Typically a prisoner is the recipient of comfort and encouragement from those closest to him. Yet, Paul gave both to his brothers and sisters in Christ, as he was more concerned about the progression of the gospel than the trials of his own life circumstances. What an example! Unlike Paul, we often live in a very small world, reduced to our address or, even more specifically, our lives alone. Paul did the opposite! He refused to fixate on his own suffering and instead rejoiced that the gospel continued to spread.
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel – Philippians 1:12
This past year has been undeniably tough. Churches across the world have reluctantly gone without many ministries and activities. Camps, mission trips, and numerous large gatherings are now all but unheard of across our country. It can be understandable to think that Kingdom work has been suspended for the present, if not in full retreat. But take heart, dear Christian, our God does not require ideal circumstances to build His Kingdom. His plan will be accomplished!
Only with the eyes of faith could Paul see the gospel advancing while he himself was trapped in jail. He understood then what we must understand today: God works on a global scale regardless of our personal understanding of His plans. As we know, Paul penned Philippians while in prison, yet no matter his uncertainties, he was confident that God was at work regardless of his circumstances, and further, God was at work through his circumstances. Whatever may befall you, the gospel will never cease to flourish. As painful as it may be, cancellations, altered plans, and even persecution can still yield a harvest of good for those who purpose their lives according to God’s will.
As Christians, we do not always understand what God is doing. Paul’s situation was no less confusing for believers in New Testament times. As the world’s most influential preacher of the gospel, Paul excelled in defending the faith, yet found himself without his usual means of bringing truth to the masses. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul penned words that have brought endless comfort to Christians throughout the centuries.
When did he have the time to write such lengthy, detailed letters? Paul was an active man. His travel was constant; his work: unending; and his time: stretched thin. Paul’s imprisonment not only forced him to slow down, but he was sovereignly given permission and materials by his jailors that enabled him to record letters to churches he had established. Two thousand years later, his writings still bless God’s people. Yes! God had a plan to advance His gospel in a way no believer could ever imagine. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The Lord inspired Paul to write these words from a heart that had experienced this truth firsthand.
How tempting it might have been for Paul to conclude he was the exception to his own words. After all, common sense suggested that isolation was not the best strategy for changing the world. What coach benches his star player in the final moments of a close game? Yet, Paul’s circumstances seemed to indicate that the Lord had relegated him to the sidelines during this most dependent and needy stage of the church age. Jesus had returned to His Father’s side, the church was in its infancy, and Paul was isolated from his spiritual children.
How did Paul interpret this seemingly illogical separation? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he wisely concluded that the events of his imprisonment had actually served to advance the gospel. The church was not only surviving but thriving during Paul’s incarceration. The gospel was growing, moving … and advancing!