When Circumstances Bite
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. —Philippians 1:12-14
The apostle Paul is in jail. Think about that. One of the Lord’s all-time star players is shackled away from the ministry limelight into a dark, rat-infested sinkhole of death for boldly proclaiming the name of Christ and living for Him. Like me, you might be thinking, “Seriously God, what is the deal with that plan?”
The followers of Christ in Philippi knew the circumstances that Paul was enduring, but Paul was writing to let them know what was happening beyond his circumstances. What seemed to be some kind of giant, cosmic disaster ruining the expansion of the Gospel was actually an unparalleled opportunity for the Good News of Jesus Christ to be taken throughout Rome.
Part of Paul’s imprisonment included what would seem to be the annoying reality of being chained 24/7 to various Roman soldiers, one at a time. These particular Roman soldiers were part of Caesar’s Imperial Guard, the elite protectors of the Roman Empire that carried influence into every nook and cranny of Rome, including the very household of Caesar.
Day-by-day and month-by-month, prisoner Paul faithfully told his story to his revolving captive audience of one. Paul’s never-a-private-moment circumstance became an always-a-ministry-moment opportunity. Guard after guard heard Paul’s God-story and guard after guard observed Paul’s life of consistency. God blessed Paul’s faithful telling and living of his story such that those who were without Christ in Rome came to hear about Him, and those with Christ in Rome grew in their boldness for Him.
Paul’s chains were not pulling him away from ministry; they were actually staking him to the very place of ministry. Who could ever have thought up such an amazing, advancing-the-Gospel strategy? Isaiah 55:8-9 gives us a clue: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
When your circumstances seem out of control, when you feel chained to a difficult situation, when you feel as though you are being sidelined into ambiguity, remember Paul. Remember Paul shackled away for boldly living for the name of Christ, yet living faithfully in that place day-by-day, month-by-month before an audience of one. It is living in that place where joy in Christ is found. —Doug Helmer
Prayer – Father, life can be so difficult at times. Teach me to persevere in Your strength and not my own. Please show me how each difficult circumstance I’m facing now is an opportunity to witness to Your presence in my life. Help me to view my life like Paul, always being ready to point to You with both my words and my actions. In Jesus’ name, Amen.