Though Christ was always the focus of Paul’s preaching and writing, joy and rejoicing are the theme of this encouraging epistle. These words appear some fifteen times in four brief chapters. In my view, Philippians is Paul’s most personal epistle written to a church. His love for those good brethren is evident from start to finish. In the more than one hundred verses, there is only one of mild admonishment or rebuke (4:2).
Should I ever be separated from my home congregation and find myself in distress, I pray I could write a letter to my people that would encourage them as this epistle was designed to encourage the good brethren at Philippi.
Despite being in prison chains for the sake of the gospel, Paul implored the brethren not to be discouraged, noting that his current distress had actually “turned out to the furtherance of the gospel” (v 12). More than 25 years ago, I heard Guy Woods’ overview of this book. He emphasized the word “furtherance” and illustrated it as wood cutters who cleared the way for the Roman armies as they moved to conquer new territory. While I could not find that specific military illustration, many of my resources spoke generally of making progress by chopping. This certainly fits the bill.
The first thing Paul said of this furtherance was that it became evident to the whole Praetorian guard that he was no common criminal, but that his imprisonment was on behalf of preaching the gospel of Christ. Moreover, in chapter 4 we see the presence of “saints in Caesar’s household” (v 22). How could this have happened without Paul’s confinement within the walls of the palace?
Additionally, Paul noted that his imprisonment had emboldened most brethren to be confident in preaching the word without fear (v 14). Like the apostles in Acts 4-5, imprisonment and persecution had the exact opposite of its intended effect.
We need to be reminded that our own personal “setbacks” may be a part of God’s plan for growth: our own growth, that of others, and the kingdom. When trouble comes, look for the potential good. Look for the role God wants you to accept. Look for the potential profit for others. Look for the good of the kingdom. Stop focusing on yourself and your own trouble. Let God work!