Tuesday, September 2, 2014

BLESSING AMIDST TRIALS (Philippians Chapter 1)

Philippians 1:12-13, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”

Paul wrote Philippians, this “epistle of joy,” from a prison cell.  Some, including Paul, might have wondered as to God’s purpose in permitting him to be imprisoned as he was.  Why allow that great missionary to be confined, would not the cause of Christ be better served by his freedom?

We sometimes wonder in the midst of our trials as to what God is doing.  I well remember my experience upon witnessing the destruction caused to our church building as a result of the December 2007 storm.  My friend and I were amazed and distressed by what we saw.  The bus barn had collapsed.  There was a gaping hole in the roof of the building.  Metal roofing was scattered across the fields.  At that moment of time it was hard to envision the matter to be anything but trouble.  But God used that circumstance to provide--through $900,000 of insurance provided funds--for a complete remodel of the sanctuary portion of our building.  Our remodeled building has been a tremendous blessing to our church family and I’ve had many occasions to thank God in testifying to others of how He worked to bless us through that storm.  The God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead has a way of bringing blessings out of trials (Cf. Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).

Paul was in prison as a result of his preaching of the gospel.  That was not an uncommon thing in that day.  And even today in parts of the world Christians are sometimes imprisoned for telling others about Jesus.

But Paul’s imprisonment did not have the desired effect.  Paul’s opponents had hoped to shut him up, but it didn’t work.  Instead, his confinement worked to “advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).  The term translated “advance” was used of “an army of pioneer wood cutters which precedes the regular army, cutting a road through an impenetrable forest, thus making possible the pioneer advance of the latter into regions where otherwise it could not have gone.”  Paul’s circumstances worked to advance the gospel to a region that would have been otherwise unreachable.

The God who causes “all things (to) work together for good” (Romans 8:28) had a purpose in Paul’s circumstances.  Through it the gospel became “known throughout the whole imperial guard” (Philippians 1:13).  History records that there were nine thousand men who made up the imperial bodyguard in Rome.  For two years, numerous of these guards were chained to Paul's side.  Paul had a captive audience.  They overheard conversations he had with his visitors concerning Jesus and the gospel.  No doubt many of these men were saved, and then went on to tell others about Jesus, thus the gospel was advanced to a previously unreached group of people.

You can lock up God’s workers, but you can’t imprison God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:9).  Twenty years after missionary Adoniram Judson reached Burma, the New Testament was translated into the Burmese language.  In 1824, when war was waged between England and Burma, Mr. Judson was thrown into prison, and Mrs. Judson buried the precious manuscript, just ready for the printer, in the earth beneath their house.  But as the mold began to eat away at it, because of the heavy rains, she sewed it into a roll of cotton, put a cover on it and took it to the jail to be used by Mr. Judson as a pillow.  In nine months he was transferred to the inner prison, where five pairs of fetters were upon his ankles, and it was announced that he, with a hundred others were to be killed before morning.  During that dreadful night, much prayer ascended for that precious pillow.  It had fallen into the care of the keeper of the prison, but Mrs. Judson, producing a better one, induced him to exchange.  Mr. Judson was not killed, but was hurried away to another place, and again the pillow was his companion.  But one of the jailers untied the mat that served as its cover and threw the roll of cotton into the yard as worthless.  Here a native Christian, ignorant of its value, found and preserved it as a keepsake of his beloved master, and within months later its contents were discovered still intact.  After the close of the war this New Testament was printed, and in 1834 the whole Bible was translated into the Burmese language.  God has a way of bringing blessings out of trials.

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