When Christians experience trials and setbacks, we’re often told by other believers that our bad experiences are happening for a reason—that when we look back at our difficulties with the benefit of hindsight, we’ll see how God was working everything out according to His perfect plan. Those are good and Biblical words of encouragement, but they’re not always easy to believe when you’re stressed out and weighed down by life’s problems.
The apostle Paul knew about life’s problems—imprisoned in Rome while false preachers stirred up troubles for him, he could have found plenty of excuses for despair. But in his letter to the church in Philippi, he instead models the Christian attitude toward setbacks and persecution.
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is in the cause of Christ. Most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the message fearlessly. To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice because I know this will lead to my deliverance through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and be with Christ —which is far better — but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that, because of me, your confidence may grow in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel, not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your deliverance —and this is from God. For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have. — Philippians 1:12-30 (HCSB)
Questions to Ponder
- What do you think it means to “preach Christ out of envy and strife?” Have you ever observed this in your own community?
- How is living a selfless, Christ-like life a “sign of destruction” for the enemies of the Gospel?
- Can you relate to Paul’s desire to “depart and be with Christ”? Is this a suicidal death wish, or something different? Why does Paul decide to “remain and continue” with his fellow believers?