Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. He suffered greatly for the cause of the gospel yet we find him in good spirits. He comforted the brethren by assuring them that God has turned his imprisonment into something positive. Here we see Romans 8:28 in action.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).”
Instead of hiding in fear and discouragement, many Christians were emboldened to preach the gospel because of Paul’s imprisonment.
“But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (Php 1:12-14).”
Paul was well aware that not everyone harboured a pure motive. Some had ulterior motives for preaching. Nonetheless he rejoiced that many were doing so out of good will and love.
“Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel (Php 1:15-17).”
Suffering for the sake of Christ and His gospel can turn us in two opposite directions. One is to display greater fervency and courage as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to His protégé, Timothy:
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully (2Ti 2:3-5).”
After the murder of Stephen, Christians found themselves the targets of persecution by Jews zealous for the traditions of their fathers.
“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles…As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison (Act 8:1, 3).”
The early church demonstrated this spirit of resilience and courage under persecution. They did the prudent thing and left Jerusalem yet without renouncing the faith. Instead, they carried the gospel elsewhere.
“Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word (Act 8:4).”
The other direction suffering for Christ could turn us is discouragement, indifference and, eventually, giving up on the faith. We cannot possibly count or even guess how many have lost heart and denied Christ. What we do know is we do not want to be among that number.
How did Paul and the early Christians do it? Why did they maintain their faith in the face of severe persecution? The key is revealed by the apostle in his first inspired epistle to Timothy.
“For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day (2Ti 1:12).”
“I know whom I have believed.” Paul knew the Lord; he was in a right relationship with the Saviour. This relationship can be maintained only by obedience. As we are aware, in order to obey we must know what to obey.
The only way to know what to obey is to pay careful attention to the word through disciplined study and rightly handling the word of God. Many students of the Bible, though they gain in knowledge yet they do not take the step of obedience.
“…persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Paul placed his complete trust and confidence in the Lord, with whom he was in a right relationship. Come what may, the trusting, obedient Christian will endure hardship for the Lord’s sake.
On the great day when the church is gathered unto the Lord, we shall rejoice with an everlasting joy. But first, we must endure.