In our study of Philippians we’ve been talking about how we can have true joy as followers of Jesus Christ. But when it comes to the times in our lives when we face troubles and trials how can we have joy then? How in the world are we to have joy in the midst of difficulty?
The well-known Bible scholar, Matthew Henry was once attacked by thieves and robbed of his money. He wrote these words in his diary: "Let me be thankful. First, I was never robbed before. Second, although they took my purse, they didn't take my life. Third, although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, let me be thankful because it was I who was robbed and not I who did the robbing."
Back in April Carolyn and I traveled to Grand Haven for a parenting conference. The children were going to stay with Carolyn’s brother and family in Fruitport but before we dropped them off we had promised them we would take them swimming at the hotel’s indoor pool. As the children and I prepared to go swimming we suddenly realized we had only a couple of towels and as we tried to determine how to remedy the problem Taylor spoke up and said “That’s OK I’ll stay here.” He had broken his wrist a couple of weeks earlier and had orders not to get the cast wet. I looked at Taylor with surprise and I was greatly encouraged that he didn’t seem to be disappointed at the idea of not getting a chance to at least get a dip in the pool. We all thanked him and He didn’t complain at all as a few of the children and I left to head down for a swim.
The beauty of all this was that when we got to the pool there was a whole rack full of towels for anyone using the pool. We quickly hopped back on the elevator and got back to the room to share the good news. Taylor got to take a dip in the pool after all and so did some of the little guys who had also stayed back in the room.
Most of all I was greatly encouraged by Taylor’s good attitude about the whole thing. He didn’t say, “Well I guess since I have this stupid cast I should just stay here and let you guys go swim.” Even in the face of disappointment he had a good spirit about it all. And he was like that all the weeks he had his cast—no complaints.
How in the world are we to be joyful in the midst of difficulties? I believe we’ll find the answer to that question in Philippians 1:12-14,
12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Picture Paul writing this from prison, chained to a guard 24 hours a day, no privacy and all of this with a positive outlook. Instead of being discouraged with his circumstances, he’s filled with joy. Paul’s joy in the midst of difficulty is only possible because he’s able to see the big picture. He sees the hand of God working through his difficulty for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He sees the positive impact his imprisonment has had on unbelievers and on believers as well.
His Joy Results from His Passion for the Gospel (v12)
Paul makes it clear in verse 12 that his difficulties have actually served to advance the gospel. God’s purposes have not been thwarted by Paul’s imprisonment. Paul understood that God is in control and He takes even the most difficult circumstances and uses them for good.
Joseph is brought to mind when we think about God’s plan prevailing even in the midst of all sorts of trials and tribulations. Joseph’s brothers had mistreated him and sold him into slavery. He went through many hardships in Egypt as a result of his brothers mistreatment but ultimately his trials led him to a position of authority where he was second only to the Pharaoh. Because of his standing in Egypt he was able to save many lives including those of his own family. Joseph had a great attitude and understood how God had worked in his life to accomplish His purpose. Listen to Joseph’s words to his brothers in Genesis 50:20.
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
In spite of the evil Joseph’s brothers committed against him, God used it for good. Those familiar and comforting words of Paul’s in Romans 8:28 give us the same kind of encouragement.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Another passage that gives us comfort and hope is James 1:2-4,
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
We can be joyful in the midst of difficult circumstances because God is using those difficulties for the furtherance of the Gospel. Paul could be joyful even though he was in prison because the gospel was being advanced. Paul understood that the hardship he was experiencing was not hindering the Gospel. In fact it was advancing the Gospel. He had opportunities from prison to impact others with the Gospel of Christ that he would not have had otherwise.
Paul was able to have real joy in the face of difficulty because of his singular passion in life. I want you to see that Paul’s one aim—his one passion in life—had become the cause of Christ. The one passion that drove Paul was that the gospel of Jesus Christ be advanced. His expectation that Christ would be magnified was the source of his joy. Look at Philippians 1:20 for a moment,
according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
Paul’s expectation wasn’t for wealth or fame or personal comfort or gain. His expectation was that Christ would be magnified. If he had had the wrong expectations, he would have been bitterly disappointed when things didn’t turn out the way he wanted.
