Summary: Serving God even when it
I guess we all know the difference between a pessimist and an optimist. A pessimist is someone who describes a glass as half empty while an optimist sees it as half full. A pessimist is someone who, on your birthday, will say: "May your day be better than it probably will be!" Some people are born like that. Others develop into it as a result of the various hardships they face in life. But how does that happen? We all face hardships of various sorts, some more than others. But some seem to be able to cope better than others. It isn’t the degree of trauma we experience. It’s doesn’t seem to have anything to do with our background, our education, our material well-being. Some of us find ourselves tied down by the past while others simply shrug it off and move on?
I guess one of the factors in this is that it’s always easy to feel sorry for yourself. I mean no-one else round here seems to feel sorry for me so I’ll have to. We look back on our past and can only see the hurt, or the failure, or the guilt. But let me suggest that there’s another way of looking at the past. It’s a way that will help us look at the present and the future in a better light. That’s the way that Paul looks back at his recent past as he writes this letter to the Philippians. What he does as looks back at his life is to look for God at work; to look for signs that God’s word is at work in the places and people that he’s come into contact with; to see God’s Spirit moving in people’s hearts either despite or perhaps even because of the things that he’s suffered.
I’ve summarised this under a number of headings beginning with ’What’.
What has happened to Paul?
He says "I want you to know, beloved that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel." What’s happened to him, of course, is that he’s been arrested in Jerusalem under false charges. He’s realised that he won’t get a fair hearing in Jerusalem, so he’s appealed to the Emperor. As a result, he’s been sent off to Rome, and on the way he’s experienced various hardships, including a violent storm at sea, culminating in a shipwreck during which he was almost put to death by his guard. And now he’s in prison in Rome, probably guarded night and day by members of the palace guard, awaiting trial and possible execution. But his circumstances haven’t worn him down. He’s still rejoicing, because of :
What has happened to the gospel.
Now remember, his Jewish opponents wanted to silence him. They probably thought he was out of the way and could do no further harm. But on the contrary. His imprisonment, far from stifling the preaching of the gospel, has actually advanced it. He says, "it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ."
Here’s one for the books! Far from the preaching of the gospel being hindered, it’s resulted in the elite regiment, the Imperial Guard, all hearing about Christ. You can imagine how it’s happened can’t you? Paul probably has a Roman soldier guarding him day and night. So what is their conversation going to consist of? "What are you in for?" "How did you get involved with this weird sect?" "You seem like an intelligent, educated man. Surely you don’t believe that this Jesus guy actually rose from the dead?" And so the conversation would go. And you can imagine the way the story would get around the imperial guard. It’d get so the soldiers would be vying with each other to get on the Paul shift, just so they could hear some more of this strange story: of people being healed, of snakes biting people and them not being hurt, of Gentiles being welcomed into what appears to be a Jewish sect. And I imagine before long, some of the guard are deciding to become followers of this Jesus Christ, as they hear from Paul how their sins can be forgiven and they can be made right with God; how they can come into a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. Being in chains, you see, is no impediment to preaching the gospel. It just means you have a captive audience!
You know there are people today who feel like they’re in chains. Not physical chains, but circumstantial chains. Chains that bind them to an office, or their house, or an invalid relative or some other responsibility that they can’t escape. But there’s no reason to let those chains stop you from preaching the gospel. Preach it where you are. Share the good news about Jesus to those others you come across who are equally bound down by the chains of life. See whether God can use your situation to grow his kingdom.