“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. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi – Philippians 1:12-14)
Paul is imprisoned for the sake of the gospel. Circumstances don’t look good. But what is Paul’s first concern for the church in Philippi? It’s that they would see things from heaven’s perspective, that they would see things as they are according to the greatest reality—see the Kingdom’s advance.
Let’s step back to use a war analogy. D-day was not a pretty day. There were horrors and casualties; suffering and courage amidst terror and carnage. On the ground level, D-day was hellish. From the larger scale plan, D-day was a decisive victory for the Allied forces against the Axis powers. D-day was a tactical victory that rang out as the beginning of the end of the Third Reich.
Paul is fully present in his current situation. He is experiencing fully the suffering of prison and the shame of imprisonment. Yet, Paul’s perspective is informed by the tactical perspective. He sees his suffering in light of the suffering of Jesus on the cross. He by faith is fully identified with Jesus, experiencing the righteousness of Jesus, experiencing adoption with Jesus. Does it not also make sense that he also experiences suffering in Jesus? It’s not always so clear to us, but in this case, Paul is able to see a direct result of his imprisonment, and that is the greater boldness of others to preach the gospel. To proclaim the kingship of Christ and the King’s cross. Paul rejoices in the spread of the gospel.
In our suffering we don’t always see the tactical perspective. Sometimes we don’t know why suffering happens in our lives, but we can have confidence from the perspective that the gospel will go forth. Let’s let Paul’s example inform our prayers. Let’s pray for the kingdom’s advance through our suffering.
Notice that Paul wasn’t alone in his suffering. In a real sense, he was kind of taken out of commission. He’s not able to travel from city to city, he’s restricted in his movement, but the Christian community steps up and steps in to fill in the ranks. Not all with pure motives, but through Paul’s suffering the gospel advanced, because of other believers. How can we come alongside each other in suffering? As in a time of war, we don’t leave those suffering isolated and alone, but we see the hard times as the call to action. Let us surround those who are suffering with love and support. We can show the world how the gospel shapes a community. Let the world see us as those “Jesus freaks” that love each other relentlessly through the hard times.