Problems with Purpose

Philippians 1:13-14 “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

If we are going to trust God and embrace the life he has given us, problems and all, it helps to know it serves some purpose. I can’t say that the Lord always tips his hand and shows us the specific good purpose for every unhappiness you or I have. Scripture proposes a number of possibilities. But the promise of Jesus and of his word is that God’s good purposes are always lying behind the problems he permits.

Paul saw at least two good purposes behind his imprisonment in Rome. Both of them had to do with the Gospel’s progress. Through his imprisonment, others could see Christ. “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” It’s not that Paul had a chance to speak to all these people personally. But as his case became known, the reason this prisoner was in Rome became known to more and more people. Maybe they didn’t know the whole gospel yet, but the name of Christ, and the difference he made in one man’s life, was becoming clear. That paved the way for more mission work as others began to see Christ in Paul’s circumstances.

Can our problems have a similar purpose? You don’t know Marshall Shelley, but almost thirty years ago his wife gave birth to a little girl with a severely underdeveloped brain. As a result, this little girl developed frequent seizures, was unable to swallow, never really made use of her limbs or senses, and lived only two years. Mr. Shelley asked the question, “Could a sightless, wordless, helpless infant ever be a successful human being? If success is fulfilling God’s purpose, I consider Mandy (his little girl) wildly successful.” (Christianity Today, April 1993).

Why? During her short life in the hospital, her silent condition, and the faithful Christian reaction of her parents, brought Christ to the attention of many people. Friends in the neighborhood, at school, and even strangers in the grocery store would ask about her. Very quickly conversations about her medical condition turned to deeper questions about God and his purposes. At least three different hospital employees discovered or renewed a relationship with Christ as a direct result of their interaction with the family. Do my problems have any connection the Gospel’s progress? They do, when they help others to see Christ as a result.

They might even inspire brothers and sisters in the faith to speak about him! “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

You might think Paul’s chains would discourage other Christians from speaking up about their faith. That is certainly what the enemies of Christianity have in mind when they persecute us. But threats, violence, and intimidation often have the opposite effect on the Gospel’s progress. Hardship has a way of weeding out the pretenders and the uncommitted. Bravery in one person inspires bravery in others.

Think about it. You might be entertained by “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” (Okay, I am dating myself). But the stories that inspire us, the people that move us to try harder and do better, aren’t the stories of people who had it easy. It is those who had it rough, who had all the odds stacked against them, who fought and struggled against the obstacles and overcame them, or died trying.

So Paul’s chains were inspiring others. “If Paul is willing to sit in prison instead of keeping his mouth shut about Christ, I can speak about my Savior a little more fearlessly, too.” How about us? Can we be inspired by his courage? Can the godly, faithful, courageous way in which we bear our own burdens and carry our own crosses inspire our Christian brothers and sisters not only to see Christ at work in our lives, but also to speak about him in their own? When I hear missionaries telling about the dangers they have faced, it doesn’t make me clam up. It makes me want to speak up! And we can do so in the relative safety of the United States.

In the same way, maybe our own problems can serve the Gospel’s progress and move others to live and speak their faith more fearlessly, too.

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