At the time that the Apostle Paul wrote the Philippian letter, he was imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did not have the freedom to visit new places to spread the gospel. He could not go back to existing churches to strengthen them and help them grow their congregations. He was imprisoned in Rome. The last time he had journeyed to Jerusalem, he had been warned about what would happen. Acts 21:10-13 “And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’’ Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” What was prophesized about Paul came true and he was imprisoned after he came to Jerusalem; eventually he was taken to Rome as a prisoner.
From Rome, Paul wrote the following to the Philippian church. Philippians 1:12-14 “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” Paul could see that the “bad” that happened to him was really good for the spread of the gospel. People in the center of the Roman government heard the gospel. Other preachers were not afraid to preach the gospel; instead, they were emboldened to preach the gospel because Paul had shown them the way. What looked bad from the outset was really for the good.
This is often the way that it is with God and His workings on earth. God’s son Jesus was unjustly crucified upon the cross of Calvary. The disciples who watched Jesus on the cross were devastated by what was happening to Him. As Christians, we understand that His crucifixion is the means by which we have the forgiveness of our sins. His death and resurrection assure us of the hope of our own resurrection. What looked bad from the outset was really for the good. It was the fulfillment of God’s plan.
There is much turmoil in the world today. There are wars in various places. Innocent people are being killed by gunmen in our countries. Drug lords and other criminals are also becoming more violent. Economic hardship and governmental collapse are forecast by many. There is much evilness and immorality. Pandemics have spread around the world. The environment is growing more polluted. There is climate change with floods, droughts, earthquakes and other natural disasters. The future does not look good but promises more hardship and violence and pollution and wickedness. Should Christians be afraid? NO! I am convinced that what looks bad will actually turn out for the furtherance of the gospel. History shows that when times get rough, people turn to the Lord. The book of Judges in the Bible tells us how the Israelite nation repeatedly forsook God; when they did, hardships came upon them. Because of the hardships, they called out to God and turned back to Him and He sent judges to rescue them. God wants people to repent and turn to Him, so He allows hardships to come.
This same principle works in individual lives. When a person doesn’t follow God’s principles, the results are usually problems and hardships. The consequences of sin can become so bad in a person’s life that he may decide to turn to God. He may be willing to repent of his sins and obey Jesus Christ. Sins such as adultery, alcohol and drug abuse, dishonesty, and stealing from an employer can result in terrible consequences that may motivate a person to turn to God. The Jews in Jesus’ time killed the Christ by asking Pilate that He be crucified. On the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter convinced the Jews of the terrible thing that they had done. Acts 2:37-39 “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’” These Jews realized the terrible thing that they had done by asking for the death of Jesus the Messiah. When confronted with the evil they had done, many were willing to repent and be baptized.
Hard times in people’s lives can turn them back to God. That is what you should want. You should want your country, your friends, your neighbors and your family members to repent and turn in obedience to God. None of us want hard times from a selfish perspective. But if hard times turn people back to God, the result may be for the best. You and I need to be ready to use hard times to proclaim the gospel and repentance to those who are open to hear it.
Difficulties should cause us to turn to the Lord for strength and to trust Him. The apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh. He said in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul’s difficulties made him depend for strength upon the power of Christ. God wants us to trust in Him and not to trust in ourselves. In difficult times, we come to realize that our strength must come from Him.
I encourage you not to be discouraged by difficult times in your life and in what is happening in the world around you. Pray that God will use difficult times for the furtherance of the gospel. Draw closer to Him.