I want to discuss what I believe is a missing element in many church ministry philosophies. Most churches will readily express their awareness of the Great Commission and the need to make disciples. Churches rarely communicate, however, their vision for the progress of the gospel. Of course the Great Commission, evangelism, and discipleship are all about the gospel, or at least they should be. But when do we as churches ever talk about what we’re doing to advance the gospel merely for the sake of advancing the gospel? Do we plan ministries that will ensure that the gospel is being progressed throughout our communities even if we gain nothing from it? What I mean is that many times we see the gospel as a tool only to fill our churches. The gospel is the message that God has chosen to communicate redemption to sinful man. However, I’m afraid that too often we seek the results that the gospel brings rather than desiring the progress and advancement of the gospel in the world.
Now, do not take me the wrong way. I do preach the gospel because I believe that God does not want anyone to perish but desires people to come to him for salvation. But I also preach the gospel because it is demanded of me as a follower of Christ Jesus, as a disciple. What God does with his preached message is up to him. That’s his business. In Romans 1:1closeRomans 1:1 Greeting 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, (ESV) closeRomans 1:1closeRomans 1:1 Greeting 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, (ESV) Greeting 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, (ESV) Paul declares that he was “set apart for the gospel of God.” Consequently there will be those who choose to obey the gospel and are converted, but this is only one aspect of “gospel ministry.” The main objective that I have seen in the Scriptures is for the progress of the gospel. I want to share with you from Philippians a few ways that churches can begin to work toward the goal of gospel progress.
Suffering for the gospel
Paul, writing from prison, first mentions this concept in 1:12: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” One of the ways in which we should strive for gospel progress is to suffer for the gospel. Paul was imprisoned because of his faith (1:13). This did not, however, prevent the spread of the gospel. Two important principles emerge from the surrounding text. First, the mere fact that Paul was suffering on behalf of the gospel was a propellant for the gospel. People learned why he was suffering, even those who were guarding him in his imprisonment (1:13). We must understand that suffering for the gospel is not just something for believers to hang their hats on, rather it is one way that God has designed for his message to spread to others. Secondly, suffering causes others to become stronger in their defense of the gospel. True gospel suffering makes preaching the gospel contagious. Following the example of Peter and the other Apostles, we believers usually just get fired up even more when we’re told to keep quiet. This is what we see in 1:14 where Paul says that many, because of his prison sentence, “have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Suffering for the gospel is one way to ensure that we are really concerned about the progress of the gospel.
Maintaining gospel unity
Another principle we see in Philippians is that true biblical unity promotes the gospel. If we really are concerned with the progress of the gospel, and not just the results it brings to our church, then we will strive for Christ-like unity. In 1:27 Paul commands the Philippians to live their lives “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This includes them “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Where there is unity there will be a greater advancement of the gospel. This happens in two ways. First, according to chapter 2, unity happens when we all decide to think like Christ and become selfless. When we do this we begin to look out for others’ interests and become increasingly concerned about the spiritual welfare of others as well. And when an entire church begins to think like this they become “intent on one purpose.” Unity prepares us to work together for the progress of the gospel, because the greatest progress comes from believers cooperating together for the cause of Christ. Secondly, unity is a testimony to those outside the church that the gospel is real. This serves to defend and promote the gospel of Christ. In 2:14-15 Paul tells the Philippians to “do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world…” The closer a church gets to real unity, the less grumbling and complaining there is. The less that God’s people gripe about things, the more they get focused on the progress of the gospel. As they do this they inevitably stand out as lights in the world. If a church desires the progress of the gospel it must be unified.
This is probably both the easiest and hardest concept for churches to grasp. I say this because sometimes it is easier for churches to give money towards the advancement of the gospel without ever striving for it in other ways, whether trough unity or sharing it with the community. For others it is the hardest because we live in a world where giving when you have nothing to give is not smart. We also live in a church culture where giving for the progress of the gospel is drowned out by the desire for spacious and well-maintained facilities. Our church culture also pressures us to keep us with the latest and greatest in worship, media, youth, and children’s ministries. We want the best even if what we’re doing costs a bunch and leaves us with little to spend on the progress of the gospel. We see Paul’s emphasis on giving for gospel progress in chapter 4. Paul tells the Philippians that he is joyful because of their gift to him. He explains how he is content even though he has gone without support, but he praises them for sharing with him during his imprisonment. The Philippians at one time were the only church giving to Paul (4:15). Though it is not clear how the Philippians stood financially, whether they were wealthy as a church or not, it is clear that they made the decision to stand with Paul in his time of need. They decided that the progress of the gospel was more important than the progress of their contentment. If churches care about the progress of the gospel then their financial reports should show it.
Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. Philippians 4:20closePhilippians 4:20 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (ESV) closePhilippians 4:20closePhilippians 4:20 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (ESV) 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)