By David Faust
The apostle Paul wrote, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). To be honest, a part of me wants to respond, “C’mon, Paul. Are you serious? ‘All things’? Even migraines, flat tires, unemployment, and the flu? Even tornadoes and tsunamis, car accidents and cancer? You’ve got to be kidding.”
But Paul didn’t say that all things are good. He was a realist. He suffered more hardships than most of us can imagine, including a stubborn thorn in the flesh that didn’t go away after repeated prayer. Evil is real, and bad things happen every day. However, Paul realized that in all circumstances—even painful and frustrating ones—the Lord works “for the good of those who love him.”
The letter to the church in Philippi is one of Paul’s prison letters, written while he was incarcerated in Rome. Paul wasn’t a criminal; he was a preacher—chained up because he wouldn’t shut up. He had done nothing to deserve imprisonment. Yet Paul observed, “What has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
How could a chained preacher reach anyone for Christ? He spoke to those who guarded him. “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (v. 13). Caesar’s Praetorian Guard contained the cream of the crop in the Roman army, comparable to our Navy Seals or Green Berets. In those days a guard would clamp a short chain onto the prisoner’s wrist and then fasten the other end to his own wrist so the prisoner and the guard were handcuffed together. Fastened to the apostle Paul for lengthy shifts, without realizing it these soldiers had enrolled in Bible college! He had hours to talk to them about Christ.
Other believers were encouraged when they heard what was happening to Paul. “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” (v. 14). Paul’s faithfulness in hard times inspired others to trust God too.
Not everyone was kind to Paul, however. Like today, in the first century some Christians had mixed motives. “Some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill” (v. 15). Some “preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (v. 17). This wasn’t a doctrinal problem; these individuals preached Christ. The problem was their bad attitude.
But Paul didn’t wallow in bitterness or hold a grudge. He focused on God’s work and said, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (v. 18).
God works for our good even when we die. If Paul continued to live longer, it would “mean fruitful labor for me,” he said (v. 22). If he died, he would “depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (v. 23). Either way, he couldn’t lose. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (v. 21).
Later Paul told the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). Always? Yes. Because no matter what happens, God is working for our good.
1. In the past how have you seen God bring good out of difficult situations?
2. How is God working for good in your present circumstances?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for June 22, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Kings 4, 5
2 Kings 6, 7
2 Kings 8, 9
2 Kings 10, 11
2 Kings 12, 13
2 Kings 14, 15