Not much has changed over the years. There has always been a tendency for human beings to be happy in good circumstances, but not in bad circumstances. You can tell the spiritual maturity of a person by how they respond in difficulty. We may be angry. We may even complain. We are fearful. We are robbed of our joy!
Even though we are Christians, we are not robbed from the difficulty of life. Notice that the scripture tells us that we will go through difficulty.
Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward. Job 5:7
Jesus Himself promised difficulty.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
The word tribulation has the idea of intense burdens, troubles, stress and affliction. Jesus guaranteed this would be a part of life.
Remember that the theme of Philippians is joy. These verses in Philippians 1:12-18 teach an important principle about joy.
God can use even the most difficult times of life for our good and for His glory.
(12) But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; (13) So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; (14) And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (15) Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: (16) The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: (17) But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. (18) What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. Philippians 1:12-18
Paul wrote this when he was chained 24/7 in a prison. Paul did not let his adverse circumstances rob him of joy. Notice in verse 12 a key to having joy in spite of circumstances. He uses the word “understand”.
Here are three truths that Paul understood that helped him have joy despite circumstances.
Truth #1. God can use adversity for the furtherance of the Gospel. (v.12-13)
(12) But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; (13) So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;
Paul could have joy because he saw the opportunity in the difficulty.
There were some in the palace that had heard the Gospel and received Christ.
Paul said that his difficulty had provided for the “furtherance” of the Gospel. The word for “furtherance” was used to speak of the way made in a dense forest or jungle by those trying to clear it out. The picture is of a machete cutting through the underbrush and making progress in clearing out the dense vegetation. It is the idea of making progress.
Paul chose to view his circumstance from God’s perspective. It was an eternal perspective. People were being saved and lives were being changed. The soldiers chained to Paul became a “captive audience”. The Gospel was spreading throughout the governors palace, and that would not have happened if Paul had not been a prisoner.
John Bunyan was a man who understood that difficulty could further the Gospel. He was a powerful Baptist preacher who ministered in England in the 17th century. He would preach often outdoors to large crowds. The church of England didn’t like what he was preaching. He was labeled unapproved and thrown in jail. He preached to the prisoners in the courtyard. Hundreds would come from the town to hear him preach. They reacted by putting him deep in the jail. From that jail he wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress”. They put John Bunyan in a prison for 12 years, but God used this to further the Gospel.
Paul knew that God was using his adversity to propagate the Gospel.
Truth #2. If we respond correctly to adversity, we can impact the lives of others who are watching us. (v.14-16)
You cannot control most of what happens to you in life, but you can control how you respond to what happens to you in life.
And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel.
Before this took place, some believers around Paul must have been scared to proclaim Christ. Those believers watched Paul and it gave them courage to “speak the word without fear”.
Paul was an example of how to have joy in the midst of adversity. His example encouraged the church.
We must remember that people are watching us. Our neighbors, our families, our co-workers, and our friends are watching us. In adversity we should respond with joy. For us in 2020, we must remember that God is at work before, during, and after this pandemic.
Truth #3- For a Christian nothing in life happens by accident, but instead it happens by divine appointment. (v.17)
But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. Philippians 1:17
Notice the word “set”. This word could also be translated “appoint”. The word is used in Luke 2:34
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
Paul knew that God called him to be where he was and to do what he was doing.
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: (Act 9:15)
Paul was there by Divine appointment. God never leaves us. He is never out of control. God was in control when he was in jail, when he was re-routed, when things were going great, and when things were going really poorly.
God is still in control. We can rejoice in spite of our adversity!
No wonder Paul wrote in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.”
We rejoice in the good times and the bad. We can have joy despite our circumstances.
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