JOY OF ADVERSITY
Open Doors (12–14)
We naturally think of prison as a place where criminals are placed in order to be punished. Paul was a criminal, not for any violent offense, but for preaching the gospel. In the first century, it was illegal to create or take part in a new religion unless it was approved by the Roman Empire. Judaism was an approved religion and therefore, was not a criminal offense to practice. Christianity, however, was not given the same benefit, and so Paul was in trouble.
Typically, people avoid behavior that would send them to prison, but Paul’s imprisonment had the opposite effect. Christians who heard of Paul’s trials were emboldened to share the gospel!
Mission Accomplished (15–18)
While Paul was in prison, some other Christians preached the gospel trying to take advantage of Paul’s absence, trying to undermine his ministry. Maybe they were seeking to become more well-known than Paul or to dishearten him. Even though these people were trying to hurt Paul, he focused on the fact that the gospel was being shared and people were coming to know Jesus. Paul serves as a great example for us to look past personal slights and focus instead upon the expansion of the kingdom of God.
God Honored (19–20)
Paul was confident that the prayers of the Philippians would bring him encouragement to continue to press on in service to the Lord. Christian ministry can be lonely and a struggle. When we face opposition, it is easy to get down and focus on our plight. However, when we see other Christians living out their faith and when we know they are praying for us, it shows our solidarity with all believers everywhere and it brings encouragement.
Therefore, we need to be praying for our persecuted brethren all over the world. We need to pray they would remain faithful in the midst of persecution and would represent Christ well, sharing a clear presentation of the gospel to those who persecute them, prayerfully leading to their salvation. Even if the persecution leads to their death, God is glorified as Paul points out. God is able to use our tragedies to bring Himself glory.
A great example of this is seen in the death of Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians in South America. His desire was to see the gospel shared with this violent tribe. In attempting to do this, Elliot and four other missionaries were killed by this tribe. While this seems like a major setback, this event is what God ultimately used to bring salvation to this tribe. These missionaries honored God in their life and death and, just like Paul, are a great example for us today to likewise honor God in life and in death.
Christ Alone (21–26)
These verses reveal the confidence of Paul’s salvation. In the midst of trials, it is easy for us to get discouraged and long for heaven. This world is not our home (John 15:19). For many Christians in the U.S., the main desire in life is to get a job, make money, perhaps get married and die in peace. Persecution and suffering are things to be avoided because God surely would not bring suffering on us. However, we need to remember our inheritance is in heaven, not here on earth, and we strive to store up treasure there, not here (Matt. 6:19–21).
Paul knew this well. But while he realized that it would be better for him to be in the presence of Jesus, God had work for him to do here on earth. We are to be salt and light here on earth as well as an aroma, both of life to the believer and death to the unbeliever (2 Cor. 2:16).
God has work for us here on earth, and until He calls us home, we need to encourage others to fulfill the calling of God in their life, to see God honored and the gospel shared.