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Several years ago, Don Moen was awakened in the middle of the night with a phone call. His mother-in-law had called to tell him of a tragic car accident involving his wife’s sister, Susan. Susan and her husband, Craig, and their four little boys were on a trip when the tragedy occurred. Jeremy, age eight and the oldest of the four boys, was killed instantly. The others were seriously injured.
As Don and his wife grieved and poured out their hearts to the Lord, they felt helpless at communicating hope and grace to Susan and Craig. Don recalls how God helped him through the tragedy. “It was as if the Lord gave me these words,” he said.
God will make a way when there seems to be no way.
He works in ways we cannot see. He will make a way for me.
He will be my guide; hold me closely to his side.
With love and strength for each new day, he will make a way.
How we view God, what we think and believe about God, determines how we relate to/with God. More specifically, our relationship with God how determines how we navigate our way through those real and present difficult circumstances.
Paul’s example today will encourage us to believe God is with us, irrespective of our difficulties and that God can and will use the experience for his good and glory.
“How long O Lord will you forget me forever, how long will you hide your face from me…how long must I put up with all this”…”I will trust in your unfailing love…” (Psalm 13)
Being Christian is to walk this walk that includes the suffering/s we encounter keeping our belief intact, without losing faith and our certainty in Christ. It is human to want to be free and to distance ourselves from pain and suffering. It is Christian to walk through difficulty, not in ignorance of it, but knowing that it’s only through the person of Jesus who sustains us.
In Christ, “who, for the joy set before him endured the cross” rests the understanding we need to navigate this area of Christian life.
When we read the passage shortly we’ll see that Paul, because of how he viewed his life before the Lord, wasn’t sitting in his prison cell, lamenting the things he could have otherwise been doing. He wasn’t asking God to remove him from the situation, or the situation away from him. What had happened to him had served to advance the gospel – what an amazing mindset!
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. 15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.”
Prior to this Paul had prayed for the church; that their love may abound (exceed the ordinary, over and above) in knowledge and depth of insight…love, based on the knowledge of Christ and what Christ has done.
His prayer goes on…so that they might discern what is best, pure and blameless until the day of Christ, for his glory – this is a prayer for Christians to have an ethical and moral purity, lived out daily that honours God. That Christians might distinguish between light and darkness, good and evil, and live above reproach.
The prayer transitions into the passage we’re looking at today which highlights the difficulty of Paul’s circumstances (under house arrest, chained), but at the same time the joy he had in the midst of them because the gospel was advancing and other Christians had grown in confidence in the Lord.
These verses are revealing of the godly perspective Paul demonstrates towards his sufferings and inevitably toward those who oppose him. (See 2 Corinthians 11 & 12)
The principle revealed is, that we can know God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of life’s challenges and difficulties. Also, that God is faithful, that he is good, that he is with me, that he will build his church, doesn’t alter, and isn’t affected by my circumstances. Because he is God!
Paul’s priority remained in and through all of this, Jesus, Joy and the gospel.
“…what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel...it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
Life’s challenges proclaim Christ
Paul prays this beautiful, encouraging prayer then goes on with this statement about being in chains. Why would he want to tell the church what was happening to him was to advance the gospel? For Christ! (v. 13b)
It was clear to everyone who was a witness to Paul being in prison, who he was there for, who he represented, who, he worshipped. For Christ!
Paul was an unusual guy, wasn’t he? It doesn’t seem natural does it, almost a little absurd that he/we could find such, “joy”, in the most difficult of environments. Yet that is the mindset, the posture, the attitude that what we as Christians are to carry because our hope is in Christ and our goal is heavenward…otherwise what is hope in Christ?
Let’s be careful however to not misconstrue Paul’s view of suffering. There is no implication that we search out suffering, that suffering is good, that God is the instigator, or that Christians should have “smiles on their faces when they experience it” pretending we are having a great time in difficult circumstances…but, that he is present!
