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. (Philippians 1:12-13, ESV)This text yanks us out of comfortable, pain-free, easy American evangelicalism and hurls us into prison. Prison. Discomfort. Futility.
God's prison? Yes, that's exactly the way Paul sees his current circumstances. He is not enslaved to meaningless fate nor finding himself forsaken by God. Rather, he knows his trouble is precisely where God would have him be. This is faith clothed in courage, lived out in Paul's everyday situation among the people God has placed him with. God is big enough to guide Paul in trouble and trial for eternal benefit, including the here-and-now. Including the here-and-now of prison. What an irony, that the glory and blessing of the gospel would be worked in the midst of imprisonment. This is from the Lord, and confounds all so-called 'wisdom' of the flesh. It is not the plan we would conceive for furthering the gospel. It is much better than any plan we could imagine, just as the cross is much better than any salvation we could dream up.
How do you draw from a deep well? This text is a deep well of truth. It merits your effort to understand it. Meditate on it. Mull it over. Chew on it. Draw every last fragment of faith-building from it. Why? Why spend your time and your mind considering this little passage? Aren't there better, more successful things you could be doing? This is no theoretical, abstract truth. It is not merely a text. It will be reflected in your life. Are you prepared to clothe faith with courage when trouble comes? Is God big enough to guide you in trouble and trial for eternal benefit, including the here-and-now? Will you see your trials as Paul did, purposed by the loving hand of God? Or will you be crushed by the weight, convinced that God's blessing is demonstrated through riches, beauty, and 'success'? It is my prayer and hope that Paul's imprisonment will be a fountain of faith and courage for you, pointing as it does to our hope: fashioned by the hand of God in Christ, purchased by Christ on the cross, and lead on our path by the Good Shepherd. Trials are not the end of the story, brothers and sisters.
Oh to be used of God to advance the gospel! Can you imagine a higher aspiration for your life than this? Osteen, Copeland, Hinn, and many other preachers spew lies by denying the reality of God's purpose in tribulation. Do not fall for their poison. Ironic again, that slick messengers packaged in expensive suits and toothy veneers obscure the gospel proclaimed clearly by the prisoner Paul. Rather than chase their private jets in the hope that today will be trial-free, pursue the God of Philippians 1:12-13 to bring you to and through trial and trouble to advance the gospel.