Do you see him?
He’s sitting at the table in the corner, hunched over, and writing on a scroll.
He’s a small man with a prominent nose, intense dark eyes and a craggy face furrowed by the deep lines of persecution and hardship he has suffered since he gave his life to Christ.
The room is cold and damp because this is a prison. The man who writes is chained to a Roman guard.
Paul the Apostle is writing a letter to his fellow Christians living in a small Roman colony called Philippi in the province of Macedonia. They have, like him, suffered persecution for their faith in Jesus.
Paul wants to encourage them.
So he writes this letter.
In time Paul’s letter of encouragement to the Philippians would make its way into the New Testament and remain a source of comfort and strength to the Christian Church through the centuries. The great apostle writes about many subjects in this letter, but always from the perspective of joy and gratitude.
Paul writes his warmest encouragement as he sits surrounded by the harshest of conditions.
It’s one of several beautiful ironies we discover in the Bible.
A brilliant and ambitious man is suddenly confronted by the mighty power of Christ while on his way to arrest Christians. That same power transforms Paul’s brilliance into wisdom and his ambition into humility. He is imprisoned for preaching the same faith he once opposed with a fury. Having suffered so much for Jesus Christ and now finding himself chained to a soldier in a cell, Paul bursts forth on the written page with an irrepressible joy.
Most of us wouldn’t have found this an occasion for praise and thanksgiving. Paul did and he explains why.
One of the most moving passages of his letter to these Philippian believers is when he writes about his imprisonment. Paul takes the long view. He has this unusual capacity to take a step back from his immediate situation – no matter how difficult – and see the big picture of God’s providential purpose for his life. Paul knows that the key issue is not what has happened to him. It’s not his imprisonment. It’s not his deprivation or his suffering. It’s the cause of Christ and his gospel that truly matters.
“I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” [Philippians 1: 12-14, NLT].
Amazing – a prison ministry from the inside out!
“Everything that has happened to me” has happened in order that God may accomplish a much larger, more glorious and more lasting achievement. Paul never forgets this larger context. He never lets this thing be about him. He never permits himself to wallow in despair and self pity. Paul chooses to think and to believe differently about his circumstance.
Paul joyfully embraces another perspective.
Romans know the truth. Christians find their courage. And because of this Paul rejoices – even in prison.
Paul also celebrates despite the fact that some area preachers are insincere, jealous and selfish in their motives for proclaiming the gospel. Imagine ministers being like that!
“But that doesn’t matter,” Paul says. “Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.” [Philippians 1: 18, NLT, emphasis added].
Suppose you and I decided to more fully embrace Paul’s positive perspective – every day, in every situation of our lives?
Suppose we decided to see life from a longer and larger view – God’s view?
What if we took our pride and our hurts, and our easily wounded egos; and we gathered up our self-centered “needs” and our fears and our paranoia – and we surrendered them all to the greater good and glory of Jesus Christ and his kingdom?
Suppose we resolved to do this no matter what happens to us?
God wants to make this sizable difference in our hearts, in our minds – and in our lives.
God doesn’t want to reform our thinking – he wants to radically transform it.
God want us to have a clearer view of ourselves and our place and purpose in this world he made. He wants us to have a better understanding of his grace in our lives. He wants us to see him, high and lifted up, as Isaiah did on that day when he saw the Lord.
And when God makes this change in us, you and I will discover real joy – and in that joy rise above the circumstances of our lives.
Just like Paul, God wants you and me to get the big picture – and to joyfully embrace it.