In the natural, we don’t like to find ourselves in “prison-like” circumstances, let alone see that God can, in fact, work all things together for his glory and our good. We might ordinarily believe God is only in, things when things are going good and feel right, that the work can and will only advance as things are going well, and we’re all good.
But Paul here is saying, I’m in ‘prison’, I have no concern at all for where I am, it’s not about my personal comfort, despite all this I’m been totally effective, there is no way this is a setback, I am where the Lord wants me. How is that obvious? The gospel is advancing. People are growing in the Lord. Life’s challenges proclaim Christ
Paul’s experience teaches us a different perspective and widens our theology. Paul could have looked at his own situation and thought to end up in a cell wasn’t part of the plan, but look at what God has done despite this.
God can absolutely use tough, difficult, prison-like circumstances to advance the gospel, to grow in confidence in him. It comes down to how we view ourselves in God and believing that God can use our challenges, for his good.
Paul’s teaching here actually stands in opposition to the school of thought that God WILL remove our difficulties because he WANTS the GOOD and easy life for us, not bogged down in distracting challenges.
Faith is believing that God will do what he wants to do, not, that he will do what I want him to. God can heal. God can deliver. God can provide. God can orchestrate circumstances….but always, according to HIS will and for His glory.
Paul gives a number of helpful responses why and how being “in chains” advances the gospel. Let me summarise those:
(See Philippians 1:6) Paul had confidence that God would bring to a completion, the good work that he (God) began. In other words, chains were no obstacle to God’s work being advanced…nothing gets in the way of God doing what God wants to do. We can be certain he will finish what he starts.
(See 1:9) Paul said that your love may abound more in knowledge...this is the knowledge that God has all things in hand. The knowledge that if I’m going to suffer and go through difficult things, if I am on the receiving end of persecution for being a Christian, of false accusation, that it’s worth it, that God will be glorified. This is trusting that God, as in Romans 8:28, will work all things together for good.
We have opposition...look at Philippians 3:2f, “watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, mutilators of the flesh”. What might be today’s equivalent of these “men who do evil”, etc?
You’ll think of specific examples, but this is anyone who opposes God and the gospel; anyone who attempts to sway us away from truth, or convinces us of a moral truth, that is not of God. Their minds are set on earthly (temporary matters) as Phil. 3:19 says, our (Christians) citizenship is in heaven. Any enemy or opposition cannot (must not) stop the advancement of the gospel.
God can absolutely use tough, difficult, prison-like circumstances to advance the gospel, to grow in confidence in him. It comes down to our perspective of God and belief.
A 4th response that Paul has “is that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts” (Philippians 4:7)
God’s peace transcends all understanding. You might say ‘I don’t understand why I’m going through this, why I have this illness, why that person seems to be giving me a hard time, I don’t understand’…
God’s peace surpasses our understanding. The peace we have and receive from him when we hand over not some, but all our anxiety and care to him. Notice it’s the ‘peace of God’…that peace, knows and has the confidence that whatever I face, God is in control. Nothing will stop the gospel.
How is it that Paul’s imprisonment advanced the gospel? The brothers and sisters were looking at the tough time Paul was having in prison and probably were saying we’ve got to pick up this work. A natural response would be, ‘there’s no way I want to end up like. ‘Paul, there are things I want to do in life, I can’t risk my head being chopped off, I cannot put myself in the position of being persecuted for standing up for the truth, I have greater priorities…’
No, verse 14 tells us, some…have become confident in the Lord, to proclaim the gospel, without fear…because of Paul’s chains (imprisonment).
They saw Paul’s example, saw he wasn’t afraid, in fact, full of peace and joy. And decided, confidently there’s a greater cause at stake here, than my fear. Because God is sovereign, we don’t need to be afraid of anything.
…what has happened to me has advanced the gospel…I am in chains for Christ…
For Christ…in all things, all circumstances, challenges, anything…I face, FOR Christ!
