Both verses use the same Greek word, prokopé, to speak of “progress” or “advance.” In the first case, Paul wants the persecuted Philippian church to know that his arrest and chains have actually helped the gospel make progress throughout the Praetorian guard. These elite soldiers were among the finest in the entire Roman Empire, the toughest, most loyal, and most dedicated men the Emperor had. It seems that Paul may have been imprisoned and chained to some of these Praetorian guards, and had seized the opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to them one after the other. Undoubtedly Paul’s supernatural joy in Christ despite his dreadful circumstances must have made quite an impression on many of them, and they gave his message a careful listening. Paul hints that some of them may even have become Christians as a result (note that there are believers in “Caesar’s household,” Philippians 4:22)! What is more, once the rest of the church saw how courageously and joyfully Paul was suffering for Christ, they were now emboldened to share the gospel fearlessly (Philippians 1:14). Church history shows that, within one generation of Paul, there were Christian churches as far north as wild and forbidding Britain. Could it be that some Praetorian Guards believed Paul’s gospel and became even more loyal to Christ than they were to the Emperor?
This is the “progress” of the gospel, the gradual advance of the Kingdom of Christ through the verbal proclamation of the gospel message. “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (verse 18). This worldwide advance of the gospel is the glorious story of missions:
Luke 24:46-47 “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The church has been traveling this journey for almost two thousand years, and it is the most glorious story in human history. This is one of our two “immeasurable journeys,” that of the progress of the gospel of Christ. Since the time when Philippians was written, the gospel has been carried heroically and at great cost to the most distant parts of the earth’s surface. Missionaries have crossed the burning sands of the Arabian Desert, the forbidding slopes of the Karakoram Mountains, the measureless expanses of the Pacific Ocean, and the dangerous wilds of the jungles of Irian Jaya. Martyrs have suffered persecution and died, families have suffered tropical illnesses and died, missionaries have suffered starvation and died, all to accomplish the “advance of the gospel,” to make progress along this “immeasurable external journey.”