In 2018, I released a five-week study over the book of Philippians, Cultivating Joy. It is a study of how Paul worked to intentionally cultivate joy in his life even given the dire circumstances of his life in prison. After the tragic events of this week, this lesson from day four of the study seemed timely and relevant. I hope it is a blessing to you.
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
When difficult or tragic things happen in life, many of us, rightly so, cling tightly to Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is reassuring to read these words and be reminded that we are not outside of God’s love and that He will bring good from the challenges we face. However, although far less referenced, I would suggest that the section of Philippians above runs a close second in terms of providing us support, encouragement, and perspective when faced with the “But why God?” things of life.
It is interesting to note that the focus of Romans 8:28 is ourselves. We find comfort in knowing that God is working for our good. The beauty of today’s verses in Philippians is that it takes the purpose of challenges beyond ourselves so we can rest in a different kind of comfort and purpose. I can say that there have been more than a few times in my life when I have needed more than Romans because I am trying to digest a Philippians type of situation.
As Paul sat in prison thinking of all that he could be doing and having no power to do so, he made this statement: “I want you to know…what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” A man deeply rooted in his faith, Paul may have felt secure in God’s love and purpose for him; however, I can imagine that maybe he could have begun to worry about those he was supposed to be reaching with the Gospel. Being concerned for the men and women he had taught in cities he visited on other journeys and the people he had yet to reach but had no idea whether or not he would ever get out of prison to do so. Philippians 1:12 is the kind of “booster” verse we need when we know that God loves us and has our best interest in mind, but we are worried about the larger fallout around a situation.
…when we are facing a job loss, and we know that God has our future in His hand, but we are worried about the people and the work we are leaving behind…
…when we see tragedy upon tragedy on television and wonder what good can come of it…
…when we are told that the life of one of our loved ones will end too soon when there seemed so much ahead…
When we are sure in our hearts that God is good, but we have no idea why He has allowed something, I would encourage you to pray with passion that what has happened—to you, your friend, your sister, your parent, to that devastated family on the news—has the eternal purpose of advancing the Gospel. Paul cultivated joy in his situation because he was sure that this imprisonment had a purpose beyond him, not just for him. His tragedy served to advance the Gospel.
The God we serve does not waste.
When the Twin Towers came down, people returned to their faith. When a community member loses their home, people show up in droves to help. When life is lost too soon, the words offered by the dying inspire long after they are gone. God does not waste tragic situations for us personally and, maybe more so, He certainly does not waste the positive ripple effect a tragedy can create for the Kingdom. He weeps when we weep; He hurts when we hurt. While the enemy may bring pain, loss, and disease in our broken world, God uses it not only for our good but for the advancement of the Gospel. We cultivate joy today by believing that we serve a purposeful and resourceful God who wastes no tragedy but instead utilizes it to reach others and embolden them to “…become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” He knows how to use everything for good. May we trust Him in this.
“Lord, I pray that You would grow my trust and understanding in the sovereignty You have over all situations. While sometimes I may get the privilege of seeing how Your hand was at work, sometimes I do not, and I am left to believe that You are guiding that situation for good. Set our minds in an eternal perspective rather than the narrow perspective of humanity. Help me today to claim my difficulties as an opportunity for You to advance the Gospel.”