Processing Trials and Suffering
(adapted from Stuart Briscoe)
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the Gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
God does things to us…..
so that God can do things in us……
so that God can do things through us.
God does things to us.
What things had happened to Paul?
Well, Paul is in jail because of his commitment to Christ.
Philippians 1:13, 4:22
“He was chained to a guard. In fact, he was chained to a guard twenty-four hours a day. According to Roman custom, the guards would change every six hours. So he would have four different men chained to him over a period of a day, at all times, so he could not escape. He slept chained to a Roman soldier. He wrote chained to a Roman soldier. He ate chained to a Roman soldier, ever and always.” Zero privacy. Ever. All because he was a vocal Christ follower.
What else had happened to Paul? Some fellow believers have opposed him. Philippians 1:15-16 On what grounds do they oppose him? Jealousy might be the best explanation. We expect opposition from unsaved people. But to have fellow believers oppose him had to hurt his feelings – a tragic testimony to unneeded tension and strife inside the body of Christ.
“It was discouraging. It was distressing. It was disheartening and discomforting. It was a pain to the body of Christ. It was a terrible disruption to the church that is rampant in the church – rampant today. There are people who are motivated out of jealousy and envy. They focus their whole lives on trying to discredit other people who occupy some kind of place of blessing that creates envy in their sinful hearts. They preach the true Gospel, but they have impure hearts. They seek to be more prominent. They are angry that someone else is more successful than they are as an evangelist or a writer, or a pastor, or a teacher. And so they are producers of rivalry. That’s another word for strife, conflict. They see themselves in competition with Paul, and they become his detractors. And the way they’re going to win the battle is by slander and accusation and criticism and tearing him down.”
What else happened to Paul? Let’s not forget his thorn in the flesh.
2 Corinthians 12:7
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Paul understands clearly why he received the thorn: to keep him humble. “Paul was a believer, he was the noblest of Christians, he was the most mature of Christians, and yet pride still remained in his unredeemed flesh. He still had the body of sin attached to him.” This thorn was a frontal assault on any attempt by Paul to rely on himself. “Humility is the ultimate virtue. Pride is the ultimate sin.” All other sins stem from pride.
God is too wise to tell us exactly what the thorn is. If He did, we’d compare our thorn to Paul’s and walk away saying ours is worse.
So, that is what happened to Paul. He is in prison, he is disrespected by other believers, and he has the additional discomfort of this thorn.
God does things in us.
Because of what happened to Paul, what happened in Paul?
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances
Paul learned to be content. Note the key word: “learned”. Contentment does not come automatically to any of us. It becomes part of us only as we submit willingly to God’s dealing with us. If Paul had not been jailed and gone through the trials listed above, would he have learned contentment? It is hard to say anything but “No” to that. Paul learned God’s perspective on his situation, how to abase and abound and is a trophy of grace as a result.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength
Paul learns the power of the Holy Spirit. All the trials in his path can be dealt with only by relying on and leaning on God. That would include enduring as an inmate, being maltreated by fellow believers, and enduring his thorn. This is a lesson that can be learned only through adversity.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus
Paul learned the provision of God. If he had become bitter, he wouldn’t be saying this. If he had no needs he wouldn’t be saying this. But God allowed him to have needs so that as He met them, he saw God’s deliberate “hands on” care for His workers.
Philippians 1:19 Paul sees God help in the face of hurtful opposition. This opposition is daily. Paul needs outside help. God comes through. He sees God can help him deal with being hurt. Paul sees he can love these enemies unconditionally.
The message matters more than the messenger. Paul does some dying to self here so he can rejoice that the Good News is being spread- even by unpleasant people. The power of God, the wisdom of God become a bit more clear, more real, more inspiring. While in jail God taught him to put things into a new perspective.
If Paul had allowed bitterness or self-pity to creep in, he would have become unusable to God. This letter wouldn’t be in the Bible. He would just be another bitter old man, focused only on his own hurt, eager to die.
There have been times in my life when I’ve looked at some trial I’ve been through, seen some benefits from having gone through it, but wondered why the trial had to be so severe. From my viewpoint the trial looked excessive, over the top, unnecessarily harsh.
The answer has to be that the bigger the things that happened to you the bigger things God wants to do in you and through you. We do not grow without opposition. Or, as someone has said, “The richest soil on God’s farm is the soil of adversity.” This answers one of the great nagging, unanswered questions of my life. God has not cheated me or forgotten about me or neglected me or been cruel. It’s just that His ways certainly are not ours. No doubt about it: when I get to heaven I will see my trials needed to be severe to fulfill His plan for my life.
So far we’ve looked at God doing things to us
so that He can do things in us.
Now let’s look at what He does through us as a result.
God does things through us.
As a result of what happened in Paul what had happened through Paul?
Philippians 1:12 In spite of Paul’s adversity he is upbeat that there will be great opportunities to spread the Gospel. His ministry has not been hindered but- by the grace of God – enhanced. That reminds me of the autobiography of a leading Christian speaker who observed that her prolonged stay in the hospital gave her a pulpit from which to share her faith that she had never had before. Our ways surely are not His ways. Isaiah 55:8.
Philippians 1:13 Because of Paul’s adversity he is able to reach the Praetorian guard (the bodyguards of Roman emperors). New mission fields are opening up to him. It has to be noted this is not the strategy you and I would have used to reach these elite soldiers. We would have found a 200 lb young muscleman to join the Praetorian guard to evangelize them. Instead, God uses an aging, out of shape prisoner to reach them for Christ. Are we learning that things that happen to us happen for the furtherance of the Gospel? In the midst of our adversity can we try to see the bigger picture by asking what unexpected mission field might have just opened up to us?
Philippians 1:14 Because of Paul’s response to adversity other believers are encouraged. If Paul can respond to jail like this, what excuse do I have for being a coward? Undoubtedly many believers were frightened by Paul’s situation, but seeing that he is not afraid motivates them to imitate him. They are seeing that even if you’re in prison you can still have a ministry. New areas were being pioneered for evangelism, and new groups were reached. You and I need to reach new people groups. We need this attitude today. .
Philippians 1:14b Because of Paul’s adversity other believers get the opportunity to serve. If Paul had been around, they would not have stepped up to the plate. They would have let Paul do all the talking. Because Paul was taken away, a whole new group of leaders are grown. They benefitted by Paul being in jail. Today there is too much fear among believers. We need this boldness.
Philippians 1:20,21 Because of Paul’s adversity, he can see he has not arrived yet. There are still areas in his life in which he needs to grow. New aspirations are born. He sees areas of growth. He sees the Holy Spirit guiding him until death Personal comfort is never his goal. Advancement of the Gospel and glorifying God are all that matter.
Because of Paul’s adversity the four letters he writes have special significance. While in jail Paul pens what are generally known as the prison epistles – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. If Paul had responded negatively to his circumstances would those books have been written? Hardly. Many times I have read Philippians 4, and after every verse I have reminded myself that he wrote that while locked up. What power that gives to that chapter. What a key chapter that has been in my life!
Clearly he was living above circumstances. Those books have so much more impact when we remember that.
Many people can go thru the same situation as Paul and become better, angry, frustrated. Our world is filled with them, Job’s wife being one example. Joseph of Genesis, Mary, and Daniel would be three excellent examples of those who responded to adversity as Paul did.
Someone has written:
“Two men look through the same bars.
One sees the mud.
One sees the stars.
How we respond to adversity all depends in the direction in which we look.”
Paul is in jail, he looks up, he sees God in the midst of his trials.
That makes all the difference.
God does things to us
so God can do things in us
so God can do things through us.
What an upbeat, practical perspective to have on trials and suffering!