Today’s study focuses on the concept of perspective. People can make a good situation appear terrible, and people can make a terrible situation appear good. It depends on how you look at the situation.
We start back up in verse 12, where Paul demonstrates the right perspective on the situation:
“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,” (NKJV, Philippians 1:12).
Paul was among the most zealous people that ever lived. For better and for worse, he gave his all, and that is to be commended. Prior to his conversion, he ruthlessly pursued Christians and tried to eradicate Christianity because he felt that would be pleasing to God. However, once he encountered God on the road to Damascus, he became a new creature in Christ. He remained zealous and goal-oriented, but he directed these energies towards sharing the gospel and discipling believers.
Paul had himself been persecuted for his faith in Christ, but he could look back on this and keep the right perspective. He could have focused on the unpleasantness of persecution, but instead he remembered how all of these otherwise unpleasant situations had led to the truth of the gospel being proclaimed throughout the world.
In the heat of the moment, it is not easy to remember how God can use a difficult situation and work it out for good. Paul knew that God was sovereign and had placed him uniquely in those situations for a purpose. Was it easy for Paul? No. But he knew God knows what is best. He knew that God can take a temporarily bad situation and turn it into an eternally good one.
The following verse goes into greater detail:
“so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ;” (NKJV, Philippians 1:13)
Paul spent a large portion of his ministry in a prison cell. Living in a prison today is not desirable, but the conditions have improved considerably from the treatment that prisoners had received back then. But Paul used every opportunity, even in a prison cell, to share Christ. That meant that the guards and affiliates of the Roman Empire got to hear the good news that Jesus saves.
I find it quite interesting that in the end of the verse, it says that he told the palace guards and all the rest that “my chains are in Christ.” He was in physical chains almost all, if not all, of the time. A palace guard would understand chains better than anyone, as that was part of the daily work. Paul used this imagery to explain the gospel. He was not a slave to sin, but a slave/servant of Christ. He willingly gave his life to Christ, and that is what kept him going, knowing that he had the opportunity to share Christ even while in chains.
Also something noteworthy is that during his time in prison for his faith, he wrote many of the letters that make up a large portion of the New Testament. So whether by directly speaking to guards and affiliates of the Roman Empire or by writing books of the Bible that would draw people to Christ in that generation and beyond, Paul stayed focused in the task that God had given him.
In verse 14, Paul explains how his experience had inspired other believers to do the same:
“and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (NKJV, Philippians 1:14).
Many believers of that day looked to Paul’s leadership and kept sharing the gospel. They saw that Paul endured and that they could keep going as well.
In 1 John 4:18, it says that “perfect love casts out fear” (NKJV). We cannot share God’s love if we are trying in our own strength. We must be filled with the spirit of God in order to show the love of God to others. When we see people the way God sees them, we no longer think about ourselves, but instead about how much God loves them and wants to have a relationship with them. When we love like God loves, it drives out fear.
In all of this, Paul kept the right perspective. He could have gotten bogged down with the idea of how difficult life was. He could have felt that he was not generating the results he wanted. Instead, he looked at the positive of how God was at work in his unique situation. He had the opportunity to share the gospel with people that few would have to opportunity to do so.
We, like Paul, are placed uniquely in contact with people that we can reach. So, as you go about your day-to-day tasks, remember to not be focused on the negativity of difficulties, but instead be like Paul and focus on the positives and opportunities that you have.