Saturday, March 24, 2007

How do chains advance the gospel?--Philippians 1:12

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel...”

The word that Paul uses for “advance” is the Greek word prokopen (pronounced prok-op-ay’). As Hawthorne notes prokopen was originally used to refer to, “pioneers cutting a way before an army and so furthering its march”[1] So what Paul is saying is that his imprisonment has been like pioneers cutting they way before the army so as to further the march. Paul’s imprisonment is how the gospel is going to advance into the Roman military and the Roman government. History has shown that “chains” (sometimes even people dying for their faith) has served to advance the gospel. In fact an early Christian writer Tertullian proclaimed that, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church”. Meaning that it is through Christian blood being spilled that the door us opened up for the advance of the gospel. The story of Jim Elliot and 4 other missionaries to the Auca Indians portrays this beautifully:

“In the Autumn of 1955, missionary pilot Nate Saint spotted an Auca village. During the ensuing months, Elliot and several fellow missionaries dropped gifts from a plane, attempting to befriend the hostile tribe. In January of 1956, Elliot and four companions landed on a beach of the Curaray River in eastern Ecuador. They had several friendly contacts with the fierce tribe that had previously killed several Shell Oil company employees. Two days later, on January 8, 1956, all five men were speared and hacked to death by warriors from the Auca tribe.”[2]

These men never had the opportunity to share Christ with the Auca tribes—at least not with their lips. What is really interesting to note is that a few years after Jim Eliot was martyred his wife, Elisabeth, among many of the other missionary wives were able to make contact with the Auca Indians and many where led to Christ; in fact it is told that Elisabeth had the opportunity to lead the Indian who had killed her husband to faith in Jesus Christ. Jim Elliot and those 4 other missionaries where much like the Apostle Paul—pioneers cutting a way before the gospel could march through.

Jim Elliot’s now famous quote sums up well the motivation of those who give their lives (whether in life or death) to the cause of Christ. In a journal entry a few years before he ultimately gave his life Elliot wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
  • Ask yourself today am I giving my life for what I cannot keep? Or am I giving my life to gain what I cannot lose? To put that another way—are you living for eternity or for the fleeting pleasures of today?
  • In what areas of your life is God calling you to be a “path cutter”?
  • In what areas of your life is God calling you to advance the gospel after those who have already “cut a path”?
The movie, End of the Spear, is about Jim Elliot and the other missionaries. Elisabeth Elliot has also published two wonderful books about the mission to the Auca Indians and her husband’s life: Through Gates of Splendor and Shadow of the Almighty. You can also check out Jim Elliot’s journal in from our youth library.
[1] Hawthorne, Gerald. Word Bible Commentary. Taken from
[2] Taken from

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