Furtherance is not a word that you hear very often. In fact, it may be that you’ve never heard anybody use the word furtherance. I suppose it used to be more popular than it is now and we have no doubt in the English language found some ways of coming up with a better, cuter way of saying things. Furtherance still has a lot of meaning. It is interesting to me that it is found only two times in the Bible. In the King James Version of Scripture it is found twice, both in the same book, both in the same chapter, of course written by the same person, the Apostle Paul.
It was to the church at Philippi that he was writing, and in chapter one he uses furtherance in verse 12 and in verse 25. Of course the word in English and the word that he is conveying to them is the thought that there is a world beyond the borders that we let hinder us or stop us sometimes. There is a dimension beyond points that we fail to let God work in our lives. Listen to what he says in verse12. He’s talking about his imprisonment and he said, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).
The troubles, the trials, and the imprisonments had been a launching pad for the Gospel to go forward. I don’t think any of us would want to have the kind of difficulties that the Apostle Paul had been through. I’m not sure that he would relish having the trials and troubles that he often faced, but what he had discovered was that what appeared to everybody else to be a harmful, hurtful, painful, difficult situation in his life and in his ministry, God had taken that and moved the Gospel into areas and into dimensions beyond what they had ever been. The furtherance of the Gospel.
The other verse, verse 25, Paul is addressing the furtherance, not of the Gospel, but the furtherance of the joy in the believer’s life because they had been obedient unto Him. Here’s the way he said it, “And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith” (Phil. 1:25). Just pause and let that sink in for a moment. He’s saying the work is going on and what it is doing is moving into your heart beyond the borders, the barriers, the hindrances that you have put up that keep God from pouring out wonderful, joyful blessings in your life.
It’s as though he looked into their hearts and saw that God had let some things come that would remove those barriers and fill their lives with joy and celebration, the great things that God was doing in a way that they had never experienced before. It’s the furtherance of their joy. What a marvelous thing to stop and think about how God works in our lives and is constantly working in you and me to bring about furtherance. Truly, the furtherance of the Gospel that will go to the ends of the earth and equally the furtherance of joy in your life because of the faithful obedience in your walk with Christ. Let me give you just two or three thoughts to ponder as you think about furtherance.
The first thought is that God working in our lives is not limited to Him simply doing good things for us. Really, that’s what Paul had told the Philippians. His difficulties, his imprisonments, the way even the church had treated him, all of those things God used for Paul to be put in position that the Gospel would be spread in ways that it had never before had opportunity.
Think about this: Paul is probably under Roman guard, not just in prison, but guards there standing day and night overlooking this terrible criminal in their minds. Paul is sitting there writing letters to Philippi and to other churches but more importantly, these soldiers are there day and night, standing right there with him. Paul wakes up in the middle of the night. He can start talking about Jesus to one of them and the only sound that you would hear would be out in the distance, maybe a frog croaking or maybe a cricket chirping, but Paul’s voice, loving and positive, sharing Jesus one-to-one with a guy who has no choice. He can’t get up and go home. He has no choice. He can’t even go to sleep during the sermon. He has no choice but to listen to the amazing presentation of the Gospel of Jesus by the apostle Paul.
There’s no question but that many of them began to come to the Lord, and so here is a man under lock and key and physical oversight day and night. What does he do? He sees it as an opportunity that God had given him that he never would have otherwise ever had to see any of these people, to have shared the Gospel with any of these men, to have been right where God wanted him to be, right there in the prison lockup. This the furtherance of the Gospel because of what looked like his difficulties.
Sometimes the greatest things that God does for us may at the moment look like the worst thing that ever happened, yet it is used of God to glorify His Son, Jesus. True, you have to have faith. True, if you don’t walk with God and trust Him, you may not even in the years ahead look back and realize, my goodness, He was working in that for the furtherance of the Gospel in my life, in my family, and I didn’t even see it. God doesn’t work in ways to hurt us and make things bad for us. He works to bring about blessings and works ultimately to the glory of His Son, Jesus.
That brings me to say that I think Paul was saying to the Philippians to stop worrying about, stop complaining about, stop fussing and fuming about the fact that I’m in prison and have a bunch of folks who are constantly guarding me. Jesus is at work and the Gospel is going forth and it is penetrating a culture that was resistant, unbelieving, and had totally tuned Him out, but not now. Is that not glorious? It still happens, but sometimes you and I miss it which brings me to the second thought that I think Paul was trying to convey to them.
Not only was God working when they thought He was working against them, God’s promise and God’s progress in Kingdom work is not dependent on our individual comfort nor circumstances. It never has been. It never will be. Paul is in prison and it is not easy street. The Gospel is being proclaimed and it is prospering, but things are not ideal and the world is not good and people are not treating the Apostle Paul like he wanted to be treated for sure. How important for us to properly see how God works His Gospel message into places and experiences that seem absolutely hopeless.
In the book of Acts, chapter 16, Paul and Silas were stopped in silence for their testimony for Jesus. They were beaten. You remember? Thrown into the innermost prison and there at the midnight hour – now God never sleeps nor slumbers – but there at the midnight hour, Paul and Silas began to praise God. It seemed like a terrible thing. I mean life just goes from bad to worse to bitter. Paul and Silas were beaten.
There they are in the darkness of the dungeon and they begin to sing and lo and behold, it looks like when things couldn’t get worse they just got worse. An earthquake hit and shook that place and the prison bars began to pop open and the prisoners could escape. It looks like a jail riot is about to be underway. The jailer knew that this was the end of the road for him. He might as well hang it up. He might as well take his life, and so that’s what he was about to do. The darkness of the night was coupled with the darkness in his spirit and the darkness of his emotions. Paul said, “Whoa. Wait a minute. Do thyself no harm. We’re all here. All the prisoners are here. We’re not going anywhere.” You know the story as the Philippian jailer became a Christ follower before sunup (Acts 16:16-34).
Now for me and maybe you, there are oftentimes in our lives when things don’t seem to be going well. Our ministry seems to be going downhill instead of uphill. The joy seems to be drained out rather than joy filling our lives, and then something else comes along and shakes us again. I understand. Paul certainly understood, but he wanted the Philippians to know that in all these situations God working is not dependent upon our individual comfort. It’s dependent on the power of God and the receptive hearts coming to know Jesus as Savior and Lord. Let me give you one other thought about furtherance and it has to do with the Philippians themselves as Paul uses the word in verse twenty-five.
The point seems to be that God not only expands the Gospel and enlarges our vision and our fields of impact when we share Jesus, but He also increases the joy in our believing in Him. He is restoring our joy, enlarging our capacity, expanding our happiness in the Lord to overflowing because of our faith, our faithfulness to Him. Regardless of the circumstances, we can have spiritual joy, personal, heavenly optimism, because God is at work not only in the lives of others but in the lives of each one of us to bring renewed joy regardless of what may be shaking around us.
I can assure you that all of us can ignore God at work both to carry out His message or to let Him work in us to the point that we can live in the sour spots of life, ignore that God could be doing something bigger than what we understand He’s doing, but when we trust Him, when we look to Him, what an incredible thing He does to bring about the furtherance of the Gospel and the furtherance of joy in us. You’re probably reading this somewhere post-Thanksgiving. It’s all good when you give thanks for all the good turkey and dressing and all the stuff you ate. Now pause and ask Him to give you the kind of faith and confidence that whatever has been taking place in your life you will trust Him, lean upon His strong arms for help, and let Him restore the joy in your life.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jim Futral