The Things Above
As we continue our study of Philippians, we read in Philippians 1:12 . . . "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
WHAT WERE THE OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES OF PAUL’S LIFE? What HAS happened to Paul? If he had included recent life occurrences in his letter, it might have read like this:
Dear Philippian Friends,
As I have not seen you in some time, I am writing to tell you of what has taken place in my life since we last met.
At the end of my third missionary journey, I went to Jerusalem. I was there only seven days when the Jews saw me in the temple. They cried out against me and stirred up the people of the city so that I was bound in chains and taken to prison. (Acts 21:27)
After some time there, I was brought to trial. The Jews had banded together, placing themselves under a curse if they should eat or drink until they had killed me. There was also a plot against my life, but I was spared this by being escorted from the city at night in the company of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen. They took me to Caesarea. (Acts 21:27)
In Caesarea, I came under the authority of Felix, who offered to release me for bribe money. When I refused to pay the bribe, I was imprisoned for two years. (Acts 24:26-27)
I went on trial before Festus, and as a Roman citizen, requested that my case be reviewed by the courts of Rome. That request was granted, and soldiers were assigned to escort me there. (Acts 25:10-11)
We set sail for Italy, but on the way, were caught in a great storm that lashed our boat unmercifully for fourteen days. We were driven aground on the island of Malta, and the boat was broken to pieces. By the grace of God, all aboard were saved. (Acts 27)
We spent three months on that island. During those months I was able to share the gospel and the Lord used me to heal many who were sick. (Acts 28:7)
Finally, we reached Rome. Here, I am living under house arrest, awaiting a review of my case by a Roman court. (Paul would wait two years for that review.)
I dreamed of coming to Rome as a preacher in order to testify of my faith before the emperor, Nero. Today, I find myself imprisoned here, virtually forgotten.
Your brother in Christ,
This is a record of a life that seems to be defeated. If anyone could have given way to despair, it would have been Paul. After a glorious ministry, it seems that all has been swept away. His past three years had held imprisonment, rejection, and plots against his life.
The Philippians have been deeply concerned for his welfare, and they have been discouraged as they have observed his life. Surely, one who has been so faithful to the ministry and to God should not have to endure such hardships. Surely, his last years should hold some comfort for him rather than all these trials. This is his outward situation.
WHAT WAS PAUL’S INWARD STATE? Beginning in verse 12, Paul states, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Can you find in his words even a hint of resentment or negativism? Rather, Paul dismisses these things with a wave of his hand. He barely mentions them. What he has suffered is barely worth mentioning, but he is excited about the results of his suffering . . . “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”
This serves as a reminder to us that it is not what happens to us in life that is important. It is not the point of action that is most significant. It is the point of reaction. Our circumstances on this earth are not of great consequence, but our inner reaction to them is vital.
In 2 Corinthians 4:18 Paul encourages us: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
HOW DID PAUL RESPOND? WHAT ACTION DID HE TAKE? Actions flow out of attitudes. Action follows thought. Paul could have looked at the circumstances and accepted defeat. He could have languished in prison, believing that until he was free to move about, until he could execute his own plans, there was nothing that he could accomplish.
However, Paul went to work doing what he COULD do! Everyone who came within three feet of him heard about Jesus Christ. Paul was literally chained to a Roman soldier, and he took that as an opportunity to share the gospel. He was under the authority of the elite Praetorian Guard, and he had such an influence on them that they spread the word throughout Rome of the message this prisoner had, and a path was beaten to Paul’s door.
WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME OF PAUL'S SITUATION? What seemed like a defeat proved to be a divinely appointed opportunity. Verses 14-18 state, “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. it is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former, preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.”
What may I find here for how to live as a Christ - follower? What can I learn from the thoughts of Paul that can bless my life and the lives of others? What was Paul’s secret?
Paul refused to construct his own truth. He chose to respond according to the truth of God’s word. Had he chosen to construct his own truth, he would have looked at the circumstances of his life and thought, “By any human yardstick, I am a failure.” But his trust in God’s absolute faithfulness was not shaken. The truth was that God had promised to direct his path and Paul knew that God is as good as His word.
Paul knew that God was directing his paths, so instead of asking, “Why are these things happening to me?”, he asked, “What benefit did God have in mind when He allowed these circumstances to come into my life?” Then, Paul chose to count his blessings, rather than contemplate his disappointments.
In Proverbs 3:5-6, we read:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean to your own understanding, In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”
Every one of us face situations that could discourage us, confound us, defeat us. Picture the circumstances of your life that are most difficult for you. What attitudes are in your mind concerning these state of affairs? What actions have you taken as a result of your mindset? How might your actions change should you choose to trust that God’s promises are true, that He is in control of all that comes into your life? If you are in fact, His child, if you have been born again into God’s family through faith in the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on your behalf on the cross of Calvary, dare to trust your heavenly Father!
God’s promises are not for everyone. They are only for his children. Our actions change completely as we put all of our trust in Him.
If you choose to approach our life in this way, what outcome can you confidently expect? Chuck Swindoll writes, “When Christ becomes our central focus, contentment replaces our anxiety. He broadens the dimensions of our circumstances so that our limitations become a challenge rather than a chore. And He calms our fears regarding ourselves and our future.”
“Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2)
Lord, as your child, may I follow Paul’s example.