One of the questions that presses on my mind daily is “How long is this going to last?” Of particular concern too is our inability to gather together as a church . . . . and for how long, I wonder.
Then I am calibrated, and frankly a little bit ashamed, as I read the words of Paul recorded in Philippians 1:12
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,
As many of us know, Philippians is one of the letters of Paul known as “the prison epistles (letters).” This is because at the time of his writing, and for at least two years (probably much more), Paul had been imprisoned. The circumstances that have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel is his being in prison.
Now we are familiar with, and sometimes try to encourage ourselves by quoting, Romans 8:28.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
The good which God works is His glory and our good. As Paul writes to the Philippians he is just telling them that he is able in this instance to see how God has used his imprisonment for good, that is for the greater progress of the gospel.
Paul's circumstances were bleak. He was arrested as the result of a riot. He was held as a prisoner for over two years as a political pawn. He was not formally charged with a crime. (You can read about this in Acts chapters 21-28) All this, not to mention that, for the most part, his previous spectacular ministry of planting churches and preaching the gospel had come to an abrupt halt. It all seems so wrong and so bad and so detrimental to the purpose of the church and the progress of the gospel . . . but it was not.
As Paul writes from prison in Rome his letter emphasizes joy and rejoicing. You may recall that when Paul first came to Philippi he was arrested, flogged and thrown into prison along with Silas. At midnight, beaten and chained up, what were they doing? Yep, singing praises to God. (Read Acts 16) It is appropriate that joy is the theme of the letter he writes to those who first hand saw him rejoicing in jail in Philippi.
In the four chapters of Philippians there is a continuous emphasis on joy and rejoicing. Even though uncertain if he will be condemned to death, because of his longing to be with the Lord, he rejoices and urges the believers to rejoice.
How, we might ask, is Paul able to rejoice, when he is in the circumstances he faces?
At least part of the answer is found in the words of Philippians 4:4-9.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Take a little time and prayerfully ponder these words. Make a plan and purpose to think on the good things. Thank God for them. And, if you have a little time on your hands – and many of us probably do – take some time to carefully read through the four short chapters of Philippians.
May we trust that God is working all things together for good . . . and perhaps God will allow us a glimpse into how His is working in our current circumstances (which pales when compared to Paul's) for the greater progress of the gospel.
Serving with joy,