3 August 2021Philippians 1:12-18a
I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel... v. 12)
As we continue this first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I’m reminded of a verse from another of his letters: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Of course, Paul certainly doesn’t mean that evil things are planned by God, and he would know that many bad things happen where we cannot fathom any benefit or greater purpose being worked out at all. But Paul knew from experience that many things that are terrible from a purely human perspective, can, with the power of God’s grace, end up bringing glory to God or furthering the kingdom-work of Christ.
Perhaps I may use this very recent example of three footballers, part of the England team in the Euro 2020 tournament who collectively made a stand against racism – despite derision from many – trying to highlight the gross inequalities still present in our society. They had the chance to win the trophy in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, but it didn’t happen. To add insult to injury, these three black players were then racially abused on social media, leading to an outcry against the abusers. Of course, the players did not want that outcome, and (like all who fight against injustice) they would prefer it if such injustice were not there to begin with. But, in some way, the events highlighted the point they were making, and it has won them more supporters for the anti-racism cause.
Back to Paul. He was imprisoned several times for sharing the good news of Christ with people in public places. Many times, his preaching or the events that followed caused an uproar. Paul as the instigator was always targeted by the authorities. But Paul knew that whatever suffering he personally endured, it would result in further glory for God. His story would be gossiped about. His supporters would be emboldened. He would even have the chance to preach to the prison guards and any who would listen. When anyone asked the reason for his imprisonment, they would be told: "It is for Christ".
Paul knew too, that many would be caught up in this movement who might not share his motives, or share his way of telling the story, or might actually try to continue his suffering by spreading further rumours about what he said. Here again, Paul sees this only as beneficial. If people are speaking about Jesus, whatever their motives, then God will find a way to turn it into good news.
- In your life and faith, can you think of examples where a time of trial or suffering has led to unexpected positive results?
- In our Methodist Way of Life, we are invited to commit to challenge injustice, and we are asked: what issues of injustice are you currently concerned about? What are you doing in response?
- St Paul might possibly add: what would you be prepared to endure for injustices you felt strongly about?