In the account of his conversion, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis describes joy as “a pointer to something other and outer.” The joy Paul writes about in the first chapter of Philippians serves the same function.
Given Paul’s circumstances, we may be surprised to read that he rejoices. Not only was he a prisoner, but others were using his confinement as an opportunity to get ahead. They seemed to view the gospel ministry as a competition. “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill,” Paul admits in verse 15. But with a remarkable generosity of spirit, the apostle resolved to rejoice that no matter the motive, Christ was being preached (v. 18).
Paul’s imprisonment was a concern for his friends at Philippi. The apostle reassured them in two ways. First, he pointed out that what might seem like a setback was bringing attention to the gospel. How? Through Paul’s ministry to the palace guard in Rome and by the preaching of others (vv. 13–14). Second, Paul assured them that their prayers would make a difference. He expected their prayers, along with God’s provision of His Spirit, to “turn out for my deliverance” (v. 19).
Note how Paul defines deliverance. For the apostle, it meant the courage to trust that Christ would be glorified by whatever happened to him (v. 20). Paul did not feel the need to decide what God should do, in part because he felt genuinely ambivalent. As Paul puts it: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (v. 21). This is not fatalism but the hope of one who knows his future is secure in Christ and God will be glorified either way.
>> Will you trust God to work through your difficult circumstances today? You don’t have to be happy about them or even enjoy them. You do need to trust that God knows what He is doing.
When we are worn out, we will trust in You. When we are fearful, we will trust in You. In anger and joy, pain and ease, boredom, and happiness, by Your grace we will trust in You.