Not What You'd Expect
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. Philippians 1:12-14
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Paul was a man who was convinced of the sovereign rule of God Almighty. He knew the events of this world are within God’s hands, and particularly, his knew his own life was within God’s hands. This gave Paul amazing confidence and a joy that just wouldn’t die.
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.
Paul writes these words right on the heels of that beautiful prayer of verses 9-11. Notice Paul didn’t bore them with the details of prison life. Instead he takes a divine perspective on his situation and reminds the church that God’s mission is being accomplished. It’s not just that he was one of those annoyingly upbeat positive-thinking people that drive most of us crazy – his outlook was informed by his trust in a sovereign God and the power of the gospel.
So what exactly is the “what has happened?” It could be anything and everything that brought him to this point – a riot, a 2 year imprisonment, a threat on his life, a shipwreck, house arrest, and an impending trial. In any case, Paul doesn't dwell on all that, instead, he points out that it has served to advance the gospel. And that's not what you'd expect. Without a strong view of God's sovereignty, you might expect these kinds of circumstances to affect the gospel by bogging it down, slowing it down, stifling or smothering it.
Honestly, our knee-jerk reaction to plans that are overturned or circumstances gone south is to think that God must not be in it. Why do we do that? Do we as Christians really believe that good days are “God” days and bad days are not? That’s idolatry of a sort and frankly, it’s pretty faithless.
We must realize, just like Paul, that sometimes what seems to be the worst possible turn of events is actually serving God's purpose and might actually be God's path for proclaiming his Gospel. God doesn’t just make good out of our circumstances, God makes our circumstances.
13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
Paul was a captive with a captive audience! He mentions the “palace guard.” Most likely this is a reference to the elite imperial guard, which consisted of about 9,000 men. And Paul’s story has spread around that huge group of people. It wasn’t that each of the 9,000 men had a turn guarding Paul, but the ones who did most certainly heard him witness of Christ – because Paul spent his opportunities (and opportunities are like money, we spend them wisely or waste them) telling about a Jew name Jesus who had risen from the dead. No doubt he told them of how this Jesus can turn a life around and save a soul from death.
The mere presence of Paul’s indestructible joy was a testimony that there was something different about him, and it gave a ring of truth to his story about this Jesus. So these guards begin to tell the story of a man who is unlike any other prisoner they’ve ever known, and thus the Gospel spreads throughout the palace guard. Testimony to a few becomes a witness to many. We must see our circumstances as God-ordained opportunities and spend them wisely.
v. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
There is a double predicate here, and a prepositional phrase that contains a verb. That makes three small portions of this sentence that I want us to notice: Have become confident in the Lord - Dare all the more - Proclaim the gospel without fear.
Each of these is a result of Paul’s chains, and none of them is what you’d expect from a situation where a Christian is in prison. To reiterate - Paul’s roadblocks, persecutions, riots, shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonments – served to advance the gospel. That's not what you’d expect.
And that’s our problem. Our expectations. We tell ourselves that “I can’t share Jesus with my neighbor/friend/coworker unless conditions are ideal.” Setbacks and detours – even tragedies – aren’t what they seem to be when God is in control. What if we started to expect the unexpected in matters of our mission and our partnership in the gospel and started to really believe that apparent detours are actually God's plan?
Consider the story of Jim Elliot. Jim and his four missionary friends were killed in 1956 by the Auca Indians of Ecuador who they were trying to reach with the Gospel. These men were graduates of Wheaton college, and after they died, a huge number of other Wheaton grads were volunteering to go on the mission field, inspired and emboldened by Jim’s example. They had become confident, and dared to proclaim the gospel all the more!
A good response and challenge for us today is to memorize and make this our prayer: Father, help me to become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
If we commit to this kind of prayer, the Lord might just do something in us that we didn’t expect!