Life’s challenges cause rejoicing
“15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.”
These verses speak of a further challenge Paul had while in prison, there are two groups of people here. One is aligned with Paul preaching out of love for others. The other group preaching Christ out of envy, rivalry, with a selfish ambition, not sincere, so preaching Christ but with a different agenda than Paul’s, causing trouble for him.
Why would this group be envious, why was there rivalry?
Paul has already said the gospel is advancing. Were they jealous that this guy, Paul, could have such a significant impact, from prison, these guys, presumably Christian (they were preaching Christ) were not seeing the same results? So they make him (Paul) feel bad for the great work he is doing!
Now, remember Paul’s in Rome writing to Philippi, describing his situation in Rome. Why bring it up? Why necessary?
(Philippians 2:3-4) “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Paul’s point is, even though Christ is being preached, their behaviour, attitudes and motives, hurt, they’re…not good and godly….don’t be like these guys. Don’t let happen among yourselves what these guys are doing to me. You’re better than that! Not about individual selfish agendas, about Christ. Value others above yourself!
When he says “what does it matter?” Paul was not minimising the importance of the quality of the gospel or of preaching, he is not permitting heresy or bad doctrine. Rather he is saying that God is able to use even situations like this for his own ends.
Paul found it difficult but he was able to see the bigger, grander, kingdom view, that wasn’t about him, but the gospel being advanced. That’s why Pauls says, as long as Christ is being preached, I rejoice!
We can easily fall into a trap of criticising other Christians and preachers, question their motives and a method, our time is taken up campaigning against this person and this church and that movement. And often, this is really misinformed. In the end, it causes disunity in the body of Christ. Think about the SEN (secular education network…efforts to remove Bible in Schools. Let’s pray and work together to ‘thwart’ such opposition.
Our society needs no more ammunition to criticise Christians. We need to put that energy into unity and preaching the gospel.
Life’s challenges cause rejoicing. Suffering, grief and pain are real (Read Job; 2 Cor. 11 & 12)…I want to say that Joy in suffering does not ignore, invalidate, minimise or devalue life’s difficulties. That would be to entirely miss the meaning of biblical joy.
Said earlier, our relationship with God determines how we navigate our way through those real and present difficult circumstances. Joy is embedded in the faithfulness of God. That means: I know he’s faithful or I KNOW he is faithful because I place myself in his faithfulness each day. Suffering and life challenges are not an indicator of the absence of God rather an opportunity to press into God.
Joy comes from knowing that human circumstances lie in God’s hands and that God uses them to advance the gospel. Joy is found in knowing that ultimately God does everything for His glory and our good.
When we are faced with difficult and challenging life circumstances, we can remember Paul’s example and teaching and look for how God might be at work in ours or others’ circumstances for his glory and our good.
Keeping within the context of this passage, when other Christians seek to make life more difficult for us rather than seek to help, and support and love us through a situation, particularly when they seek to take advantage of our having a tough time to promote their own goals, we should remember Paul’s perspective.
God used Paul’s difficult circumstances to advance the gospel and build the church. Paul knew that because Jesus suffered to bring salvation to the world, Christians doing God’s work will suffer, face significant life challenges, obstacles, too.
Whatever our own “chains” might be, we can look for ways in which to grow and for God’s work to advance. Ridicule for our commitment to Jesus from family members or co-workers, a feeling of alienation from a society that is growing in its secular orientation, accusations of being bigoted and prejudice…(pop your own “chains” in there)…any one of these things can “shackle” us.
This passage reminds and reclaims our perspective on the way God works. He works where there is belief, where there is no doubt, where there is emptiness that he fills, where our joy is centred on Christ and the advance of the gospel…where there is unity.
Oh that God would help us love him, love Christ, love the gospel and find that deep-seated joy.
Know Christ in our challenges
Share Christ out of our challenges
Rejoice in Christ in our challenges