Summary: Is the idea that God is working just wishful thinking? What does that look like if he is?
(Other ideas might be the pains of road construction: and the signs that say, “Completed in 2011 as promised)
The grief of my grandfather’s loss was still fresh. His wife, my step grandmother, had passed away unexpectedly. She was alive and well as they went to bed. He awoke the next morning to find that she had died during the night.
To understand the story you need to know that my grandfather was not a Christian man. Jesus was never very important to him. Little did I understand this as a brand new student at Bible College. And as a Freshman student, I was anxious to test out my training. So when my family went to visit with him, I looked at him and told him this sagely advice: “God promises that this will work out for the good.”
I knew immediately that I had made a mistake. My grandfather’s face twisted up with anger. He looked back at me with resentment in his eyes and pointed a finger in my face. And he said with spite, “How can this possibly be for the good? THAT is no more than WISHFUL thinking!” The words I thought would bring hope rang hollow to him.
Have those words ever rung hollow to you, too? God works all things out for the good of those who love him? In the midst of tragedy, it can be hard to picture God working it all out for the good. Do you know what I mean? In the aftermath of a tornado or flood; when we receive bad news about our health; when we lose our job; when we lose someone we love, it can sure feel like God is distant; it can sure feel like God has failed in his duty.
But what if God were able to use trials and suffering for the good? What would that look like? Let’s explore this question today as we continue our series from the book of Philippians.
We talked last week that Paul writes this letter while sitting in prison. He is under house arrest for sharing his faith. He has made an appeal to Caesar and is awaiting his trial in Rome. To keep him secure, he would have been chained by the wrist or ankle to a Roman guard at all times.
A speedy trial for a 1st Century prisoner in Rome was not guaranteed. A prisoner could wait months or years before having the opportunity to present his/her case. The timetable for a trial was often based on the whims of the magistrate. Sometimes the prisoner was used as a bargaining chip. If held long enough, the prisoner might even be able to buy his freedom by offering a bribe. Getting a prisoner to trial was not always the magistrates concern. History teaches us that Paul waited for his day to present his case for 2 years.
And during imprisonment, the Roman government was not worried about the welfare of the prisoner – there was no constitutional guarantee of humane treatment. There was no cable T.V., no exercise equipment, no three meals a day provided. The prisoner in Paul’s time would have been dependent on paying the guards or on others to provide the basic necessities of life – food, water, clean clothing. It would have been a miserable situation physically and emotionally.
It is from this situation that Paul writes these words.
Philippians 1:12 (NIV)
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.
Can I paraphrase that?
“I want you to know that what seems to be bad (My being in chains) has turned out for the good.” It’s a remarkable statement isn’t it?
Picture that statement for a moment.
I have cancer, but it’s a good thing.
I lost my job, but it’s a good thing.
My wife left and took the children, but it’s a good thing.
Being a prisoner of Rome would not be a good thing, but Paul says,"Good things are happening while he awaits trial in prison." He has been able to share the gospel as a result of it. Listen to what he says in vs. 13.
Philippians 1:13 (NIV)
13 As a result (of my imprisonment), it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
When we read this we need to understand that there is a dual tone taking place. In one sense Paul is declaring his innocence. He wants those in Philippi to understand that he has done nothing illegal. Paul has not been placed in prison for a misdeed. Instead he is in chains for preaching Christ.
On the other hand, Paul is sharing the results of his imprisonment. I am in chains FOR CHRIST. It is the reason that Paul is in prison. And Paul says that Christ is using his chains for the good. The gospel is advancing.