How desperate are you? There was an American writer and philosopher named Henry David Thoreau who lived from 1817 to 1862. He once wrote “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation”. In other words, most people are really desperate and are resigned to the fact that there appears to be no way out of their desperate situations.
It is true that many people are desperate about life and feel that they have no real control over their future. They feel that they are controlled by forces beyond their control or are controlled by other people. For such people even “circumstances” seem to have more say over their lives than they do. For example when someone asks them, “How are you?” they often reply, “I’m as good as I can be under the circumstances!” It suggests that “circumstances” (whatever they might be) are dictating their lives.
The wonderful truth found in this passage is that there is One in this universe who ultimately has control of all the circumstances in life and over all the forces and people involved. He exercises His control for His own purposes and for the benefit of his people. He is the God who is on the side of believers as St Paul wrote in Romans 8:31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
Not only that but Paul goes on in the same chapter to say that nothing and nobody in the whole of creation can ever separate His children from His love, Rom 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
St Paul, as he formulates this letter to the Philippians, is in prison awaiting trial. Death or release could come at any time. But in the meantime he knows He is in the hands of His God. That confidence comes out in these verses in Philippians 1:12-26.
1) God Can Over-Rule Our Difficulties For Eternal Good
Paul saw that his imprisonment had two good results.
i). He could share Christ with a captive audience. Php 1:12 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. As he sat there in prison chained to a succession of elite soldiers he could share with them the gospel about Jesus. Over a period of time all the elite troops had heard the gospel from his lips. They would know that he was not a criminal but simply a servant of Jesus and a preacher of the gospel about Him. Comments about Paul and about his message about Jesus had spread far beyond prison walls.
How about us? Do we really see what might be happening in the difficult times we face? Can we see any benefits flowing to others? If we can’t it may that we see the situation only from a human point of view. We fail to have the Lord’s perspective on our situations. We may fail to realise what grace He has been imparting to us to cope with difficult situations.
ii). His trust in God encouraged others to trust in the same God. Php 1:14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Most of the time in our lives as believers we are protected from many things without realising it. Sometimes though the Lord allows us to go through difficult times. We may not know why in this lifetime. But He promised in 1 Cor 10:13, No testing (temptation) has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
Here Paul was being allowed to be in this difficult position. One result of that was that other believers (knowing Paul could not be out there to share the Christian message with others people), had themselves taken on the task of spreading the word about Jesus. Paul was in prison but the word of God, the message of Jesus was being spread through other people.
What about us? Other people notice our plight. Some may be aware of the difficulties we face but feel powerless to help us. But our example of trusting God to work all changes for good does give an encouragement to them to “hang in” as they go through their own set of difficulties.
2). God Can Over-Rule Human Motivation For Eternal Good
There were mixed motives in those who preached Christ. Php 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.
i). Some preached Christ from a right motive. Php 1:16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. They were saying, “If Paul can’t preach, then out of our love for him and our gratitude to him we will preach in his place.” Their motives were pure.
ii). Some preached Christ because they were jealous of Paul. Php 1:17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. They had a wrong motivation. They thumbed their noses at Paul, flaunting their freedom to preach while Paul couldn’t. They wanted to hurt him by their actions. They had a double wrong motivation, jealousy and spite.
iii). Paul’s Positive Attitude. He didn’t get despondent or bitter at the actions of these preachers. He knew that they were preaching Jesus. Php 1:18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. If Jesus was being lifted up and preached about, God could use that to bring people to Himself. Paul would have known the words of Isaiah 55:11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. God has committed Himself to ensure that His word as it is preached or shared in any way, will accomplish what He wants it to accomplish in His plan and purpose.
It is like the story I have told before of the preacher who spoke to a down and out fellow who came forward to the penitential rail in the Mission Hall to give his life to Jesus. The preacher asked him to describe what part of his sermon got through to him causing him to come to the penitential rail. He was humbled when the man replied, “It wasn’t nuthin’ you said guv’nor. It was the text on the wall behind you.” The text was that from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God had used His word in written form on a wall to achieve His purpose in this man’s life. Paul explained it in Rom 10:17. Faith comes from hearing the gospel about Jesus. 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. When the message of Jesus is preached it builds up faith in the lives of those who hear it.
So here was Paul in prison. He wasn’t expressing any bitterness or resentment as he wrote. He wasn’t suppressing any deep anger at these preachers. He just had a quiet confidence that God could take His word preached through people of differing motives, to bring people to Himself as they heard about Jesus. Paul knew, God is in control.
What about us? Do we expect that God will bless the messages about Jesus being given out by people who are not in the same theological group we are in? That is putting an emphasis on the person preaching and not on the word being preached. How much more blessing would flow in the church if people listened for what God was saying to them through the word being preached rather than concentrating on the preacher’s theological background. Are we expectant for God to bring changes in our lives as we hear and respond to His word?
3). God Can Over-Rule Our Circumstances For Eternal Good
Yes, and I will rejoice, Php 1:19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. The believer in this life is in a win-win situation.
i). To keep living a life of faith in Christ means victory for the believer. Php 1:20 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 honoured in my body, whether by life or by death. Every moment of our lives is meant to bring honour and glory to Jesus as we live for Him. We can glorify Him by the lives we live. We can glorify Him through our deaths as we remain faithful to him until the end.
ii). To die means a greater victory for the believer. Php 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. A life of faith in Christ in which we know His victory in our lives is to be followed in death by a life in which that victory is made complete in His presence.
iii). Trusting God to over-rule in our lives to His glory. Paul trusted God with his present and his future. If God took him home soon then that was OK with Paul. He looked forward to it. If God allowed him more time to minister on earth, then that was OK too with Paul. He saw himself in a win-win situation no matter what others might do to him. Php 1:24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
What about us? As you and I face difficult situations do we have the same healthy attitudes as Paul? We see from his example a number of truths.
- God can work through our human hardships as we hang on to Him in faith, to bring about eternal blessings for ourselves and for others. God is in control.
- Can we give thanks to God in every situation in which we are placed? If we can’t we are out of the will of God. St Paul wrote in 1 Thess 5:18, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. It doesn’t mean thanking God for every situation in which we may be placed. Rather it means thanking God in the midst of every situation so that our focus remains on Him and not on the difficulties presented by the situation. God is in control!
- God can work through preachers with various motives to bring about eternal blessings as they preach Christ. God is in control. (But are we really listening to what He is saying to us through them?)
- God can work through us throughout our lives and even through our deaths provided we are living for Him. God is in control.
This is the win-win situation for all believers, for you and for me. In this life we have His blessing and protection. God is in control.
In the life to come when we go to be with Jesus or when Jesus comes again, we will enter into the fullness of what we have already received in part in Christ from the unsearchable riches which are ours in Him. God is in control!
Do you believe it! Do you act on it by giving thanks to Him IN EVERY SITUATION? After all, God is in control!
Blog. No.062. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Wednesday 29th February 2012