The church at Philippi was definitely one of Paul’s favorites. The apostle Paul writes from prison and starts his letter to the Philippians with this:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.Philippians 1:3-5, 7
It’s a beautiful thing to have partners in the gospel like this. But what I want us to notice here is how Paul describes his own ministry. He mentions three distinct times when he truly feels the Philippians’ partnership as they share in God’s grace with him: 1) when he’s in chains; 2) when he’s defending the gospel, and 3) when he’s confirming the gospel. Christians around the world can relate to these three realities. However, in the American Church, we can mostly only relate to the second one.
When Paul mentions that he “defends” the gospel, he uses the word apologia. This is the Greek word where we get our English word apologetics. It is when we use intelligent reasoning to defend the foundational principles of the gospel.
Yet, Paul also describes his ministry as confirming the gospel. Most American Christians would read this and assume it is the same as defending the gospel. But that is not what Paul is saying here. The Greek word meaning “to confirm” is also used in Mark 16:20:
Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.Mark 16:20
So while intelligent reasoning is what it takes to “defend” the gospel, the confirmation of the gospel happens through demonstrations of the power of God through signs and wonders. Paul says it this way to the Romans:
I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.Romans 15:18-19
Christians around the world are experiencing all three of the things Paul mentioned in Philippians 1. They are being imprisoned and persecuted for their faith. They are defending the gospel with the reasoned truth. But they are also confirming the gospel through healings, miracles, and casting out demons–the power of signs and wonders.
One reason American Christians are steeped in unbelief, doubt and skepticism is because the Church here is largely unable to confirm the gospel. If we spend all our time defending the gospel, we’re constantly on the defense. Confirmation of the gospel, through signs and wonders, is what is needed in our generation!