Philippians 1 B: Looking for God
Have you ever been disappointed? Of course you probably have. Not sure what disappointed you- or how disappointed you were, but let us consider Paul’s situation. Rome was the center and hub of the great Roman Empire. Here was Paul’s desire and goal: “After all this happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia.” After I have been there, he said, I must visit Rome also.” (Acts 19: 21)
And again in his letter to the church at Rome, Paul writes: “So as much as is in me, I am ready, eager, to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome also.” (Romans 1: 15) Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach the gospel. To be in the center of the empire and possibly preach in the great open arenas. He wanted to go as a preacher- but instead goes as a prisoner.
Acts 21-28 provides a record of what happened to Paul. It all began with an arrest in the temple in Jerusalem. He would spend two years in prison in Caesarea. As a Roman citizen, Paul finally won an appeal to Caesar and was on his way to Rome when the ship he was aboard sank in a storm. After three months on the Island of Malta, Paul finally was on his way to Rome and the trial he had requested.
Now it was Dr. Luke, his traveling companion who wrote the accurate details we have in the book of Acts. Here is how Paul dismisses these events which led to his situation of being in chains as he writes in Philippians 1: 12: “ Now I want you to know , brother, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (NIV) The KJV states for ‘the furtherance of the gospel.” Does this sound like a man who is disappointed with the turn of events? Does he look at his situation and think of the wasted time in his legal problems? Would you view this man as a success today, if this was his background and circumstances? Probably not. Yet Paul wanted to go to Rome to have the opportunity for the furtherance, the advance of the Gospel. Therefore Paul trusted that God knew the best way for it to be done. I do not believe Paul could have imagined what the impact of his ‘prison epistles’ would have over the centuries. He would reach millions and millions down through the centuries with God’s plan which would have looked like a disaster to most of us.
God always has a purpose in the use of adversity in a believer’s life. First of all, it drives us to our Heavenly Father, doesn’t it? Our first thought should be- I need you Lord! I need your guidance. I need your perspective. I need to know I am where you want me to be. * Are you looking for God or are you looking for a way out?
In the Bible we can tell how important something is to God by the number of verses and chapters He uses to tell us. For example: to describe the creation of the endless infinite number of stars and galaxies God spread throughout the universe- God uses exactly 5 words.” He made the stars also.” On the other hand, there are more than 50 chapters about the Tabernacle and its furnishings. Why this much time spent on this temporary sanctuary? Because the Tabernacle and its furnishings are a picture of redemption, the purpose of the Word of God.
Consider the story of Joseph- it gets 12 chapters out of the 50 chapters in Genesis. Must be important to get almost 25% of the first book of the Bible devoted to the story of this young man, the favored son of Jacob. Joseph was a natural leader at age 17- but he lacked maturity. Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph would spend the next 13 years as God developed Joseph into a world class leader, but also this story is a clear picture of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus. Joseph was first placed in a grave-like cistern. Next he was sold into slavery. Worked as a household servant in the house of Potiphar. Was falsely accused of attempted rape and spent perhaps 10 years in an Egyptian prison before he was ready to step into the position God had for him. What a long hard journey to bring him to the place where he could do the most good for the most people. Joseph understood when he looked back. (Sometimes the only way we can understand life is to look back at the events that have brought us to where we are. We live life forward, but understand it sometimes means looking backwards.) Joseph said to his brothers; “you meant it for evil, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done- the saving of many lives.”
*God the Father determines the agenda of our lives- He orders our steps.
*God the Son communicates the Fathers’ agenda to us through His Word and His life. He is the way, the truth and the life.
*God the Holy Spirit’s task is implementation. He works in us the desire and the power to do God’s will.
Joseph and Paul looked back and looked at their circumstances – even the dark days and nights, the painful events and realized God had been in charge the whole time.
Here is the lesson we are to learn- to believe this truth- the Lord is in control regardless of the circumstances. In fact God has allowed or engineered the circumstances.
Watch what Paul writes: “For I want you to know, brother, that what has happened to me, has really served to advance the gospel.” Paul did not find his joy in ideal circumstances. Ideally, Paul had wanted to come to Rome as a preacher to advance the gospel. God’s plan was to have Paul come as a prisoner. Paul finds his joy in winning others to Christ. Paul saw his confinement to house arrest chained to a palace guard for four hour shifts to be a unique opportunity to bring the gospel into the very palace of Caesar.
God sometimes uses strange methods to help us advance the gospel. Let us look at the three unusual methods God used to help take the gospel even to the elite Praetorian Palace Guard.
- Paul’s chains.
- Paul’s critics.
- Paul’s crisis.
