Tuesday, February 22, 2011
In the last couple of posts we have looked at Paul’s response to the Philippians’ concerns that his imprisonment will hinder the spread of the gospel. Last week, we saw how Paul comforted the brethren at Philippi by telling them how God had used Paul’s imprisonment for His own glory: people in the Imperial household have come to faith, and as a result of his imprisonment those in the churches are more confident to speak of Christ. Now, let us consider Paul’s second reason for his peace.
II. Prison bars cannot stop God’s plan for His Church.
Secondly, Paul believes what Jesus said in Matthew 16: that He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Paul knows that the gospel cannot be stopped. You can’t take a faithful gospel preacher off the field and stop the gospel; Paul had a little personal experience of that. He was on his way to Damascus to kill and persecute Christians, and God took the biggest persecutor of the church off the field and turned him into an evangelist! Paul knew that God would build His church. Because of these two things, as Paul looks at his circumstances he doesn’t throw his hands up in the air, but he says to the Philippians, ‘My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.’
As far as Paul is concerned, his circumstances were not the big picture. God’s plan, the gospel is the big picture, the spread of the kingdom of God, that’s the big picture. His circumstances are only part of that picture. Yes, those circumstances are important to God, but they’re not at the center of things. When something goes bad for Paul, it does not become the crisis of the moment of the day. Paul knows that God is working for his good and is building Christ’s kingdom.
This is hugely important for us. I understand that Paul is in prison for the gospel, but what Paul says here about his circumstances has a universal application to all Christians in how we look at our circumstances, especially the hard circumstances, because our circumstances, however difficult, have in them a larger purpose: the glory of God, the gospel of Christ, the propagation of the truth of God’s word.
You know, when we face difficult circumstances, we are very quick to call God on the carpet, ‘Lord, You’ve got to answer for this. How could You do this to me?’ What’s wrong here?’
The problem, is we’ve put our circumstances at the center of things, and we’ve declared a crisis. In fact, the gospel is at the center of things, and that’s how Paul looked at life—‘I’m a disciple of Christ.’ And so he says to the Philippians, ‘Don’t look at me and think that somehow God has made a mistake: my circumstances are under the sovereign control of my heavenly Father, and God’s gospel is going to go forth no matter what. Therefore, God will use even these circumstances for the expansion of the gospel.’ That changes the way that Paul looks at his circumstances.
That ought to re-frame the way that we look at our circumstances. We ought not to be surprised by hard circumstances that come into our experience. We should recognize that when those circumstances, when those trials come, we have an enormous privilege and gospel opportunity to make those circumstances count for the glory of God, for the spread of the gospel, for a witness to Christ. Paul could say ‘My circumstances may look bad to you, but they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’ And when those kinds of circumstances are encountered by us, we ought to be asking the question, “How in my response can I serve the further progress of the gospel, even in this circumstance?”
For every believer in every trial there is a way for that to happen, God never wastes those circumstances. He always has gospel purposes in your pain, suffering, difficulties, your hard circumstances. He always has gospel purposes.
That’s not the only thing He has going on, by the way! That’s one of the marvelous things about God’s providence: He does multiple things all at once. But He always has in view gospel purposes, even in your pain and suffering, and you see how it transforms the way that Paul looked at this difficulty. He could have been, like godly John the Baptist, in prison scratching his head, saying ‘Lord, what went wrong?’ Even John the Baptist reacted that way to his imprisonment, but Paul is not reacting that way because the big picture for him is the advance of the gospel, the progress of the gospel. And if his circumstances, however difficult, however dangerous, however discouraging that they are at the human level, serve the advance of the gospel, then Paul re-frames the whole way that he looks at his circumstances.
In responding to the Philippians, Paul says to the Philippians, ‘Don’t worry; my circumstances may look bad to you, but they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’ Next week, we will look at how Paul wants us to view his captors.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 1:40 PM