“Now, I want you to know, brothers, that which has happened to me is rather for the advancement of the Gospel, so that it became known to the whole of the Praetorium and to all the rest that my chains are in Christ and many of the brethren, being persuaded in the Lord through my chains, are even more bold to speak the Word without fear.”
And this is the end of Paul’s attitude that all experiences are opportunities to glorify God. It is not that Paul gets noticed or honored. It is so that Christ gets noticed and honored and it is lived out in such a way that should encourage other believers to live boldly as well. Thus even in the Praetorium (the Praetorium was the term applied to Roman governmental bodies and thus the Praetorian Guard were those soldiers charged with protecting the government and its officials). Because of the boldness of Paul there are some who are coming to faith even within the ranks of the Roman government and becoming bold in their own testimonies as to the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Thus, O Christian, I set these words in front of you once again. Will you strive to be like the Apostle Paul? Will you speak boldly of Christ in whatever context you find God placing you in? Will your testimony be such that it encourages other “closet Christians” to come out of the closets and proclaim the good news that there is salvation from sins in Jesus Christ. Will your testimony of “Repent and believe!” be such that the Holy Spirit will use you in the glorious redemptive work of our Lord? So, Christian, will you do just that? The job of the pastor is not to fill the seats of the sanctuary…if that were the case, we best be entertainers and not preachers, teachers, and exhorters…the job of the Christian is to go out and to witness in such a way that people are receptive to the invitation to come. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit brings regeneration, repentance, and conversion, but will you be such a tool in the Spirit’s hands that he can use you in this glorious task? Paul bids you to follow his model.
Have you ever noticed how many times the Bible talks about fear? There is a fear of the Lord, which is the source of wisdom and knowledge—a fear that reflects a holy reverence for who God is. There is also a fear of the world—a fear of going hungry, not having the things we need, or of being persecuted for our faith. This is a fear that we are not to entertain in our lives, for it ruins our witness. The reason we need not fear any of these things is because we have a God in heaven who is sovereign and all-powerful and who loves us with a love that will never be lost or squandered. The pagans do not have a God who will do for them what our God does for us.
There are ramifications of leaving this second kind of fear behind. When you let go of fear and worry you also are left without excuses—you know, those excuses we all use to avoid doing what God has called us to be and to do. Notice what Jesus says immediately after these words:
“Fear not, little flock! For it is the pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom.”
In other words, it is the pleasure of God to give us—his church—the kingdom. He will use us to transform the world around us to the glory of Christ Jesus. What a wonderful promise—though we are strong, we are not measured by our size, but by the size of the God who is working through us and dwelling in our hearts.
When we read these words of the Gospel, our heart ought to skip a beat! Is this what God really intends for our little church? The answer that God gives us in an unequivocal, yes! Yet, there is a catch. Jesus also stipulates a means by which he wants us to accomplish this task in the verses that follow:
“Sell your possessions and give benevolences. Make yourselves coin bags that do not wear out and an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near nor does any moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.”
Note, Jesus is not telling us we must take a vow of poverty—here he does not say, “sell all of your possessions.” The fact that he still calls us to have a money purse is a testimony to that. The key is what we are using those possessions to accomplish. If we pursue possessions to gain more possessions for ourselves, then the possessions become idols and distract us from God’s purpose. If the possessions are but a tool to accomplish the work of the kingdom, then God will bless their use, for your heart will reside with heavenly things, not earthly ones.
So what does this mean for us? It means that our handicap is not our small size as a church and congregation. Our Father will not limit his work based on human considerations. Our handicap is our fear of letting go with the things we treasure on earth—both individually and corporately. Remember, David did not form a committee before he went to fight Goliath—he went in the strength of God and slew him. The God that gave him that boldness is the same God that indwells every believer, there is no reason that we too should not be so bold as to engage the giants of unbelief in our day.
“And unto Ishmael, I have heard you, so behold, I will bless him and will cause him to bear fruit and I will make him exceedingly great. He will bear twelve princes and I will give to him a great nation.”
Because of God’s promise to Abraham, God blesses Abraham’s firstborn and allows him to build a nation. Like Jacob, from Ishmael we are told that 12 princes would come (see Genesis 25:13-16 for the list of Ishmael’s twelve sons). These sons would grow in stature and influence and founded many of the nations that surrounded ancient Israel and which are even today seeking to destroy the rest of those who descend from Abraham. These, of course, are ultimately the current Islamic nations.
So why did God permit the rise of Islam? Couldn’t God have just cut off the line of Hagar as he did with Keturah (Abraham’s wife after the death of Sarah)? Indeed, God could remove all of the obstacles between us and glory, yet God uses those obstacles to refine us and to mature us in our faith. Islam is also designed to be a reminder to us of the grace and mercy of God. Their religion is law, law, law and it is as contradictory to the Christian faith as light is to darkness. If man’s natural bent since the fall were not legalism, Islam would have no appeal.
As we look at the political landscape of the world around us, one may be quick to wonder if life indeed would be easier if the Muslims were not a threat. Not only has there been centuries of warfare between Christians and Muslims but that warfare has been coupled with terrorist activities. In additions, Muslims are immigrating all over Europe and America and some are suggesting that one day these once Christian nations will be under Sharia Law.
So, indeed, what is the solution to this great dilemma that Christians are facing today? The answer is the same, beloved, as it has always been: be bold in your witness of the Gospel. Part of the reason that Islam, Humanism, eastern Mysticism, and other false religions are making such headway into the thinking of lands who have once been dominated by Christianity is that Christianity no longer dominates in the public square. We have sadly turned inward and have decided to focus more on building buildings, running programs, and having a following than in making disciples of all nations. Can you imagine what America would be like if we were so bold with our testimony of the Gospel that everyone who came would end up converting to Christianity? If that were the case, we would be excited about more Muslims immigrating from the Middle East because that would mean that they would soon be becoming Christian. Even many pastors have become defeatists, acting as if they are serving the church in Sardis, strengthening what is about to die, rather than engaging and breaking down the gates of Hell. God has given us the armor and weapons of warfare to do so; will we not use them?
Beloved, we have been called by our great captain to engage the enemy, let us do so with vigor and with boldness and proclaim that we will not lay down our arms before the foe because the war has already been won by Jesus Christ upon the cross. Let Christianity once again be on the march because it is through Isaac and through Christ that the promise is given, not through the other children of Abraham.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!
At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.
Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.
Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.