I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the Christians here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah” (Phil 1:12-14).
Thankfully, we will probably never be locked in the slammer for being a Christian. Yet, we will all face hardships and opposition of various kinds if we are bold, revolutionary followers of Jesus in a post-Christian culture of skeptics and non-believers. In high school biology class you may be mocked for your belief in an intelligent Creator and your reluctance to accept all of Darwin’s conclusions. You may be “locked inside” a Christian stereotype and quickly labeled things you aren’t — narrow minded, arrogant, judgmental, naïve, intolerant, and so on. The Enemy will surely tempt you with his full arsenal of tricks and seductive schemes. The daily uphill struggle of trying to live for God and Eternity in a world living for oneself and the moment will test the genuineness of your faith. And, or course, natural calamities and hardships, sickness and disease eventually get us all, attempting to crush our spirit and faith in God.
As today’s passage reveals, the Apostle Paul managed to turn every desperate situation, every incidence of opposition, every personal weakness into an opportunity for trusting in the surpassing strength and power of God. As he wrote elsewhere, “I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).
The result? The very thing that had the potential to hold him back “had the opposite of its intended effect” (v. 12). Paul’s sharing of the gospel only grew more effective as people around him noticed his strong faith and hope despite his being imprisoned for his beliefs. Other Christians around Paul grew stronger in their faith as well as they imitated Paul’s enduring trust in the God who is bigger than our circumstances.
Make no mistake, Christian: Our greatest witness for Christ is how we handle hardships, suffering and opposition. Our worst moments can be our greatest opportunity to point others to God. People take notice of how Christians handle hardships and opposition. Let us therefore imitate Paul and take hold of the God who first took hold of us, showing others that
“We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us” (2 Cor 4:7).