prostitute our time in making religious daisy chains.
God plans to use us to transcend our ability to anticipate, from a finite perspective, the global strategy of reaching those without Christ.
God has factored adversity into our lives. This often makes no sense to us but nevertheless advances the gospel. Are you absorbed in advancing the gospel? Have you placed yourself in the infinite hands of God to get the gospel out?