Philippians 1:12-14 - Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the praetorian guard and to everyone else; and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
Circumstances in the life of the growing Christian don't just happen. They are controlled. Humanly speaking, our circumstances may be a blast or a bummer; they may be pleasant or tragic; they may be just or unfair; they may change overnight or stay the same for years. Divinely speaking, our circumstances are controlled as to what, when, where, and why. From our point of view, our circumstances may appear at times to be completely out of control. From God's point of view, our circumstances are never out of control. Romans 8:28 says that for those who love Him, "God causes all things to work together for good." This certainly means control of all circumstances in the lives of growing Christians. "But wait a minute," you say. "If God is in control, then what about all those circumstances affecting me which involve injustice or cruelty or suffering and other forms of evil? What kind of "control" is this? And what about my circumstances when I sin? If God is in control of the circumstances, has He programmed me into sin?" No way! The Bible teaches that when we sin it is our own fault, and we cannot pin the blame on God. (See James 1:13-15.) But even when we sin, it doesn't mean that God has lost control of the situation. He may use the very circumstances in which we failed to teach us a lesson and draw us back to Him. Furthermore, the Bible never teaches that all the circumstances surrounding a Christian are good. Romans 8:28 does not say that all things are good! It says God causes all things to work together for good in the life of a Christian. Many circumstances affecting the Christian are anything but good. Your circumstances right now may be very bad. In fact, the Bible teaches us that circumstances touching a Christian can be quite evil - and even manipulated by Satan himself! Notice two points about circumstances from the book of Job. First we see that although God permitted "evil circumstances" to strike Job, God was not the source of evil. (See also James 1:16-17 in this connection. Notice that only good things come from God and that we are deceived if we don't believe this.) Secondly, we see that God never "lost control" of Job's circumstances, but rather used them (evil and all) for His own sovereign purposes. He caused them to "work together for good" in Job's life. Read the rest of Job and see how God used these circumstances as a test of Job's faith, and see the final results in the last chapter of Job. So God is in control of all our circumstances. Although we are free to commit sin, and in spite of Satan's power (limited power--it's like he's on a leash temporarily, awaiting final judgment), God is still in control of our circumstances. Things are never out of control! If ever there was a time when circumstances seemed to be out of control, it was during the final week of the life of our Lord. Consider the unfair trial of the Man who was completely innocent. Think of the physical abuse of the One who had harmed no one. Remember the cruel and untimely death of the Person who was so involved in helping mankind. Out of control? No, in control from start to finish! Of all the Old Testament prophecies about the final week, not a single prediction was missed or incomplete! Out of these "tragic" circumstances God gave us the greatest demonstration of His love and secured our eternal salvation. Now if God so over-ruled and controlled these seemingly chaotic circumstances, we can be sure that circumstances in our lives are not out of control. We can "know that God causes all things to work together for good" in the lives of growing Christians. In Philippians 1:12-17 we have a striking example of how God caused some "unfortunate" circumstances in the life of the apostle Paul to work together for good. When Paul wrote Philippians, he was waiting for his trial before Caesar in Rome. The possibility of death by the Roman sword was a reality he had to face each day. Pretty heavy circumstances! Already Paul had spent about two "wasted" years in prison in Palestine while the establishment played politics with his case. It seemed that his circumstances were out of control. Finally, Paul had appealed to Caesar, and so he was brought to Rome to wait for his case to come up before the highest court in the Empire. While Paul waited, he was held under house arrest. This meant that he was not thrown into a dungeon, but was kept under arrest in his own rented house. (See Acts 28:30-31.) However, it was still imprisonment (Philippians 1:13) because a Roman soldier was always kept there on guard. In fact, Paul and the guard were chained together at all times. Because the escape of a Roman prisoner would cost the life of the Roman guard, there was no bail system in those days. The chain was always there! Now the chain had several feet in length and allowed the prisoner a little movement, but think of the inconvenience and annoyance of such circumstances. Every word Paul spoke was monitored. Every curse and obscene remark of the Roman soldiers had to be tolerated by Paul. He could not walk away. He had no privacy for his personal needs. The chain was always there. How could God allow such circumstances? For the guards it was only so many hours of duty, and then they were free, but for Paul, it was the same hard circumstance day after day. What possible good could come out of this situation? Was God still in control? There was one further circumstance in Paul's life at this time which was hard to handle--maybe the hardest of all. From Philippians 1:15-17 we learn that some other Christians in Rome who sometimes disagreed with Paul were taking advantage of the situation. Because of their jealousy of the apostle, they were bad-mouthing Paul and proclaiming the Christian message to gain a prominent position for themselves in the Christian fellowship. If ever there was a Christian who had a legitimate right to complain about his circumstances, it was Paul. Cut off from a very successful and fruitful ministry; shut up in a house and constantly watched; put down by the very brothers and sisters he was trying to serve. Can you identify with Paul a little at this point? Yet Paul never complained about his circumstances. In fact, he was able to rise above them and rejoice in them. (See Philippians 1:8 and 3:17.) Why? Because he knew that God was causing these circumstances to work together for good. Paul elaborates on some of the good results from his "bad circumstances" in Philippians 1:12-14. First there was the greater progress of the gospel (v12). All the imperial guards had heard about Christ (v13). It was impossible to be chained to the apostle Paul and not hear the good news about Jesus! You can imagine how word of their unique prisoner and his cause quickly circulated within the ranks of the soldiers--and filtered out to everyone else (v13). Apparently anyone who was interested or curious was allowed to come and visit Paul. (See Acts 28:30-31.) Soon the good news was even being heard and believed by servants (and maybe officials) in Caesar's household (Philippians 4:22). God was using Paul's "regrettable circumstances" to penetrate barriers which, up until now, had seemed impossible. Think of it; the gospel spreading to the heart of the Roman Empire because Paul's rights and freedom had been taken away. God was in control of these contrary circumstances. Is it possible that God has permitted you to be placed in a dorm or class or a job or a neighborhood or a relationship or a hospital bed which is not exactly to your liking? Maybe this is the way God has chosen to reach someone "special" with the love and good news of Jesus Christ. You've been chosen because no one else could handle the particular situation! Another good result was the greater courage of most of the Christians to spread the Word of God (v14). It took quite a lot of guts to preach Jesus Christ in pagan Rome. It was much easier to be a "secret Christian" than to risk your life for what you believed. But the Christians in Rome were encouraged by Paul's circumstances. If Paul could take so much abuse for the cause of Christ, they could certainly take a little heat too! Even the Christians who were jealous of Paul were at least made bold enough to get out and proclaim Christ, and for this Paul rejoiced (v18). What an amazing working together of circumstances for good! Because Paul's freedom was restricted and his rights taken away, Christians were encouraged to carry on the work boldly. Is it possible that God has allowed some of your freedom to be restricted and some of your rights to be yanked away from you? Maybe because of the way you handle these limitations, other growing Christians will be encouraged to get turned on and carry on the work of the Lord. God has chosen you to be the example so He can multiply the good results. God caused all kinds of good things to come out of Paul's unfavorable circumstances. During this imprisonment Paul had more time to write, and four books of the Bible were written: Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. In the same way, our God is working together all our circumstances in accordance with His good purposes. Don't be discouraged! The Lord is in complete control!