Summary: Paul’s perspective on the troubles he faced. God uses our problems to accomplish his purposes.
What would your life be like if it were free of any kind of trouble? It’s difficult to imagine. With the global economy on the brink of collapse we are constantly reminded by the newscasts that we are in for a whole host of related troubles. The chain reaction of economic disaster will manifest itself in food prices skyrocketing, job losses and other troubles. As if you needed more trouble in your life.
Trouble is relative. What is trouble for you may not be trouble for me. We cannot measure our troubles against each other until we walk in each others’ shoes. What is certain is that in every life there will be trouble.
George Whitefield (1714-1770), the eighteenth century evangelist, spoke of trouble as thorns in your bed. If God in His wisdom allows there to be thorns in your bed, it is only to awaken you from spiritual death, and to wake you up to His mercy. Or if you are a true believer, and he still puts thorns in your bed it is only to keep you from falling into complacency. Those thorns will remind you that you still need God.
The Apostle Paul was keenly aware of this truth concerning his own troubles. We can summarize the lesson from Philippians 1:12-18 very simply: God uses our trouble to accomplish his purposes.
This is a very tough pill to swallow for several reasons. One is that we don’t often see our troubles as having any spiritual significance; they are just rotten things that happen. Two, we refuse to believe that God is at work in our little problems and they are merely the road bumps of life. And three, more often than not we come away defeated by our troubles.
I want to share with you this morning the perspective on trouble from one who lived a life of joy. For all of us, me included, we will need to exercise faith to believe this truth and to learn to laugh in the face of trouble.
Let me share with you how God uses our trouble…
1. …to advance the Gospel
In writing to the Philippian believers Paul was very clear that they should understand this truth. He said to them, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (v. 12).
It is very likely that the Philippians were eager to know what was going on with Paul. They would have read and reread this letter to get a handle on his situation. Paul could have focused on his troubles and written a real pitiful story, but he didn’t. His focus was on the gospel.
In part they may have known the story of how Paul came to be imprisoned. That is why he could write briefly “…what has happened to me…” But what did happen to Paul? We talked briefly about this two Sundays ago and we can read the whole story starting at Acts 21 to the end. Here is a nutshell of the situation:
Some people started some rumors that Paul had taken a Gentile into the holy part of the Temple, and Jerusalem was up in arms, causing Paul to be beaten and almost killed. The authorities stepped in and arrested Paul, thus saving his life. Paul was then taken to Caesarea, where he was held in prison for two years, awaiting trial. He appeared before Governors Felix and Festus, and eventually before King Agrippa, giving gripping testimony about his faith in Christ. Because Paul appealed his case to Caesar, he was then sent to Italy by ship. After a terrible shipwreck, he was finally brought in chains to Rome where he was kept under house arrest for two years, as he waited for his trial before Caesar.
Now as Paul reflects upon this chain reaction of events he wants to impress upon his church that this has really served to advance the gospel. That word “advance” is a military term that has to do with clearing the way for the army. An advance team of pioneers, as they were called, would go before the army and cut a road through the forest, build a bridge or two, and basically clear the path of all obstacles.
So Paul sees his imprisonment not as a setback but as an advance, a clearing away of obstacles, so that the gospel can be proclaimed. We don’t see trouble that way at all. This is a foreign way of looking at life. Yet this is how Paul saw his trouble; he saw it as an opportunity.
There is a familiar verse, a favorite we like to claim as our own, but which as often been misunderstood. Or we know it so well we forget to study it closely. Look at it carefully now: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Please note the words “all things”. This is not just trouble but it includes trouble. In ALL THINGS God works for the good of those who love him. Whatever trouble you face, it is not too small for God to use for his good purposes. He can use your unemployment to advance the gospel. He can use your family crisis to advance the gospel. He can even use your spiritual complacency to advance the gospel. All things, Paul said.