For some, the idea of a good time is accomplishing some tremendous feat of great struggle or even physical pain – think extreme athlete or marathon runner. Truth is, most of us enjoy a good challenge and the sense of achievement it produces. It’s not the pain we enjoy, it’s the result we cherish; the fitness, the confidence, the beautiful view from a mountain top. But in all these examples, the pain endured and the difficulty of the endeavor is all planned and essentially under our control. But what about pain we didn’t ask for, or struggles that don’t have a mileage marker end in sight? If you’re like me, I say, “NO THANK YOU,” to that kind of suffering.

In this passage, Paul’s suffering in prison is hardly of his own desire or initiative. Paul would much rather be leading churches and proclaiming the gospel to anyone who has ears to hear. So why does God allow such a successful church planter and apostle to be sidelined in prison? Theories abound on that question, I’ll wait until eternity for the answer. But in the meantime, there are powerful lessons for us to consider on this topic. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it is abundantly clear Paul is refusing to let his present control of the situation, or lack thereof, deter him from maintaining a joyful attitude and curiosity about how God will use his “chains.” Paul’s imprisonment seems humanly disastrous to the advancement of the gospel and bringing lost people into the health and healing of a loving Christian community. We gain a glimpse into Paul’s perspective through verse 14. Here Paul delights in the increasing fearless confidence of believers to share the gospel because of his chains. Naturally, we would assume that Paul’s imprisonment would deter gospel proclamation, that’s exactly why Rome put Paul in chains. But just the opposite is taking place! More people are boldly stepping out in faith and sharing the gospel precisely because of Paul’s chains. God gave Paul eyes to see the good happening through his physical suffering.

I know a young man who desired to be a pastor. Early in his adolescence he lost the function of his legs and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. People encouraged him to pursue an academic or pulpit ministry, but this young man wanted to work with youth. Many skeptics felt he was setting himself up for further disappointment because he can’t participate in the kinds of physical activities most youth pastors use to build relationships with students. To many of his early critics’ amazement, he has one of the most successful youth ministries today because of his limitations. His suffering gives him unique access to building relationships with students – while their pain and insecurities may be invisible, their youth pastor’s suffering is undeniable. Youth flock to him because of his chains and he proclaims the gospel fearlessly to a population of students who long for joy that surpasses physical capability or beauty.

May God grant you the eyes to see the work that God is doing in you and through you precisely because of your chains.

Jaisen Fuson

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