Paul wanted to go to Rome as a preacher, but instead he went as a prisoner! He could have written a long letter about that experience alone. Instead, he sums it all up as “the things which happened to me” (1:12). The record of these things is given in Acts 21:17–28:31 and it begins with Paul’s illegal arrest in the temple in Jerusalem.
To many, all of this would have looked like failure, but not to this man with a “single mind,” concerned with sharing Christ and the Gospel. Paul did not find his joy in ideal circumstances; he found his joy in winning others to Christ. And if his circumstances promoted the furtherance or advance of the Gospel, that was all that mattered! Instead of finding himself confined as a prisoner, Paul discovered his circumstances really opened up new areas of ministry.
God still wants His children to take the Gospel into new areas. He wants us to be pioneers and sometimes He arranges circumstances so that we can be nothing else but pioneers. In fact, that is how the Gospel originally came to Philippi! Paul had tried to enter other territory, but God had repeatedly shut the door (Acts 16:6–10). Paul wanted to take the message eastward into Asia, but God directed him to take it westward into Europe. What a difference it would have made in the history of mankind if Paul had been permitted to follow his plan instead of God’s!
God sometimes uses strange tools to help us pioneer the Gospel. In Paul’s case, there were three tools that helped him take the Gospel to the elite guards, Caesar’s special troops.
Paul’s Chains (1:12–14)
The same God who used Moses’ rod, Gideon’s pitchers, and David’s sling used Paul’s chains. Little did the Romans realize that the chains they affixed to his wrists would release Paul instead of bind him! Even as he wrote during a later imprisonment, “I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal, but God’s Word is not chained” (2 Tim. 2:9). He did not complain about his chains; instead he consecrated them to God and asked God to use them for the pioneer advance of the Gospel. And God answered his prayers.
To begin with, these chains gave Paul contact with the lost. He was chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day! The shifts changed every six hours, which meant Paul could witness to at least four men each day! Imagine yourself as one of those soldiers, chained to a man who prayed “without ceasing,” who was constantly interviewing people about their spiritual condition, and who was repeatedly writing letters to Christians and churches throughout the empire! It was not long before some of these soldiers put their faith in Christ. Paul was able to get the Gospel to the elite guards, something he could not have done had he been a free man.
But the chains gave Paul contact with another group of people as well: the officials in Caesar’s court. He was in Rome as an official prisoner and his case was an important one. The Roman government was going to determine the official status of this new “Christian” sect. Was it merely another sect of the Jews? Or was it something new and possibly dangerous? Imagine how pleased Paul must have been knowing that the court officials were forced to study the doctrines of the Christian faith!
Sometimes God has to put “chains” on His people to get them to accomplish a “pioneer advance” that could never happen any other way. Young mothers may feel chained to the home as they care for their children, but God can use those “chains” to reach people with the message of salvation. Susannah Wesley was the mother of nineteen children, before the days of labor-saving devices and disposable diapers! Out of that large family came John and Charles Wesley, whose combined ministries shook the British Isles. At six weeks of age, Fanny Crosby was blinded, but even as a youngster, she determined not to be confined by the chains of darkness. In time, she became a mighty force for God through her hymns and Gospel songs.
The secret is this: when you have the single mind, you look on your circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel; and you rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do.
Paul’s chains not only gave contact with the lost, but they also gave courage to the saved. Many of the believers in Rome took fresh courage when they saw Paul’s faith and determination (1:14). They were “much more bold to speak the word without fear.” That word speak does not mean “preach.” Rather, it means “everyday conversation.” No doubt many of the Romans were discussing Paul’s case because such legal matters were of primary concern to this nation of lawmakers. And the Christians in Rome who were sympathetic to Paul took advantage of this conversation to say a good word for Jesus Christ. Discouragement has a way of spreading, but so does encouragement! Because of Paul’s joyful attitude the believers in Rome took fresh courage and witnessed boldly for Christ.
While recovering in the hospital from a serious auto accident, Bob received a letter from a total stranger who seemed to know just what to say to make his day brighter. In fact, he received several letters from him and each one was better than the one before. When he was able to get around, Bob met him personally. He was amazed to discover that he was blind, a diabetic, handicapped because of a leg amputation, and that he lived with and cared for his elderly mother! If a man ever wore chains, this man did! But if a man ever was free to pioneer the Gospel, this man was! He was able to share Christ in high school assemblies, before service clubs, at the “Y,” and before professional people in meetings that would have been closed to an ordained minister. He had the single mind; he lived for Christ and the Gospel. Consequently, he shared the joy of furthering the Gospel.
Our chains may not be as dramatic or difficult, but there is no reason why God cannot use them in the same way.
In Part 2, we will look at two more tools Paul used to take the Gospel to the elite guards.