Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Philippians 1:12-14 Devotional

Philippians 1:12-14 Devotional

Philippians 1:12-14. Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

Reflection. Suffering as a Christians is disorientating. For non-Christians suffering is evidence that God is neither all powerful nor loving. Many Christians wrongly believe that suffering is evidence of unfaithfulness or sin. The quickest way to dispel that error is by appealing to both Job’s and Jesus’ suffering, despite their faithfulness, which was ultimately for the glory of God. We see something similar in Paul’s imprisonment, for it had resulted in the gospel advancing (1:12). Paul does not resent his suffering, his “chains for Christ” (1:13), because it had given Paul an opportunity to make much of Christ. Though he was a prisoner of Rome, or Caesar (4:22), he understood that God’s sovereignty meant he was actually imprisoned by God, for Christ, and the advance of the gospel. This truth transforms suffering, from being either proof of God’s impotence or his displeasure, into a means by which God can be glorified.

It seems from 1:14 that at the time of writing, Christians had a better and far more biblical view of suffering than we do today. They drew confidence from Paul’s imprisonment and fearlessly proclaimed the gospel because of it (1:14). They did not wonder how to reconcile God’s sovereignty with the suffering of his apostle, because they knew that God’s sovereignty meant God gives suffering meaning, a purpose, the opportunity to proclaim Christ and advance the gospel.

Tying these few verses together we might say that there are two choices presented to us when we suffer—be it sickness, economic hardship, relational breakdown, or persecution. The first asks: “How does my sovereign God plan to use this for his glory?” The second worries that we must have fallen outside of God’s will or plan. While the former seeks to exalt God in our situation, whatever happens (1:20), the latter wrongly concludes that God would not choose to use my suffering in his purposes. In fact, the second believes to know better than God. Suffering presents us with the choice between growing fearful and finding your confidence in the sovereign “God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (2:13). Therefore how we suffer can make much of the God who is sovereign over everything or rob him of glory through our discontentment and distrust.

Later in Philippians Paul will speak about the peace that comes from God, which surpasses understanding (4:6). This peace is the result of knowing God is near (4:5, 9) and bringing all our anxieties to him in prayer (4:6-7). Therefore we should never make little of suffering, people’s anxieties, or the often crushing experience of our fallen world. But 1:12-14 teaches us that in those moments we must remember God is with us in them, working out his purposes and involving us in the process, even if that process includes suffering. When we say that God is sovereign we mean he is greater than our struggles, disappointments, and defeats. But we must remember that he is at work in them to bring about his glory. Therefore how we respond to our circumstances can either advance the gospel and give confidence to others or lessen the glory of God and make his people afraid and uncertain.

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