Some of Paul’s letters were written from a prison cell. His letter to believers in the city of Philippi is one of them. Exactly where that prison was is uncertain but Rome is the most probable. On the surface it would seem that the imprisonment of Christianity’s most influential spokesman would seriously slow down growth in the movement. “Not so,” says Paul; “The circumstances of my present life are helping rather than hindering the advance of the gospel (Philippians 1:12 NJB). Everyone, including the palace guard, was aware that he was in prison because of his fearless proclamation of the gospel. This implies that a wide group of people had been exposed to the gospel and knew at least what it claimed. Now that is good news! How else could you get a wider hearing.
The other benefit of being thrown into jail is that the local believers were emboldened to share their faith without fear. Paul had shown them the way so, setting caution aside, they went about the task freed from the “political correctness” of the day. From ages past people have experienced the compelling force of reality. The life, death, and resurrection of the man Jesus struck the people of the early church as so authentic that they couldn’t help but respond without reserve to its demand to “go and tell.”
What can we learn from those early years of the rapid expanse of Christianity? In the second century Tertullian, the Christian apologist, wisely noted that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” This should not come as a surprise because it was Jesus, the gentle Nazarene, who promised his followers, “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matt. 10:22) And the apostle Paul added, “All who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). People do not risk their lives for something in which they do not have that level of commitment.
The view that history is drawing to a close is not simply the opinion of a few on the far right. It is understood by a broad spectrum of those in leadership that right now the world has far more nuclear power than needed for global annihilation. We are also living in a time when it is all but certain that certain rebel groups that glorify death are in the process of obtaining the nuclear armament to make it happen. But along with Paul we can rejoice that our God is sovereign and according to his plan “all things will happen just as he decided long ago” (Eph. 1:11, TLB). Being sovereign means having absolute control. When the curtain of history goes down, God alone will stand center stage as the sovereign King of kings