When we are “put” somewhere we don’t like or don’t find comfortable, it can be tempting to ask for a change of location. But what if God wants us in that very place to advance the gospel?
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.
I am writing this reflection from Gifu in central Japan. I am here for the 7th Japan Congress on Evangelism, a gathering of Japanese church and ministry leaders and missionaries. In advance of this Congress, a survey was carried out to get an up-to-date picture of the state of the church in Japan. The findings were published in May, and humanly speaking there is cause for real concern. The number of believers remains at less than 1%, the church and its pastors are aging and the future is not looking bright. If there ever was a time for leaders to come together to think about evangelism in Japan, then it is now.
While it is good and helpful to get facts and figures about the state of the church, however, we must not allow those to be the only things we consider. I am currently writing devotions for my Japanese church on the book of Philippians, and last week was considering verses 12-14 of Chapter 1. Paul is in prison, in chains, because of the gospel. I wonder how the Philippian believers were praying for him. Perhaps they were praying that he would be released quickly. After all, the Philippian church knew from personal experience that God could indeed open prison doors (Acts 16:25-28). It would make sense that they would want Paul to be released so that he could continue his work of sharing the good news about Jesus in various towns and cities.
Paul’s perspective, however, is quite different. He reassures the Philippian believers that what has happened to him, namely the fact that he is in prison, has actually served to advance the gospel. The word “advance” here means to move forward, overcoming obstacles in the way. Some people no doubt saw Paul being in prison as an obstacle, something getting in the way, but Paul says that instead it has advanced the gospel.