“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” Philippians 1:12 (NIV)
Imagine being given an irreplaceable, one of a kind gift, but you missed receiving it! According to CNN Money, $58 billion went unclaimed in 2013! Who knows how much that may have grown to today? The gift I’m talking about is even greater than money! It’s the gift of one day! One day to live, one day to love, one day to experience all that God, in the riches of His grace, makes available to you and me! How could we possibly miss that gift? It’s easier than you may think. We can become so consumed with regret over the past or anxious about the days ahead that we miss the gift of this day we are living in now. We miss experiencing the sheer adventure of this day and all that God may want to unfold in our lives when we become preoccupied with fear about tomorrow or guilt over yesterday. The Apostle Paul could easily have let that happen when he finally got to Rome. After three incredible missionary journeys of preaching the gospel, planting churches and training young pastors, Paul said, “I must go on to Rome!” in Acts 19:21. Why Rome? Wherever he had gone on his missionary journeys, he could see the influence of Rome everywhere. His passion became to take the message of Jesus to the world’s center of influence and power. God affirmed his desire to go there in Acts 23:11. After being rejected by the Jewish High Council in Jerusalem and nearly torn limb from limb, the Bible tells us, “That night the Lord appeared to Paul and said, ‘Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to Me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.”
I can only imagine how that must have encouraged Paul! He must have envisioned what it would be like to enter Rome and preach to thousands in the Colosseum, to take the Gospel to the Emperor himself! If he could win the Roman Emperor to Christ, just think how it would transform the entire Roman world of that day! His heart must have been leaping for joy at what lay ahead!
BUT – what he couldn’t have foreseen was the way in which God’s promise would unfold. He couldn’t have known that he would have to sit in a prison cell for over two years in Caesarea awaiting his trip to Rome. He couldn’t have known that he would finally be taken to Rome as a prisoner only after he appealed his case to Caesar. He couldn’t have known that God would take him through a shipwreck after a fourteen-day torrential storm called a “northeaster” – a storm with wind of typhoon strength on his way to Rome! He couldn’t have known that while stranded on an island after the shipwreck, he would be bit by a poisonous snake! Then, after three more months he finally arrives in Rome as a prisoner, shackled to Roman guards. I love the way Luke records the journeys end in Acts 28:14, “And so we came to Rome.”
I wonder, how prepared would you be to preach the “Good News” after all of that? There would be no grand crusade in the Colosseum where he would preach to thousands. He wouldn’t even be free to plant a church. He would be chained to Roman guards for the duration of his stay in a damp, cold, dark dungeon underground. BUT – rather than complaining about all he had suffered or live in fear of what may happen next, Paul saw God at work in the entire journey! He didn’t miss the gift of each day! He seized the opportunity to share the gospel with the prison guards. He spent the time wisely writing what we now know as his “prison epistles” of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. In Philippians 1:12-18 he writes,
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 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. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But 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. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”
How could Paul have such a perspective after all he had been through? The more personal question is how can we have the same joy and freedom he had when we go through unexpected and uninvited pain or setbacks that threaten to derail all that we felt God was promising to do? Paul’s example shows us three faith builders that will keep us from missing the gift of each day despite the adversity we may be experiencing. You may want to read his prison letter in Philippians where we find these three faith builders. It’s just four short little chapters. Join us tomorrow as we examine the first one.