“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” – Philippians 1:12
Because the British monarch didn’t approve of his maverick preaching style, the 17th-century evangelist John Bunyan was thrown in jail. But Bunyan’s preaching remained unfettered. He began to preach in the prison courtyard to an audience of dozens of prisoners and hundreds of local villagers who listened from outside the jail walls. Frustrated by his ever-growing popularity, Bunyan’s accusers placed him in an inner cell where no one could hear him preach. But there in that inner cell Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress—the Christian classic that has pointed tens of millions of people to Christ.
Was there a silver lining within the dark cloud of John Bunyan’s imprisonment? Without a doubt …yes! And the same can be said of any Christian who is walking in loving obedience to Christ’s commands. Because God is always working for the good of Christ’s followers and for His glory, there is always a silver lining in the dark clouds of life. Regardless of whether the dark cloud is labeled cancer, bankruptcy, divorce or religious persecution—there is always a silver lining in our trials and suffering. And that’s one of the reasons why we can choose joy despite our circumstances.
By all appearances, when Paul wrote the Book of Philippians he was in a rotten situation. About two years earlier, while in Jerusalem, he had been falsely accused of a serious crime and arrested. Then he barely escaped an assassination attempt during a routine prison transport. On his way to face trial in Rome, he almost drowned in a brutal shipwreck. And as he wrote to the Philippians, he was enduring a two-year incarceration that involved being shackled night and day to a Roman soldier.
No one would have faulted Paul for being down in the dumps. No one could have blamed him had he felt discouraged, anxious, angry, bitter or all the above. After all, most of us would have experienced those negative feelings had we been in Paul’s shoes. Surprisingly, however, we discover in Philippians 1:12-19 that Paul was on Cloud Nine. He was absolutely thrilled that his trials and imprisonment had advanced the gospel. Within these verses he highlights three silver linings in the midst of his dark cloud of suffering.
Silver Lining #1: Being chained night and day to the Roman Caesar’s elite soldiers gave Paul multiple opportunities to share Jesus with those who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of him. It seems clear that many high-ranking soldiers and members of Caesar’s household became Christians because of Paul’s imprisonment. Therefore, from Paul’s perspective, he wasn’t chained to Roman soldiers. The Roman soldiers were chained to him. They were a captive audience to hear the life-changing message of Christ’s salvation.
But Paul also rejoiced because of Silver Lining #2: His incarceration emboldened many Christians to preach Christ fearlessly. These Christians must have thought to themselves, “Hey! If Paul can go to jail for Christ, certainly I can endure a little criticism for Christ. And if Paul can lead people to Christ while being shackled to a Roman soldier, certainly I should be able to lead people to Christ while being unshackled.” So, as a result of Paul’s imprisonment, many Christians were invigorated to share the gospel with hundreds—likely thousands—of different people. And this being the case, Paul writes in verse 18: “Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”
And Silver Lining #3 is called out in verse 19: Paul’s imprisonment paved the way for his deliverance. Whether Paul was referring to his impending release from prison or to his eternal deliverance in heaven, we can’t be certain. Perhaps he had both in mind. But one way or another, Paul’s suffering paved the way for him to be set free. The gospel of peace had been lived out in plain view of Caesar’s soldiers. Every day Paul offered ample evidence that he posed no physical or political threat to the Caesar or the nation he led. And the transformative power of the gospel was in plain view for all to see.
There’s no doubt: While most of us would have been several months into our personal pity party, Paul was celebrating a much different kind of party. He was celebrating the awe-inspiring work of God in the midst of his troubles. He was acknowledging the truth that ran much deeper than his pain: “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Paul was rejoicing in the fact that—as long as he remained faithful and obedient to Christ—God was seeing to it that He Himself was glorified through Paul’s life, through Paul’s suffering and through Paul’s death. Nothing was wasted. Everything in Paul’s life was good and useful when in the hands of the Master.
Which led Paul to exclaim his now-famous words in verse 21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” From Paul’s silver-lining perspective, if God saw fit to keep him alive, he would continue living for Christ. Or if God saw fit to subject Paul to hardship and death, he would gladly bear the pain before leaving this life to be with Christ in heaven. Why? Because as Paul sees it, it’s all about Jesus and His glory. And right there is one of the precious secrets to lasting joy. Whether you live, suffer or die, do all for the glory of God.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com and join us for worship Sunday at 10 am.