Summary: The world is both a hard and a beautiful place. We may experience stratospheric highs in one season only to plunge into abyss. but we more often have to work our way through the regular ups and downs, and bumps of life.
There was once a farmer who began to look at his farm through critical eyes. Every place he looked on his farm he saw something wrong. So he decided to sell and move somewhere else. He contracted a realtor who came out to look things over. Then the realtor called to get the farmer’s approval for an ad for the newspaper. The ad spoke of a good location, a well-maintained house, sturdy barns, lush pasture, a beautiful pond, fertile soil and a great view. The farmer listened carefully then he asked the realtor to read it again. Finally the farmer responded, “Don’t put the ad in the newspaper. I’ve always wanted a place like that. I think I’ll stay right where I am.”
Our attitude makes a huge difference in terms of what we experience in life. Some of us will recall Steve Anspach and Stew Elner. Both Steve and Stew faced long battles with cancer. Humanly speaking their circumstances were far from ideal. Both men faced unpleasant medical treatments, most of the time they didn’t feel well, and they lived for several years knowing their illness would probably claim their lives. Yet I never heard even one grumpy word from either Steve or Stew. Both men faced their challenges and they chose to be joyful.
This was also true for the Apostle Paul. This is our second message from Philippians. We’re calling this series: Got Joy? We pick up the text in 1:12 with Paul commenting about his imprisonment because of his faith. Outwardly his circumstances were difficult. But as we’re going to see, Paul had this amazing ability to live above his circumstances. He chooses joy in a remarkable way.
(Read 1:12-14) The reference to “palace guard” is literally “praetorian guard.” These were ten thousand handpicked soldiers first commissioned by Caesar Augustus. They were strategically dispersed around Rome to keep the peace and to protect the emperor. Paul’s reference to the praetorian guard indicates he wrote Philippians while he was guarded by them while he was in Rome.
The chains Paul refers to in verse 14 were about eighteen inches long. One end was attached to the prisoner’s wrist and the other to the guard. The chain was not removed from the prisoner as long as he was in custody. This made both escape and privacy impossible. According to Acts 28:30, Paul lived under house arrest for two years in Rome. The entire time he was chained to a series of soldiers.
Now here’s the remarkable part: instead of seeing the soldier as an inconvenience, Paul looked at him as a captive audience. What a great example of turning lemons into lemonade! For two years one soldier after another was chained to Paul giving him a chance to share the gospel. Those soldiers would then take the message back to their barracks and repeat it to their comrades. In the end, the whole palace guard heard about Christ! Not only that…but, according to verse 14, the way God used Paul while he was in chains also encouraged the rest of the believers to be more bold about their faith.
“Romans 8:28 Thinking” Expands Joy
Paul demonstrates for us here what I call Romans 8:28 thinking. This thinking allowed Paul to trust God even when his circumstances were less than ideal. Do you remember Romans 8:28? Let’s repeat it out loud together. “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.” This means if we love God and if we’re called according to his purpose, God will weave everything we experience into our good. Thus, being in chains for two years wasn’t a horrible loss of Paul’s time and freedom. God was bigger than those circumstances. God worked the negatives into good. As we’ve just seen, because of Paul’s chains, the palace guard heard about Christ and the believers were encouraged. God also used the imprisonment to give Paul time to write four NT letters: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon.
Romans 8:28 thinking requires having eyes of faith to see beyond our circumstances. Typically we only look at things from one perspective. We only see the obvious. But the Bible assures us there is always more that’s going on than we can see with our eyes. I love the story in 2 Kings 6 about Elisha and the Assyrian army. During the night, the Assyrians surrounded the city in order to capture Elisha. Early in the morning, Elisha’s servant went out of the house and panicked when he saw the enemy surrounding the city. But Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And he prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then God opened the servant’s eyes and he saw the hills above the enemy were full of horses and chariots of fire. In other words, the angelic forces greatly outnumbered the Assyrian army.