April 11, 2021
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.
Now that the salutations are over, Paul gets to the bad news. Everyone had been talking about Paul’s situation. Things were just getting off the ground; the Holy Spirit moving profoundly in large cities through these tiny churches. The apostolic dream was happening, but the apostle was in jail.
We read it so matter-of-factly and with such familiarity today we miss its gravity. Paul had given everything to Jesus. How could this be happening to him? He did everything he was asked to do, and this is his reward—a Roman prison cell? Surely this wasn’t God’s idea for a new recruitment strategy for young preachers. If the gospel was such good news, why was its leader facing such bad news? This was not just another day at the office for the young New Testament church. This was catastrophic.
Consider Paul’s words: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.”
Translation: You can put the apostle in jail, but you can’t imprison the gospel. It will only get stronger. We so want the Christian faith to be a “get out of jail free” card, immunity from tragedy, protection from terminal cancer, and a happy life in the suburbs. It is none of those things. Instead, following Jesus should more often take us into harm’s way than out of it. Why? It’s in the most turbulent storms where Jesus demonstrates the most transformational suffering. These are the places where the awful things that happen to us actually serve to advance the gospel.
Jail may sideline Paul for a couple of years, but it will only speed up the movement of 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.
When you put Paul in jail, you put Jesus in jail, and when you put Jesus in jail, the jail changes. Give a tried-and-true follower of Jesus cancer and you give Jesus cancer, and when you give Jesus cancer, he will make cancer serve the purposes of God. This is what the gospel does. Jesus can take a situation far from the realm of God’s purpose and cause it to serve the purposes of God in astonishing ways.
We must only allow our suffering to lead us to deeper surrender to Jesus. This means renouncing victimhood, releasing entitlement, and finding a posture of unshakable faith in Jesus rather than devoting all your energies to fighting against the circumstance. The truth? The circumstance may not change. The gospel? Everything else can. And, so often, it’s the “everything else” that matters most. Isn’t that what Paul says here?
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.
Count on it. Every time and in every one of these situations, many are watching and waiting to see God arise. We all want a simple escape hatch. The gospel is far more sophisticated and surprising. Let’s give them something to talk about.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who reveals to us what it looks like to take the most horrific suffering that was the cross and endure it to the other side of resurrection and the most honorific glory. Show us this way of the cross in our own lives and especially in our darkest hours. Come, Holy Spirit, and either deliver us from our suffering or deliver us more deeply into your possibilities in the midst of it. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
- Can you think of a situation where someone else’s valiant faith in the face of hardship and suffering actually increased your own faith?
- How do you relate to the notion that an unfair hardship may not be God’s purpose but can powerfully serve the purposes of God? Have you ever seen that in your own life?
- What difficult, devastating, or impossible situation might you be facing right now? Where are you in it? Blaming, resigning to the circumstance, or surrendering more deeply to Jesus?
For the Awakening,