The apostle Paul wanted to go to Rome as a preacher, but instead, he went as a prisoner! In verse 12 of Philippians, chapter 1, he sums it up as “my circumstances”. He could have written a long letter about that experience alone. The things that happened to him are written in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 21-28. It began when Paul was arrested in the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews thought that he had desecrated the temple by bringing Gentiles into it, and the Romans thought that Paul was an Egyptian renegade who was on their “most wanted list”. Paul remained in prison in Caesarea for two years. When he finally appealed to Caesar, as a Roman citizen, he was sent to Rome. On the way, the ship was wrecked in a storm. Paul’s courage and faith during that storm makes it one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible (Acts 27).
HIS CHAINS (verse 12)
To many, all of these circumstances may have looked like a failure, but not for this man with a “single mind” to share Christ and the Gospel message. In verse 12, Paul says, “My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel”. The words, “greater progress” mean “pioneer advance”. It is a Greek military term referring to the army engineers who went ahead of the soldiers to remove obstacles and open the way into new territory. Paul discovered that his circumstances really opened up new areas of ministry. If you’ve ever done any sailing, you may have heard this saying: “We cannot control the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” Many of us have heard of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous British preacher, but few know the story about his wife, Suzannah. Early in their married life, Mrs. Spurgeon became an invalid. It looked as though her only ministry would be that of encouraging her husband and praying for his work. But God gave her a burden to share her husband’s books with pastors who couldn’t afford to purchase them. This burden soon led to the founding of the “Book Fund”. As a work of faith, the “Book Fund” provided thousands of pastors with tools for their ministry. All of this was supervised by Mrs. Spurgeon from her home.
THEIR EFFECT ON PAUL (verse 13)
In verse 13, Paul tells us that the chains attached to his wrists gave him contact with non-Christians. He was chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours a day! The shifts changed every six hours, which meant that Paul could witness to at least four soldiers each day. Paul was proclaiming the Gospel to the praetorian guard; something he could not have done as a free man. Historians tell us that there were about 9000 men who were part of the praetorian guard. These elite soldiers were the bodyguards for Caesar and his palace. It’s very possible that these guards looked forward to the opportunity to guard the apostle Paul. Being chained to a prisoner for six hours at a time must have been a very boring task, but it wouldn’t be if they were chained to the apostle Paul, because he was filled with joy, and he had something interesting to listen to and discuss. Eventually, one by one, many of these guards probably became Christians.
Sometimes God has put “chains”, so to speak, on His people, in order to enable them to accomplish something that could never happen any other way. Suzannah Wesley was the mother of 19 children, and this was before the days of labor-saving devices such a washing machines and disposable diapers. How could she find the time to share the Gospel? Well, from her large family came John and Charles Wesley, whose combined ministries shook Great Britain.
Fanny Crosby was blinded at six weeks of age, but even as a youngster she determined not to be confined by the chains of darkness. In time she became a mighty force for God through her hymns and gospel songs. She wrote over 8000 hymns during her lifetime!
The secret is this: when you have a single mind, you look at circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel, and you rejoice at what God is going to do, instead of complaining about what God did not do.
III. THEIR EFFECT ON OTHERS (vs. 14)
Paul’s chains not only gave him contact with the lost, but they also gave courage to the saved. Many of the Christians in Rome received new courage when they saw Paul’s faith and determination. Discouragement has a way of spreading, but so does encouragement. Because of Paul’s joyful attitude, many Christians began to witness boldly for Christ.
Something within a person responds to bravery in others. When I was in Air Force boot camp in San Antonio, Texas, I visited the Alamo. My first response was, “It sure is small!” It was in that little mission church that a small group of men, 180 to be exact, faced a big decision when a large army of Mexican soldiers set up camp nearby. Colonel Travis drew a line in the dust with his sword, challenging the men to step across if they were willing to fight to the death. Every man but one responded to the challenge. Even Colonel Jim Bowie, who lay dying on a cot, shouted to his comrades, “carry me across the line!”
Every man was killed, including Jim Bowie, who fought off the enemy the best he could from his deathbed. The only survivors were two women and two children. Was this a waste of lives? Not at all! This heroic action stirred up all the Texans to fight. “Remember the Alamo” was the Texans’ battle cry, and six weeks later Texas won its independence.
Most Americans “remember the Alamo”. But do we Christians remember the Christians who suffered and even died because of their faith in Jesus Christ, and their willingness to proclaim it? Our commitment to our Savior and Lord needs to be strong enough to be contagious. Enthusiasm for Christ is contagious. Has anyone caught it from you? We’ll never find peace and real joy unless we learn to live above our circumstances.
What are your “chains”? If you are confined by illness, or limited in any way by circumstances beyond your control, start looking for, and asking God for, a ministry. God may have put you just where you are at in order that you might say with the Apostle Paul, “My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the Gospel”.
We need to get above our circumstances. That’s where God is waiting to help and strengthen us, so that He can use us, in His way, by His power, and for His glory. Read on in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, and share in Paul’s unwavering joy!