Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verses 25,26)
Paul has mentioned the word “progress” (Greek, prokopen) twice in this letter. The first time is in verse 12 in regards to the progress of the gospel in winning converts. Here the NIV translates it, “to advance the gospel.” In the verses we are looking at Paul uses it in reference to the progress of the gospel in the believers’ spiritual growth. So there is an external progress that the gospel makes in the world as it redeems souls from the corruption of the world, and there is an internal progress it makes in the individual as it continues the work of redeeming us from corruption. The gospel advances numerically and influentially in the world and advances spiritually in the believer.
All this is to say, once again, that the advance or progress of the gospel is really the main concern of Paul in this letter. It is the unstoppable force of God at work in the world and at work in the soul. And the only thing, again, that might threaten this progress is the disunity of believers. We need each other to advance the gospel throughout the world and we need each other’s help to see the advance of the gospel in our own lives. Paul is going to remain with the Philippians, he says, for their progress and joy in the faith.
What springs out of this latter relationship is the potential for boasting. This feels like one of the most foreign aspects of the Bible for most of us. We are so used to thinking of boasting in a purely negative way. Boasting is arrogant and self-centered. But the Bible speaks of an other-centered kind of boasting. Check out these references:
Then Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.”(1 Samuel 2:1)
In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. (Psalm 44:8)
But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the LORD and will make their boast in him. (Isaiah 45:25)
This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD. ” (Jeremiah 9:23,24)
Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:11)
I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:31)
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus. (2 Corinthians 1:12-14)
I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. (2 Corinthians 7:14)
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:15,16)
As you can see there is both a boasting in who God is that is proper to the believer, but there is also a boasting in one another and in ourselves over what God has done in and through us. Paul’s focus in this part of his letter is on both. As he says, “through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.” Because he will help the Philippians make progress in their faith by staying with them rather than going to heaven, they will boast all the more in how great Jesus is and it will be because Paul was a part of their lives and helped them grow. It is not inappropriate for us to think in terms of partnering with God in aiding the progress of the gospel in the world and in individuals.
Is there someone in your life who can boast in the Lord because of you? Is the gospel making progress through your witness and through your discipleship?