“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…” (Philippians 1:12).
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly upended our normal routine over the past several months, besides causing great damage to our local economy and livelihood. Some of us might be affected by the economic downturn and are struggling to make ends meet. Your spiritual life and walk with God might have taken a hit as well. “If only everything had gone smoothly… If only this pandemic had not surfaced so abruptly to disrupt my life and livelihood… If only I had taken a different course of study or made a different career choice… Things might have turned out differently.”
The Apostle Paul has every right to feel discouraged and despondent. He is under house arrest, presumably in Rome, and chained to a Roman guard at all times. His ability to preach the Gospel seems to be curtailed. Instead of feeling downtrodden, Paul adopts a “in spite of… and not because of these obstacles” approach to his current situation. He even encourages the Philippians believers, saying that the advance of the Gospel is not impeded at all by his dire situation. What can we learn from Paul’s example when faced with difficulties and obstacles in our own lives?
Adopting a Positive Mindset
Although he is under house arrest and awaiting trial, Paul is allowed to move about freely and receive visitors, owing to his right as a Roman citizen. Being chained lightly to his Roman guard at all times, Paul sees
this as a great opportunity to preach and share the Gospel with a ‘captive audience’. And because of the guards’ shift rotation, Paul is thankful that his gospel message and witness for Christ has managed to reach the entire palace guard and the rest of the palace staff. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Phil 1:12-13). This reminds us of the story of two prisoners looking out of their prison windows. One sees the stars, another sees the mud.
Embracing a Gospel-centred Lifestyle
Besides adopting a positive mindset, Paul also seizes every opportunity to share the Gospel with his captors, who no doubt are impacted by his love and zeal for Christ. We can imagine Paul spending time talking to his captors and gaining their trust over time. They would have heard his testimony of how Christ transformed him from a fierce persecutor of the early Church to a solid defender of the Christian faith. Although it was not mentioned if any of them came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus, we can honestly assume that the seed of the Gospel was planted by the Lord in their hearts as a result of the faithful witness and testimony of Paul. One Christian pastor has this to add: “Can you imagine being a soldier alone with and chained to the Apostle Paul for a straight six-hour shift? Many soldiers, no doubt, became Christians as a result, and their influence began to spread throughout their entire unit, to their families and beyond. Whether or not they became Christians, they all knew that Paul’s imprisonment was because of his testimony for Christ, not because he was some kind of political prisoner.”
Emboldening the Brethen
“And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil 1:14). As a result of Paul’s courageous and faithful witness of the Gospel in spite of his house arrest, the brethren in the city are emboldened to speak and testify of the Gospel in their own community. They are greatly encouraged: if Paul can be an effective witness for Christ in spite of adversity and hardship, so can they. Some of us may be placed in a position where our actions and words can have lasting impact upon those who look up to us, whether we be parents, teachers, supervisors or church leaders. May the Lord help us to be courageous and faithful witnesses for Him wherever He has placed us in the community.
– Eld Elgin Chan