There are many unhappy people who have expected too much from others or from life and have been deeply disappointed. If I’m expecting to have a perfect spouse, and a perfect boss, and perfect children and perfect neighbors and a perfect financial situation and perfect health, and a perfect church, I’m going to be disappointed.
I regret to inform you that there’s not much in life that’s perfect. I don’t know if you’ve realized this or not but just in case you haven’t you need to know your spouse isn’t perfect. Your children aren’t perfect. Your parents aren’t perfect. No one is. Finances may be tight. Family situations may be difficult. You’re going to have car trouble at the most inopportune time—and when is a good time for car trouble? You may experience poor health.
But if our expectation is to magnify Christ in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in whether they are easy or difficult, then we won’t be room for disappointment. We’ll have a cause for joy like Paul did. In fact, in the midst of trials, is often the greatest opportunity to magnify Christ. When others see a joyful attitude in our lives in spite of adverse circumstances they’ll want to know more about the reason for our joy and it will give us an opportunity to share Christ with them.
The joy that we display will impact others. Paul’s joy certainly impacted others. Let’s look at the first group of people his joy impacted in verse 13.
His Joy Results in Impacting Unbelievers (v13)
13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ;
The palace guard here refers to what was known as the Praetorian Guard. They were an elite group of Roman soldiers. Paul was under constant guard by them. They worked in six-hour shifts and he would have likely had contact with many different guards during his confinement. The word spread, about this prisoner, who was there because of his faith in Christ not because of any criminal activity on his part. He had an opportunity to minister to these guards that he wouldn’t have had without his time in prison.
He also had an opportunity to minister to the court officials. Listen to Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on this…
He was in Rome as an official prisoner, and his case was an important one. The Roman government was going to determine the official status of this new “Christian” sect. Was it merely another sect of the Jews? Or was it something new and possibly dangerous? Imagine how pleased Paul must have been knowing that the court officials were forced to study the doctrines of the Christian faith! 1
It was evident to the palace guard and all the rest that Paul’s chains were in Christ. All the rest probably included the court officials and even some in Caesar’s household. The palace guards that were guarding Paul were also responsible for guarding the emperor. Those stationed in Caesar’s household had contact with those serving in other capacities there. Word about Paul spread. Listen to Philippians 4:22.
All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household.
There were believers in Caesar’s household. How do you suppose there were followers of Jesus Christ in Caesar’s household? Members of the palace guard were lead to Christ by Paul who in turn spread the news of Paul and their newfound faith to those others including Caesar’s household.
Paul’s joy had an impact on unbelievers. His difficulty of being imprisoned was used by God to touch the lives of others with the Gospel. Paul had a tremendous opportunity for his joy through difficulty to impact lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Do you want to have an impact on unbelievers for the cause of Christ? We need to learn that the effectiveness of our testimony for the cause of Christ depends on our attitude in the face of difficulty. At the Moody Pastor’s Conference a few weeks ago Joe Stowel said something that has really stayed with me. He said that “attitude trumps activity.” What he was getting at was our tendency to feel like busyness for Jesus is all that’s really important. So much so that we forget that if we have a bad attitude all that involvement in ministry will be pointless. It’s easy to be this way in the church. It’s easy to get the idea that we should be busy—involved in all kinds of activities in the church, maybe teaching or serving on a committee or helping with activities or leading worship, or doing many of those things and all the while we have an attitude that really brings shame to the name of Christ.
I remember a couple of people I knew many years ago who were about as busy at church as you could be and I remember going to ball games at the high school in town and I would hear them a couple of rows back just complaining up a storm. I was embarrassed to even be from the same church. Their attitudes totally negated any service they might have performed in the church. And that’s what can happen to us when our one passion in life is something other than the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When we face difficulties and complain about our circumstances we ruin any opportunity for witness we may have had. On the other hand if we’re consistently joyful even in the midst of trial we extinguish any opposition to the message of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is advanced when we live with a passion to magnify Him in every part of our lives.
It’s also important that we see in verse 14 how Paul’s joy also impacted other believers.
His Joy Results in Impacting Believers (v14)
14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Paul’s joy in the midst of difficulty gave courage to other believers. They saw in the midst of his potentially troubling circumstances how God was taking care of him and using him. They were encouraged by his joy and they became bolder to tell others about Jesus Christ.
