Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 6, 2011

For the Greater Progress

On January 7, I posted a blog entitled Bigger-Picture People. Over the past thirty-two years in full-time vocational ministry, I have made it a point to look for and befriend bigger-picture people. Bigger-picture people are the kind of people who turn barricades into bridges and lemons into lemonade! They are the people who are able to joyfully and patiently endure difficult circumstances because they see the bigger picture of how their circumstances fit into the scheme of God’s long-term work. They are people who have a remarkable ability to persist under extreme pressures because their commitment to the bigger picture strengthens their resolve to keep on keeping on. These are people who see their circumstances as God-given opportunities for the advancement of the gospel and development of their character. These are the kind of people who rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do. Their lives command respect, dispense encouragement, and are worthy of imitation.

St. Paul in Prison | Rembrandt

One of the distinguishing marks of “Bigger-Picture People” is their ability to see and know that God is at work even in the midst of difficult circumstances. They are people who have learned to trust God with their circumstances, knowing that circumstances can be the raw materials of their greatest discoveries about God. They are people who realize that God is able to use both the sorrows and successes of life in the communication of the gospel and the development of their character. Without question, the Apostle Paul holds a place of honor in the ranks of “Bigger-Picture People.” In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul discussed his circumstances — “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,” (1:12). He did not complain about his circumstances nor give many details about his imprisonment. His greatest concern was the gospel and its advance. There is a resounding note of optimism in what he writes:

“I wish you to know (come to know, learn, or understand) brothers (fellow believers who are members of the same spiritual family by faith in Christ) that my circumstances (that is, recent developments in his case) have turned out rather (in contrast to what might be expected) unto the advancement of the gospel.”

Even though Paul was a prisoner, his imprisonment did not end his missionary activity but rather expanded it for himself and for others. His circumstances turned out for the greater progress or advancement of the gospel. The Greek word for advancement is prokope, a word used to describe the progress of an army or expedition. This word referred to the cutting away of trees and undergrowth and the removal of any barriers that might hinder the progress of an army. Paul’s imprisonment, rather than shutting the door, opened a door to new opportunities for him. His circumstances cleared the way for the gospel to advance into new areas.

One of Paul’s greatest desires was to preach the gospel in Rome (see Acts 19:21 and Romans 1:15). He wanted to go there as a preacher but instead went as a prisoner. Yet, it was as a prisoner that he had the marvelous opportunity to introduce the gospel to people and into places he could not have reached in other ways. Someone wisely noted, “Severe obstacles can become divine opportunities.” Warren Wiersbe, one of my favorite writers, wrote that “God sometimes uses strange tools to help us pioneer the gospel.” And indeed Paul’s circumstances turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. “The same God who used Moses’ rod, Gideon’s pitchers, and David’s sling,” wrote Wiersbe, “used Paul’s chains.” In Psalm 119:91b the Psalmist declared, “For all things are Thy servants.” And what a noble purpose was served by Paul’s chains. The next time you find yourself “under the circumstances” or facing unexpected challenges, don’t get discouraged. Instead, face them with the courage, insight, and resolve of bigger-picture people. By doing so, your circumstances might also turn out for the greater progress of the gospel.


Responses

  1. O-
    I have always enjoyed reading your blog. You are so eloquent and have an amazing gift of transporting a reader into another place and time. But, sometimes your words are a clear and direct message from the good Lord Almighty. This blog was one of those times.
    Lord help me….I have a serious attitude adjustment to make!
    Miss ya, amigo.
    Laura


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