By Justin Randolph
Pastor, Zion Hill Baptist Church, Sevierville
Wouldn’t it be great if all the lessons of life we needed to learn could be learned without difficulty? I have often pondered in watching my children grow and learn, as well as in reflecting on my own journey, why we so often have to do things the hard way and why we are not naturally bent to learn things in seasons of comfort and relative convenience. Why does it seem that we must experience adversity in order for some lessons to ever be learned?
In the same way, God often uses adversity to mold us and shape us into the people He has called us to be. Philippians is a prison epistle which means Paul wrote this letter while in chains. Therefore, we must understand that the “prisons” of our life can often provide us with the greatest opportunities and chances for ministry.
When Paul talked of his imprisonment, he failed to mention its various inconveniences or discomforts and instead chose to focus his attention on its impact on the gospel. In Paul’s mind, his imprisonment had actually helped advance the gospel, especially among the Praetorian guards and Roman dignitaries Paul interacted with on a daily basis. Apart from his imprisonment, there would have been no way for him to meet with these people. What should have been a barrier to the gospel was removed due to his chains. He uses the word “furtherance” which is a military term used by engineers who would prepare for an advancing army by removing obstructions from their intended path. Paul saw his imprisonment as a way God used to remove a barrier to the gospel and for that Paul was thankful. Paul’s adversity had actually become a platform for the gospel.
How many times have we seen someone gain notoriety because of an adversity they overcame in life? Perhaps, we are quick to complain about our hardships instead of looking for a way to use them to advance the gospel. It is evident that Paul’s imprisonment had a positive effect on his associates. His bravery in the midst of suffering had emboldened their courage. The witness of the gospel has been bolstered over the years by men and women who bravely faced overwhelming obstacles, fear, and persecution to advance the gospel. It has been said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Persecution is often an impetus to evangelism.
In my own life, I have found meeting and interacting with courageous Christians has encouraged my boldness and desire to share my faith. Courage is in fact contagious. When we step out of our comfort zone, or face down the giants of fear and doubt in our lives, we strengthen others with our resolve.
Helen Keller who suffered an illness leaving her blind and deaf is purported to have said of her adversity: “The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were not dark valleys to traverse.” God uses the troubles and trials of our life to show us His glory, develop our character, and strengthen our soul. It is through this process that we learn to walk with Him more nearly and see Him more clearly. Therefore brothers, let us count it all joy when we face divers temptations.
What is your purpose today? For Paul, his purpose was to live for Christ or to die for gain. He knew what life was all about. Therefore, his present circumstances did not become intolerable for he lived for a greater purpose. Likewise, when you and I know who we are in Christ, and why we are here today, and where we are going when the end does come, we can face each day with confidence because we know our difficulties have purpose and they are only temporary.