Are you experiencing events in your life that you just don’t like? I’m sure you do. We all do. But rather than becoming discouraged, complaining about “life,” focusing on the seemingly “negative,” the apostle Paul is approaching this subject in quite a different way. He was most certainly familiar with suffering, trials, mischiefs, headache, set-backs and tremendous problems. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, persecuted, maligned, arrested, tried, released and subsequently imprisoned again. If there was any man who could have given up in despair, it would have been him. But did he?
While imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote his famous letter to the Philippians. Philippi had been the first European city visited by Paul. He arrived there on the Feast of Pentecost, following the direction of a vision, which he had received in Troas (Acts 16:9-13). Paul and Silas were beaten, arrested and imprisoned in Philippi, but then freed through an earthquake (Acts 16:16-40). The beginnings of that church were very small, but it seems that it grew and that the Philippian brethren were very kind to Paul. And Paul did not forget that.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul thanked and encouraged them. He spoke about his imprisonment as an event which helped, not hindered, the preaching of the gospel. Even though some might have described his condition in a very negative way, Paul viewed it quite differently.
When reading Philippians 1:12, one is amazed to see how strongly Paul was willing to relate the positive aspects of his situation. However, in the New King James Bible, the rendering of his statement is awkward and, frankly, quite misleading. There, we read: “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel…” This could give the impression that Paul believed that “the things” in his life just occurred because of “happenstance”—that they were the result of “blind fate” or time and chance.
This is, however, not the meaning of the verse. The words “which happened” are not in the original Greek. They were, unfortunately and incorrectly, added by the translator. Notice how other translations render this verse.
The New American Bible says: “I want you to know, brothers, that my situation has turned out rather to advance the gospel…”
The New Jerusalem Bible says: “Now I want you to realize, brothers, that the circumstances of my present life are helping rather than hindering the advance of the gospel…”
Paul knew that the “things” in his life did not just “happen” because of “time and chance.” Are you unsure about why you are going through certain events or discouraging problems in your life? Do you think they just might “occur” because you “happen” to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that God has nothing to do with them? If so, think again. And while you are at it, please read chapter 4 in our free booklet, “Are You Predestined to Be Saved?”
Paul did not believe that he was a helpless victim of blind fate, and if you are a converted Christian, you should not believe it either. Paul knew that God was always there to watch, guide and direct him; to encourage him; and yes, even to chastise and punish him, when necessary. Paul would later write in his letter to the Hebrews that God chastises every child whom He wants to receive into His Kingdom (Hebrews 12:5-11). Paul knew that he was no exception. He was convinced that his occasional chastisement, even though seemingly painful at the moment, was a positive, and not a negative event.
Paul was of the firm conviction that God was watching him at all times, and that nothing would just “happen” to him without or against God’s Will. He knew Christ’s words that no sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father’s Will, and that the very hairs of our head are all numbered (Matthew 10:29-30).
I would like to quote from an older commentary—“Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible.” Admittedly, it is written in a language which might sound a little bit strange to our modern ears, but I believe that you will appreciate the gist of his comments:
“[Paul’s] sufferings on account of the Gospel, which though said to happen, were not things of chance but of appointment; for as all the sufferings of Christ the head, were by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, so are those of all the members of his [spiritual] body, and of his ministers who are appointed to these things, and they for them; of which Christ has given previous notice, so that they do not come unexpected, but are looked for by them; nor are they over distressed with them, being supported with the presence, Spirit, grace, and favour of God; hence they can rejoice in them, in hope of the glory of God…”
In addition, please also note these insightful statements in “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary”:
“The apostle was a prisoner at Rome; and… he shows the wisdom and goodness of God in his sufferings. These things made him known, where he would never have otherwise been known; and led some to inquire after the gospel… Since our troubles may tend to the good of many, we ought to rejoice… Let us leave it to Christ, which way he will make us serviceable to his glory, whether by labour or suffering, by diligence or patience, by living to his honour in working for him, or dying to his honour in suffering for him.”
Paul saw God’s directing and sustaining hand in his life. Even though (or because) he was a prisoner, he was able to help in the furtherance of the truth of the gospel. His condition as a Roman captive enabled him to fulfill his commission, which Christ had given to him (Acts 20:24)–to open the eyes of the Gentiles and to turn them from darkness to light (Acts 26:12-18).
How about you? If God called you into His spiritual body, He has given you the same charge of living the truth of the gospel–of standing up for and, if appropriate, “defending” it (compare 2 Peter 3:15). When things go “wrong,” don’t blame time and chance or “life.” This would be a most serious mistake. Rather, consider whether the wrong things may be just right for you. Stay positive. Be thankful that God IS in charge—and that He has promised that He will be with you, always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).