“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
To what circumstances in the Apostle Paul referring? His imprisonment, of course – an imprisonment which kept this natural-born world-traveler cooped up in jail for several years. This must have been a difficult time for Paul, a hands-on guy who was now forced to manage the many churches he’d established from a prison cell. Yearning to greet and confront people face to face, Paul now had to use representatives carrying letters of instruction to do his work. Stripped of all privacy and freedom, these “circumstances” that were favorable to the spread of the gospel were nonetheless painful to Paul.
Perhaps the most difficult thing of Paul’s imprisonment was the lingering doubt that it might have been avoided. You see, Paul’s imprisonment all began back when he visited Jerusalem – a visit against which he was warned not to embark (Acts 20:22-23; 21:4, 9-14). And sure enough, the warnings friends proved valid. After just a few days in Jerusalem, Paul was apprehended and almost killed by the Jews in Jerusalem. Then he came into the custody of the Romans and remained so for up to four years.
Had Paul made a mistake? Was it his own fault that he was now in jail, instead of traveling about freely, establishing churches?
We have to begin by asking, “Why would the writer of Acts even include story of Paul’s arrest and imprisonment (Acts 21-28)?” Was it to expound on what a mess Paul made of his life by his own foolish choices? I don’t think the writer, Luke, had such a purpose in mind.
If anything Luke would be inclined to portray Paul’s bravery and commitment to bringing the gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles. No matter how many times Paul had been persecuted by his own countrymen, the Jews, yet he continued to enter synagogues in every city, preaching the gospel to them first, then to the God-fearing Gentiles. This was his pattern, for he believed that salvation was for the Jew first and then for the Gentile (Romans 1:16).
And since, according to Paul, the Gentiles have been blessed by the Jews in spiritual things (i.e. the Holy Scriptures, the knowledge of God, the promises of God, the apostles, and the Messiah), the Gentiles should return a blessing in material things (a monetary gift to assist the Jewish believers in Jerusalem – Romans 15:27). This is why Paul had to go to Jerusalem, even against the advice of his friends and fellow believers. Paul stated that he was “bound in his spirit” and had to fulfill this mission of bringing a collected gift to the believers in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22).
Besides, even when things got ugly in Jerusalem the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul in prison, both validating his mission there and assuring Paul that “as you have testified about Me here in Jerusalem, so shall you testify about Me in Rome” (Acts 23:11). Christ would be sending Paul to Rome to testify before the most powerful man on earth – Nero – as Rome’s expense and under Rome’s protection. And all through that prison experience Paul continued to preach to all who would listen, even to the guards he was chained to. And, thanks to his imprisonment, we have the permanent record of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and 2 Timothy.
We all have second thoughts about decisions we’ve made and ask the question, “What have I gotten myself into?” I recall those feelings when I spent my very last dime to pay for tuition to finish my B.S. at Valley Forge Christian College. That was a hellish experience, characterized by physical sickness, financial difficulties, my wife’s troublesome pregnancy, and
a near-death experience. But in retrospect, I can see how we were in the center of God’s will through it all.
Even from the start of my experience in the Army I had serious doubts. “What have I gotten myself into?” I thought. Once in the Army I was stripped of all privacy and freedom and was cut off from my family. Oh, yes, I had my doubts. But now, more than 31 years later, I can look back and attest, “My circumstances have all turned out for the progress of the Gospel.” God was in those decisions back then, as He is in our decisions now. Don’t doubt in the darkness what God has revealed to you in the light.
Dear Father in heaven, I am the work of Your hands, created for Your purposes and not for my own pleasures and fancies. Please, dear Father, feed me from Your word and fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Work in my heart so that I will desire to do what pleases You and empower me to do it. Amen.