A few weeks ago when Dennis was sharing how God was using him to share his faith with fellow businessmen, I heard several of you remark how encouraging that was to hear. When we hear of others taking a stand for Christ it encourages us to do the same. And that’s why we need more of this kind of sharing.
Each Wednesday evening during our prayer service we take opportunity to share praises and answers to prayer. Part of the reason for doing that is to thank and praise God for His goodness and answered prayer. Another reason we share praises and answer to prayer is to encourage each other to faithfulness. Joy is contagious and it’s a wonderful thing for us as believers to spread around.
One commentator notes,
Paul's circumstances had emboldened other Christians in Rome. One might suppose that his imprisonment would have dampened any evangelizing efforts and have caused the believers in Rome to "go underground," but exactly the opposite was true. They drew courage from Paul's example and laid their fears aside. A literal rendering of the clause in the latter part of v. 14 is "to a much greater degree they are daring to speak the word of God without fear." That it was "daring" indicates no lessening of the danger but a new infusion of courage. The present tense shows it was no momentary enthusiasm that quickly passed but that it was still the situation as Paul wrote his letter. Surely the apostle's own attitude to his chains must have been largely responsible for these results. If he had become depressed by developments, the effect on others would have been far different. It was Paul's use of the change in his circumstances as a fresh opportunity to spread the Word of God that encouraged the Christians in Rome to do likewise. (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
Paul was filled with joy because his passion was for the gospel. His circumstances didn’t hinder the Gospel message but actually promoted it’s advancement. Not only did God use Paul’s joy through difficulty to impact unbelievers—many had an opportunity to hear the good news that Jesus Christ died to save sinners. But God also used Paul’s joy to embolden other believers. They were encouraged to share the gospel as well.
I want to share with you a wonderful illustration of finding joy and purpose for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of severe difficulty.
Ken Sande in his book, The Peacemaker shares these thoughts about Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. We’re using Ken Sande’s book as a guide to our Adult Sunday School class studies right now.
In 1956 Jim and four other missionaries were murdered when they tried to carry the gospel to the Aucas, an isolated tribe in South America. Elisabeth was deeply grieved by the loss of her husband, and she had to wrestle through many unanswered questions. As this excerpt from her subsequent book reveals, however, she continued to trust in the sovereignty of God:
To the world at large this was a sad waste of five young lives. But God has his plan and purpose in all things. . . . The prayers of the widows themselves are for the Aucas. We look forward to the day when these savages will join us in Christian praise. Plans were promptly formulated for continuing the work of the martyrs.
The widows carried on the work their husbands had begun; three years after the killings, God answered their prayers and began to open Auca hearts to the gospel. Even some of the men who had killed the five missionaries eventually came to Christ. Although Elisabeth praised God for the conversions he brought about, she acknowledged that they were not the sole measure of God's purpose in her husband's death. In 1981 she added an epilogue to her book, which included these words:
The Auca story . . . has pointed to one thing: God is God. If he is God, he is worthy of my worship, and my service. I will find rest nowhere but in his will, and that will is infinitely, immeasurably, unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. God is the God of human history, and he is at work continuously, mysteriously, accomplishing his eternal purposes in us, through us, for us, and in spite of us. … Cause and effect are in God's hands. Is it not the part of faith simply to let them rest there? God is God. I dethrone him in my heart if I demand that he act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice…The one who laid the earth's foundations and settled its dimensions knows where the lines are drawn. He gives all the light we need for trust and obedience.
Elisabeth Elliot has known severe difficulty. Yet she has also seen the hand of God in the midst of that difficulty. What an example her attitude is for us today.
And what an encouragement Paul’s example can be to us today. If we have the same expectation Paul had to magnify Christ in our lives we can experience the same joy Paul did regardless of our circumstances. Our joy will impact unbelievers for the cause of Christ—for the advancement of the Gospel of Christ. Our joy in the midst of difficulty will give us an opportunity to share Christ. Our joy in the midst of difficulty will build up other believers for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do you strive to have the same attitude in your life that we’ve seen in Paul’s today?
Kevin A. Pierpont
1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible Exposition Commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"–Jkt. (Php 1:12). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.