“This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” (2nd Timothy 2:8b-9, NIV-1984)
Six months after the fact, I can still recall a tremendously impactful time of worship with my home church wherein we observed the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. This observation included a hard-hitting video presentation narrated by a mother who had lost her husband, son, and daughter to a brutal murder that occurred while she was away from the home, during a time that the family served as missionaries in Afghanistan. We could have filled a baptistry with the tears that flowed as this mother told the story of the murder of her family. They quite literally gave up their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s life-view is captured in Acts 20:24, where he says:
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
To my shame, I admit that I am not obsessed with the gospel of Jesus to the extent that Paul was. If he is free, he preaches the gospel. If he is shipwrecked, he preaches the gospel. If he is imprisoned, he preaches the gospel. “Except for these chains, the gospel is not chained!” To Paul, nothing else mattered.
In Philippians 1, Paul speaks of his imprisonment for the cause of Christ:
“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. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, ESV)
Paul was chained, but the gospel was not chained. Indeed, it spread like a wildfire on dry grass.
Circumstances were meaningless to Paul, as they should be to us. As I noted in my first book, Finding Faith in Slow Motion, “We must get beyond the default response of reacting to God in light of our circumstances, and train ourselves to react to our circumstances in light of God.” Am I free? Teach the gospel of Christ. Am I in chains? Imprisoned? Teach the gospel of Christ. Am I on my death-bed, close to drawing my last breath? Teach the gospel of Jesus.
My environment is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Jesus is taught; that the name of Jesus is exalted. Are we to suppose that Paul lamented the unfairness and injustice inherent to his imprisonment? Not at all. Of course it was unjust, but his situation was as it was, and rather than justifiably complain about it, Paul used his imprisonment to advance the cause of the kingdom of Christ. Paul realized that he had at least one palace guard mandated to be in his presence, probably in six-hour shifts, twenty-four hours a day. Who is really trapped here? Paul, or the guard – Paul’s captive audience?
It is difficult to imagine listening to inspired truth for six hours straight and not being influenced by that. Perhaps not converted to Christ, but certainly influenced. And having been influenced, I’m going to talk to the other guards who have been chained to Paul. We are going to compare notes.
And the spread of the message was not confined to just the imperial guard. Note the phrase, “…and to all the rest…” The message of Christ was getting to people to whom it very likely would not have otherwise spread. It is not in spite of the chains, but rather precisely because of the chains, that the good news of Jesus reached their ears. And we know from Philippians 4:22 that those who were hearing Paul did begin to believe, and that the influence of the gospel worked its way even into the home of Caesar!
Like Paul, I pray to begin to see life’s oppressions as opportunities, and persecutions as possibilities. I am not advocating a Pollyanna attitude toward life, but rather a positive disposition that can look at my circumstances and ask, at all times, “How can I use this to advance the cause of Christ?”
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 – NASB)
Victoriously in Christ!
Over to you: What circumstances that tend to discourage you could actually be used advantageously for the kingdom of Christ?