Not three methods we would use- in fact in human wisdom we would want to avoid these three methods. Let’s look at each one and see how they might apply to our lives.
- Chains. Throughout the stories in the Bible we see God use unusual methods, from Moses’ rod to David’s sling to Gideon’s pitchers and trumpets that brought down walls. The chains, the fetters the Romans used to bind Paul would actually release Paul. Paul consecrated these chains to God and ask God to use them for the furtherance of the Gospel. This is what Joni Erickson-Tada has done with her wheel chair and her paralysis. She has dedicated it to God’s glory and it has been her platform from which to proclaim the Gospel. We are impressed by the millionaire athlete who praises the Lord and points his finger toward the heavens when he makes the game winning touchdown. Never have seen one- when he missed the pass that lost the game- point his finger skyward to praise God. Paul had four Roman soldiers per day in six hour shifts. So Paul witnessed to four men each day. Some of these elite palace guards got saved. Paul also had contact with the officials who would eventually try his case. His case was a high profile case and Christianity was growing and was an important issue to be resolved. Being in chains, can apply to our lives when God allows what appears to be unfavorable circumstances to confine us. In this confinement, we begin to become single-minded about our situation. If you or a loved one are facing a difficult situation, you become single-minded about this situation. It drives you to God because you need to understand why am I here, Lord? Is not the Lord amazing that He is able to extract so great a good out of what would be considered a great evil and injustice to imprison Paul. And yet God used it to advance the gospel among the most elite Roman Soldiers, the esteemed Praetorian Guard. One cold winter night, probably 30 + years ago, when we lived on Beaver Cove, I had to go down to Highland Park Grocery Store to get diapers or formula- something we needed or I would not have gone. Parked next to the grocery store was an elderly man with his car hood up. It was cold and the service station was closed. I went over and ask him did he need some help. He told me he was a retired Baptist preacher and he asked me- “are you a Christian?” I said yes, sir I am. He said good, I have someone coming to tow my car- I just am not sure why God had my car quit. This was a man who was single-minded. He looked at what most would consider unfavorable circumstances and a nuisance as a God –given opportunity to share the gospel. Do you rejoice at what God is doing or do you complain? Paul’s chains gave him contact with the lost. Paul’s chains and his reaction to them also gave encouragement and boldness to others to speak about the Lord. Isn’t it interesting the more the enemies of Christ and Christianity punished Christians, the stronger and bolder the believers grew. Persecution seemed to work as a billows to increase the flames of evangelism rather than smothering out the fire. Rather than silence the message, the chains served as megaphone to increase the volume.
- Critics. Ever been criticized by someone else? Criticism is the expression of disapproval or perceived faults of another’s actions. Criticism and the critics who criticize are often envious of the person who is the object of their criticism. Paul’s success and reputation were the object of envy among other teachers and preachers. They wanted to take advantage of Paul’s situation to further their own selfish purposes. Envy and strife go together like love and unity do. In the local church body there will always be those who criticize another brother or sister in the Lord. Paul’s aim and goal was to glorify Christ and how does one do that? By bearing fruit. His critics’ aim and goal was to glorify themselves and promote their own agenda. In the end, here was what Paul realized God was doing: “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.” I once worked with a man who told me his father had been an alcoholic and he was embarrassed to bring any friends home for fear his father would be drunk. His father was a good man when sober, but a foolish and often violent man when drinking. Then he and the family noticed his father had quit drinking. After a period of time, the family was confident enough of the change they asked him what happened to cause him to quit drinking. He told them it was because of that man on television. Who- they asked. And he told them of watching a TV evangelist, which many would have considered a man out to build his reputation and bank account, but when this man listened he heard the gospel and responded. He got saved. They ended up in church and his father stayed sober to the day he died.
- Crisis. Paul’s chains were making Christ known among the Roman palace guards. His critics were preaching out of envy or selfish reasons (like the aforementioned TV evangelist) but the end result was Christ was being preached. Paul faced a real crisis of life and death. He could be found guilty of being a traitor by the Roman government and then executed. Rome had not decided yet if this new sect of religion called Christianity was anti-Rome. Paul writes: “ I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted ( magnified, KJV) in my body, whether by life or death. For to me, to live Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul realized his body was not his own. He had been bought with a price. And his only desire was to magnify Christ in his body, his actions and attitude. What single-mindedness Paul possessed. Paul says he was torn between the two – he desired to depart this earth to be with Christ, but knew it was more necessary for the believers for him to remain in his body. NOTE: Paul says in verse 25- he was convinced he was to remain in his body.
