12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
Have you ever visited someone or talked to someone with every intention of trying to encourage them, and they turn around in their troubled times and encourage you? When we see that “what has happened” to him was, as it said in v. 13, imprisonment! Christ has called us to go to those who are sick, ill, and in prison. Why? To strengthen and encourage them. Yet Paul tells them a great piece of encouragement: all of what’s happened has proven to advance the gospel. Not slow it down. Not stop it! Not obliterate it. Advance it!
But where? Notice where and to whom the gospel is advancing: “the imperial guard and to all the rest.” At the beginning of Romans, Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” That term, ‘Greek,’ doesn’t mean those from Greece. In that culture, the Greek language and culture pervaded the Roman Empire. It refers to all non-Jews. Gentiles. You see, we cannot understand Paul outside of His call in Acts 9:15-16:
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Here, he carries it before Gentiles—but few likely expected that it would be among the Roman guard and other inmates. But why do we find ourselves limiting who would hear the gospel?
All we need to do is look at the life of Jesus. When my name sake, “Matthew,” left his tax booth and followed Jesus, he threw a party:
10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learnwhat this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
“Tax collectors and sinners.” Over and over, Jesus received those whom the religious elite with their moral superiority rejected. A pastor friend of mine told of a time when he met a fellow churchman at a Starbucks. Over and over, the churchman kept saying, “How can we eat here? Do you know the causes they support?” To which my pastor friend said, “But aren’t these the very people we are called to reach?”
The gospel is advancing. Jesus told the Pharisees that he came to call ‘sinners’ to repentance. When you came to Christ, dear Christian, did you see yourself as a sinner in need of a Savior? Or, as so many seem to believe, God saved you due to your goodness, your righteousness, if you will? As you read through the gospels, you always sensed that the Pharisees believed God loved them because of their moral superiority. And those are not the people Christ came to call. He came to call sinners, and that’s the very thing that people in their flesh struggle with the most! Most people come into our churches wanting therapy, to feel better about themselves, thinking they we are essential good people needing a tune-up. Former quarterback and Joe Theismann explained to his soon-to-be ex-wife why he had an affair, said to her, “God wants Joe Theismann to be happy.” So, both inside and outside the church, we believe there is some righteousness we have and that God is in heaven looking to us saying, “What will make you happy? Let’s put it over the goal-line.” The gospel advances. How joyful for the Christian!