“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
When I look back and become nostalgic of my days playing lacrosse in high school, there’s always an experience that stuck out. It was a game that we played at night (night games were rare and glorious for the high schooler) under the bright spotlights that lined the stadium. The crowed was at an all-time high of 50 people, including our parents, and the sun had just set as the fourth quarter was just beginning.
Our team, having played pretty hard in the first 3/4 of the game, was losing 12-9 with about 5 minutes left in the game. Then something happened that no one expected – our best offensive player and captain was blindsided by a cheap hit that left him mangled on the ground. I remember seeing in the corner of my eye the entire bleacher population rise as one body in shock of the devastating hit. Our best player, our captain, our friend, was down and we were all at a loss. Our team’s morale had plummeted right when we needed it to be rocketed.
This is the position that the church at Philipi is in– their captain, their most seasoned Christian leader, their dear friend, has been brought in by the Roman Empire and locked in hand and foot to metal shackles. Paul sits in a cold stone cell with bruised muscles, torn ligaments and broken bones endured during his mission of sharing the good news of Christ to everyone he can. The Philippians’ morale has dropped.
But then they receive this letter, written by his very own broken hand, that focuses on encouraging them to continue their walk with Christ.
“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.
Paul’s imprisonment is not in vain and even his time chained to a cell is used by God to advance the gospel and spread the life changing knowledge of Christ. I think it’s encouraging to see how God is in the business of bringing something out of nothing (“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” 1 Corinthians 1:28) and even a crappy circumstance such as the one Paul is in can be used for Good. Notice that if were not for Paul’s obedience in being in prison (he could have fled or fought), the Gospel would most likely not have penetrated the Roman Empire the way that it did.
The imperial guard, or Praetorian, did not see a crazy man who was weeping in fear. They did not see a man who was in prison for theft, rape or murder. What they did see was a man who was in prison just because he was trying to share Jesus with people. They saw a man who endured suffering, a man who was fearless in the face of the world’s best trained soldiers, and a man who was willing even in his physically broken down state to continue to share the news of his Savior with them. This drastically changed the lives of everyone around Paul.
So what about you? Being locked up in a stone cell is not the only way that suffering for Christ can look like. It could just be going to that class that you don’t necessarily need to go to and can be easily skipped without damaging your grade, and doing so without griping. It could be the way you’re enduring your boring job– are you whining and bickering at the work load? I guess what I’m getting at is that there are many ways that we suffer, perhaps not to the extent of Paul, but it’s not the suffering that means anything — it’s the way we endure in that suffering that can actually affect those around us on a life-changing level as they experience the gospel through our actions.
The challenge here is to allow God to bring something out of nothing. What if just by the way I worked and interacted with people at my job as a computer consultant, Jesus could bring eternal salvation to my coworkers! It’s always easy for Christians to tell about how good God is when things are going well. But the most powerful faith is seen when that person shows that God overshadows their suffering in greatness so that their suffering isn’t even worth a mention.
“And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
When we saw that our captain got up off the ground and decided, with a limp, to stay in the game for the last five minutes to play, our whole team was inspired. With Paul enduring his suffering in such a great way, he not only brings his jail guards to Christ but inspires his other brothers and sisters who already know Christ to be more brave. What we need to remember is that our enduring of suffering has greater implications than we think; it encourages others around us to be more bold in advancing the Gospel. Paul’s actions are still affecting people like myself 2,000 years later through the Bible.
Our lacrosse team came back to win the game 15-12 in very exciting fashion. Are you ready for your come back?
Prayer: God I thank you for placing spiritual leaders around us and if not around us than in your Word for us to read about. Thanks for Paul and his example of manliness in being able to endure suffering. Father, I pray that I would learn how to endure suffering like he did– not because it would make me cooler, but because it means that I would understand that you are greater, more awesome and just well worth any hiccup of a suffering we go through. Continue to reveal the Gospel to us and what kind of implications a risen Jesus should have in our day-to-day lives. We love you and pray all of this in your name, Jesus. Amen.