Magnify means to make something appear larger and closer. We use telescopes for this purpose. Telescopes or binoculars can bring things we are viewing closer and enlarge them. Our lives when lived for the glory of Christ can make Jesus appear closer and larger to the unbeliever when they view our courage and determination and attitude in suffering. The crisis is the telescope which allows this to occur. To an unbeliever, Jesus Christ is not big or important at all. He was a mysterious historical figure who lived 2000 years ago. What could He possibly have to do with their lives in the 21st century? Paul prays and hopes he will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage.
When a believer is going through a time of adversity, God is using this adversity to call you into a more intimate relationship to deepen your faith; to bear more fruit; to witness to unbelievers with your actions- and in fact may be accomplishing all of these things. (Now as we previously mentioned, a believer can be going through God’s discipline or chastening for wrongdoing, but even then the purpose is to produce peace and a harvest of righteousness in the life of the wayward believer.)
Always these painful times call upon us to wait on the Lord. “Wait on the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:1
There is that word again- wait! And we see it combined with courage; for courage is needed
You know what happens when you are going through adversity- the enemy attacks with intensity. He wants you to throw away your confidence in the Lord. His favorite fiery dart to fire at you is ‘NEVER’. You are never going to gain victory over this. You are never going to get better. You are never going to find a job. You are never going to get married….and on and on and on. If the enemy can get you to throw away your confidence- he is accomplishing his goal of getting you to drop the shield of faith. Charles Stanley in his new book, “Waiting on God” says God has a very specific schedule – one that is vastly different from what you’d expect. One that may have you wait far beyond what makes you comfortable. One that will most likely make you feel all earthly hope is gone and then you will rely solely upon Him. Listen to what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1: 9: “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” Have you learned the principle of the all sufficiency of God’s grace? Have you learned His strength is made perfect in weakness? Our weakness is precisely the opportunity for His power to be displayed. Exhausted by self effort and worry which have yielded no results? Good. Now let go and let God do what only can do. Your job is to believe in Him whom God has sent.
Dr. Stanley says the only never you need to focus on is that God will never let you down. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He will never place more on you than you can bear.
We all have an agenda, a plan, our to-do list and we want to check off those items. Learning to be directed by God’s timing and wisdom, not our own agenda is one of the most important lessons we will ever learn. In fact, I find it is something I am constantly having to be reminded of in my life. Adversity and waiting are necessary for you and me to learn this lesson.
Understand this truth- time is one of God’s most effective tools for teaching us to rely upon Him.
The problem is we do not like delays. We do not like waiting, especially when it seems our needs for God’s answer and intervention is so urgently needed!!
Again going back to the truth of how we measure what is important to God by how often God gives us stories, situations, verse after verse of men and women God used in a powerful way that first had to wait on Him. There are literally hundreds of verses about waiting on the Lord and numerous stories of those who had to wait on the Lord and endure with expectation of God’s intervention and accomplishing of His Will in their lives.
Dr. Stanley says what we can draw from this is that waiting on the Lord signifies an expectant endurance that is demonstrated by the following attitude of prayer:
- Directed- rather than concentrating on what we are waiting for- we persevere with expectant endurance when we focus on the Father whom we know has the best plan for us. ( Hebrews 11: 6) Also I know whom I have believed and am confident He will finish what He has started
- Purposeful- as we practice expectant endurance, we find meaning in the delay because we look with anticipation for God’s perfect direction, preparation and provision. Paul looked at his chains and his circumstances with anticipation this was God’s doing and he wanted to be in on what God was doing. The preacher on that cold night, knew the car quitting on him was God’s doing and he wanted to get in on what God was doing. Either situation could have had them look at the situation as a setback, a hindrance, an inconvenience or even a life threatening situation.
- Active- as we wait on the Lord we are told to do good. We believe God is at work, even though we cannot see how. We believe this because Jesus told us His Father is always working. In the meantime (and the enemy can make it a mean time) we obey the Father and keep pressing on.
- Courageous- Paul prayed for the courage to magnify Christ in his body. Paul thought how good it would be to come to Rome as a preacher and meet with the believers and hold services and preach to crowds. This certainly appears to be a good thing- but God always has the best and we sometimes cannot see the best- but we trust God who knows what is best. Paul’s imprisonment served many purposes: he reached into the palace of Caesar through the conversion of the ones who guarded him; he was able to present the gospel to those who would judge him; and his example gave courage and boldness to speak out for Christ to others. But the greatest and unseen and unimagined benefit was the prison letters themselves that continue to impact millions and millions of lives to this day 2000 years later. God is always able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. He always has the best for us. Our Father truly knows what is best! I takes courage to wait and I believe Our Lord will provide us with this courage when it is needed.