And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God's message without fear. – Philippians 1:14 NLT
So much of life is about perspective. How we view the circumstances of life will strongly influence the way in which we react to them. And I'm not just talking about having a positive mental attitude. For Christians, there is a need for us to understand and view the world in which we live from a God-centered perspective. We must learn to see life from His vantage point and not our own. As human beings, we have a very limited perspective that tends to be short-sighted and happiness-focused. We struggle seeing and appreciating the longer-term benefits of what we may be going through at a given moment. Instead, we focus on the here-and-now discomfort or pain we may be experiencing at the time. And because we long to be happy and view happiness as some kind of inalienable right, anything that puts a crimp on our happiness quotient is seen as undesirable and, ultimately, unhelpful.
But Paul provides us with a different perspective. He paints a starkly different image of what it means to be a Christian in a fallen world. Paul was writing his letter to the Philippian believers while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting his trial. He gives us the background of his situation in Acts 28. "My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain" (Acts 28:17-20 NLT). Paul is under arrest, not for breaking any civil law, but for preaching the Good News. His efforts to spread the message of salvation made available through Jesus Christ have caused him to end up in chains, under the constant eye of a Roman guard. But rather than respond in bitterness or anger over his circumstances, Paul responds with joy. He wrote, "everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News" (Philippians 1:12 NLT). Instead of bemoaning his lot in life, Paul took full advantage of it, writing many of his letters while under house arrest. He made the most of his time while in Rome, continuing to share the Gospel and holding meetings with the believers there in order to encourage them in their faith. Paul viewed his imprisonment as a blessing, a God-ordained opportunity to spread the Gospel in a nation that desperately needed to hear it. "For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ" (Philippians 1:13 NLT). I have no doubt in my mind that Paul was sharing the Gospel with each Roman guard assigned to keep an eye on him. They were HIS captive audience.
The book of Acts tells us, "For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!" (Acts 28:30-31 NLT). Paul may have been confined, but he was far from constrained. He was bold in his witness for Christ, taking full advantage of his circumstances, and viewing them as God-ordained opportunities to trust and grow. Which is why he could write, "I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die" (Philippians 1:20b NLT). Paul had no idea when his trial would take place or what the outcome might be. He knew that death was a real possibility. But he didn't fear death, because he had full confidence in where he was going. Paul's whole motivation for life was to serve God and to spread the Gospel. He was driven to help others come to know Christ and to show them how to live lives that honored Christ. He knew that God had more for him to do and that it would be better for him to live so that he could continue his work. So he trusted that God would protect him and provide him with more opportunities to share the Gospel, whether there in Rome under house arrest, or as a result of eventually being acquitted of his crimes and set free. He told the Philippians, "I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith" (Philippians 1:25 NLT).
Paul had a refreshingly different outlook on life and the ability to see his circumstances from a God-focused perspective. As far as he was concerned, his life was in God's hands. His circumstances were God-ordained. Like Joseph, Paul could have said to those Jews who had arranged for his arrest, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people" (Genesis 50:20 NLT). Paul was confident that his life was in God's hands, regardless of his circumstances. He was right where God wanted him to be, so he was going to take full advantage of each and every opportunity – eagerly and joyfully.
Father, help me to have the perspective that Paul had. Too often I allow the circumstances surrounding my life to dictate my outlook on life. I want to see You first. I want to trust You more. Give me the capacity to view my life from Your vantage point. You are in control. You love me. And You can and will use each and every circumstance of my life to make me increasingly more like Your Son. Help me to see them as opportunities to watch You work. Amen.