Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Making It Through Tough Times
Nobody signs up for trouble, do they? Paul did. When Paul, then Saul of Tarsus, got saved, Jesus told him in no uncertain terms that he would suffer for the gospel (Acts 9:16). But rather than being fatalistic and going around moping all the time, Paul dove headlong into the ministry of sharing the gospel among the Gentiles. And yes, he did suffer. Was it fun? Of course not. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Paul?s attitude in difficulty is very instructive for us when we face troubles in this age as a follower of Jesus. It?s all about perspective and purpose.
Remember that Paul is writing to a group of people he feels very connected to. They?re so connected that they?ve become very worried about him. So this letter in part assures them that though on the outside things seem grim, God is definitely in control.
?What happened to me? is contained in Acts 21:17-28:31. It started out as a misunderstanding. Paul went to the Temple in Jerusalem and in order to appease the Jews, by paying the vows of some men who were born Jews but who had become believers. But when the Jews saw Paul at the Temple, they jumped to the conclusion that he had taken Trophimus, a Gentile who had accompanied him to Jerusalem, into the Temple, which was against Jewish law. The ensuing riot was so bad that the Romans had to come and rescue Paul. That rescue turned into arrest and imprisonment.
What looked like failure was all a part of God?s plan and a huge success. While in chains, Paul has the opportunity to present the gospel to highly placed political figures as well as lowly placed guards and seamen. It furthered the gospel. The word ?advance? means: ?pioneer advance? and was a military term of the engineers and others who would go in prior to a battle to prepare the way for the troops. They scoped out supply routes, built bridges, and put equipment in place. Even when Paul came to Philippi it might have seemed a mistake. Paul wanted to go elsewhere (Acts 16:6-10) but God shut the door so he ended up in Philippi, and the gospel was advanced by this pioneer.
Paul felt his chains actually released him to preach (2 Timothy 2:9 ?I suffer for it to the point of being bound like a criminal, but God?s message is not bound.?)
Think about the worst thing that?s ever happened to you. Is it possible that God could use that thing to advance the gospel? Perhaps He has already and you might not even know it.
Paul was chained to a Roman guard 24 hours a day. The shifts changed every six hours. They listened to him pray, they listened to him talk to people, and they listened as he dictated letters to churches. They heard some of the same words we study, and some of them got saved?and then told their buddies.
At the same time, the Roman government was carefully looking into this new thing called ?The Way?. They needed to know if it was just another Jewish sect or something new and possibly dangerous?but the point is that Paul?s case made them consider the doctrines of Christianity.
Paul could not have been in a worse place physically, but he could not have been in a better place for the kingdom of God. Has that ever happened to you? Remember Joseph?s words: Genesis 50:20 ?You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result?the survival of many people.?
What is so cool about this is that everyone knew Paul was in prison for Jesus, and it was having an effect on the guards and others. It didn?t change Paul?s physical situation, but it changed the spiritual and eternal situation for many others. God doesn?t have to get you out of trouble in order for you to be used. Sometimes all that is needed is for others to see you rely on God in a very hard space.
Not only did Paul gain courage to spread the gospel, but it also gave courage to others in Rome to do the same. They felt emboldened to ?speak? the message without fear. It doesn?t mean ?to preach? but to speak in everyday conversation. They could tell stories about Paul and about the gospel of Jesus with their friends and family.
Do you ever share stories about people you know?people who love the Lord but have hard things happen to them? It can be a very effective way of sharing the gospel?more effective in some ways than sharing the four spiritual laws or handing them a tract.
Interestingly, not everyone who was talking about Paul?s imprisonment was doing it just for the gospel, but to further their own agenda.
15 ? 19
The church in Rome was apparently divided. Some wanted to help Paul, others wanted to hurt him. Envy, or jealousy, is one of the basest of fleshly traits. Some were jealous of Paul?s success, and wanted to hurt him (?cause me anxiety?). Perhaps they felt that someone else should be in charge. They both talked about Christ, but apparently some were more interested in furthering their cause, rather than the cause of Christ. The word ?rivalry? (?contention? in the King James) in verse 17 means ?to canvas for office. To get people to support you.?
Some people will use the trials you undergo as a way to make them appear more important in your eyes. ?That Paul, look what happened to him. He talked about Jesus and God allowed him to be arrested.? Just because something bad happens, doesn?t mean God isn?t in it.
(18) Paul was confident that your motivation doesn?t really matter when it comes to the effectiveness of the gospel. If the gospel is going out, people will get saved. In Romans 1:16 Paul talks about the gospel as ?the power of God for salvation.? Notice Paul?s focus on the gospel. No matter what happens, as long as the gospel is going out, it?s okay.
In fact, Paul believed that he would be delivered. As we?ll see in a moment, that deliverance could be his release from prison, or that he would go to be with Christ and be released from this life, but it is deliverance nonetheless. Notice too that the vehicle of the deliverance was from the prayers of the Philippians and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. You have the opportunity to assist the Spirit in the lives of others who are undergoing trials. Knowing God is with you is sometimes all the deliverance you need because you are delivered from the trial?s power to hurt you. Note as well that grammatically, the prayers and the help are linked. You have a part in helping others undergoing persecution by your prayers.
20 ? 26
There is probably no better way for a person to see Christ in you then in a crisis. Paul was torn. He knew that if Rome executed him, he would be freed and go to be with the Lord, which is far preferable. But he also knew that to stay would be to continue to minister to the Philippians and others, representing Jesus (?to live is Christ?). He wanted to stay for their joy and their progress and their confidence. What a great motivation to undergo a trial. Paul felt such a powerful connection to the Philippians that he eschewed escape to heaven in order to stay and help them.
So what can we learn from this?
- Don?t focus on the chains but on the opportunity the chains give you (to reflect the gospel as you rely on Jesus).
- Don?t focus on the intramural debates and on the motivations of others swirling around you, but focus on whether the gospel is going out.
- Don?t focus on the present pain but on the ultimate goal (the Philippians growth)
- Don?t focus on your current circumstances as the only reality (heaven is your destiny, this is just a temporary posting).
Paul practices agape love by choosing what is better for others, even if it means he gets hurt.
There is no difficult circumstance in your life that God cannot use to further the gospel. The question we have to ask ourselves is: what?s more important?being comfortable or being used?
Nobody signs up for trouble, do they? Paul did. Jesus did.
Hebrews 12:2 ?keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God?s throne.?
That word ?despised? means: ?to think little or nothing of?. The pain of the cross didn?t matter to Jesus because of the joy of seeing you with Him forever. When you are in the midst of trial and persecution, picture others coming to faith in Jesus and having their eternal destiny turned around. It makes a huge difference.
Now, you might say, ?what happens if I stay and endure the pain and no one comes to the Lord?? That?s okay too. Caesar Nero didn?t come to Christ though he heard about, and may have actually heard the gospel directly from Paul. Sometimes you sticking with it and letting the gospel come out is not a means of salvation but a means of showing God?s justice. Everyone has the opportunity to come to Christ. Not everyone will.
Remember, when the enemy brings trouble into your life, it is to discourage you and keep you quiet. The last thing he wants is for you to keep sharing your faith. Don?t let him have that satisfaction!