I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
The Apostle Paul is imprisoned. He was probably already in Rome though some scholars suggest that he was still in Ephesus when this letter was written. While Paul had deliberately, and willingly, used his Roman citizenship to achieve a transfer to the heart of the Roman Empire, we can be sure that his fellow Christian leaders and followers were distressed and disturbed that he was in prison and would, in all likelihood, be condemned to death; for them this was bad news.
Paul assures them that what had happened had actually helped to spread the Gospel; as he had written to the Romans (8:28) “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” We can accept this in theory, but how easy is it to accept it in practice?
Circumstances, for example in health, relationships and life opportunities, for others and for ourselves, can turn out very differently from our hopes and expectations.
How do we respond when this happens? Even if we feel able to move on ourselves in the face of such disappointments and worse, it is so hard for sensitive people to accept that the suffering of others is “working together for good.”
But Paul found that the example he gave and the opportunity to witness given to him in prison could be viewed positively and actually increased the confidence of his fellow Christians.
So, while not being insensitive to the problems and suffering of others, let us pray that God will give us the insight and strength to use whatever setbacks befall us as opportunities to witness to our faith and confidence in God’s love and power.
Through all the changing scenes of life,
in trouble and in joy,
the praises of my God shall still
my heart end tongue employ.
Of his deliverance I will boast,
till all that are distressed
from mine example comfort take,
and soothe their griefs to rest.
N Tate and N Brady, from Psalm 34
The Rev’d Julian Macro, retired URC Minister, Member of Verwood URC
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