By Pastor Paul Sheppard
The apostle Paul begins Philippians 1:12-18 by saying, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has served to advance the gospel.” Why is this important? Because Paul wants his spiritual children in Philippi to be aware that everything is okay even though he has been imprisoned, is in chains, and has palace guards constantly making sure he can’t get away.
Paul wants his spiritual kids to know that his captivity is serving God’s purposes to advance the gospel.
Theologians call Philippians the “Joy Book.” Paul’s heart is filled to capacity with joy when he writes it. This is amazing, considering the trying circumstances of his life. Paul is so upbeat, he sounds like he’s vacationing at the Rome Hilton. But no! He’s locked in a dark room, guarded by Caesar’s bullies. And yet he writes a completely joy-filled letter.
This is the first important principle of keeping the main thing the main thing.
To live a fruitful life in God’s kingdom, be joyful in all circumstances.
Understand that joy isn’t based on happiness. The two are independent. Happiness is cool. If you can get some happiness without going outside of God’s will, get some! You might find happiness for a short season by getting into sin, but in the end it always leads to death. Thankfully, good, clean happiness is a gift from God.
Happiness depends on what happens. Happiness is a good thing, but you can’t base your whole life on it. You get happy when you marry the right person, when your kids are behaving, when the bills are all paid. That’s happy.
But what happens when nobody’s behaving? What happens when you’re hoping to make ends meet, but the ends are so far apart they can’t even see each other? You can’t count on happiness at times like that. But if you’re walking with God, He will give you joy.
Joy is deeper than happiness. When you stay close to the Lord, He’ll give you a joy that doesn’t depend on your environment. You can experience a transcendent joy in circumstances that on the surface don’t make you very happy. That’s what Paul was expressing in the book of Philippians. He was joyful in difficult circumstances.
Just look at Paul. He’s incarcerated, with very little hope of ever seeing freedom again. And yet he is full of joy, because he’s nurturing his relationship with God. He’s trusting in the goodness of God. He is able to say, “What has happened to me has served to advance the gospel. I still have joy.”
This attitude of joy is based on a fundamental principle Paul wrote about in his letter to the church at Rome:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. — Romans 8:28 (KJV)
Notice how this promise is not available to everybody, but to “them that love God.”
Are you a them that love God? Have you put your faith and trust in Jesus who died to save you from your sins? Are you trusting Him day by day to give you everything you need for life and for godliness?
If you love God, this promise is certain. God will work everything that happens to you for good in the end. The beauty of this promise is that what happens to us does not have to be good, for God to work it together for good.
This is a sober reminder for you to make sure that God is the love of your life. Wake up every morning saying, “I love You, Lord, because You first loved me. You have given me grace and mercy that is new every morning. I live in joy, knowing You work all things together for good in the end, to advance the gospel and further Your kingdom.”
Be encouraged by Paul. He was writing to his spiritual children in Philippi because he knew they were concerned about their spiritual dad. In Philippians 4:16, we learn that the Philippians had already sent gifts to Paul, to sustain him through these difficult times. This is an important lesson for us today. When somebody is hurting, give them more than talk. The church at Philippi did that for Paul. They loved on him with encouraging words, heartfelt prayers and material gifts.
When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he had already been in jail for about two years, and he hadn’t even committed a crime. He’s in this mess because some of his people, the Jews, didn’t like him preaching this new gospel. They hated that he’s telling people to follow Jesus whom they crucified. So when he was in Israel, they set out to ambush and kill Paul, but they failed. Next, they told the Romans that Paul was a traitor, an enemy of Rome, and that he was inciting riots and rebellion. None of that was true of course, but it got Paul arrested.
Unfortunately, too many of us have had similar experiences today. We have enemies who spread lies that are intended to ostracize us and put us in bondage. Don’t stoop to their level, because if you trust in God, He will take charge. He will work all things together for good. Your destiny is not in the hands of these people, but in the mighty hands of the Lord. They do not control you. Draw near to God, and He will watch out for you. Your destiny is in God’s hands.
After Paul got arrested, he pulled out his trump card and said, “I am, in fact, not just a Jew. I am a Roman citizen, and as such, I appeal to Caesar.” That got Paul taken to Rome. There he sat for years, awaiting a tedious appeals process, along with every other prisoner who was trying to get a hearing with Caesar.
But it hasn’t brought Paul down. He says, “Even though I’m going through all this mess that was caused by wicked people who made up lies about me, I am still seeing God’s purposes fulfilled. I’m seeing people hear the gospel and get saved. Even the Roman guard is hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for that I am joyful.”
Know this: Paul had every reason to be depressed, disillusioned, discouraged and dejected. But instead, he tells his spiritual kids, “This is serving to advance the gospel.”
If you let Him, God will take your negative circumstances and He will turn them all into positives.
This is an excerpt from a series called “Keeping THE Main Thing the Main Thing” by Pastor Paul Sheppard. You can hear Pastor Paul’s radio show, “Destined For Victory,” weekday mornings at 9 a.m. MST on 94.1 FM or online at www.941thevoice.com. For more information please consult www.PastorPaul.net.