How do you rise above challenges and live a productive life?
Paul had faced an intense riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:26-36). He then faced two years of imprisonment in Caesarea (Acts 22-26). During this time, he had some amazing opportunities to share his testimony to some of the highest officials like Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa. He faced imprisonment in Caesarea after this. He had to undergo a dangerous and a painful journey to Rome (Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:1). He was then imprisoned in Rome for two years for the defense of the gospel (Acts 28:16). Under these circumstances, Phil 1:15-17 says that some believers were acting out of “envy” and “rivalry” towards Paul, while he was in prison.
Why were they acting that way towards Paul who was in prison? Probably, they were acting this way because of Paul’s success in his preaching ministry. They were competing with Paul while he was in prison, taking advantage of the situation. Often, we see this happening in our own surroundings, isn’t it? When people succeed, either in the area of sports, or in the companies people work for or even at home among the siblings, they tend to feel insecure and start competing. This kind of behavior was not at all helping Paul, who was in prison for the sake of the gospel. Instead of empathizing with him, they were stirring up emotional trouble for Paul (Phil 1:17).
Paul was in a predicament: chains on one side and envy and rivalry on the other side. How did Paul face this predicament? What are some lessons we can learn from Paul from the way he handled his challenges? Let’s explore that.
1.Look at the “chains” you might be in from a missional viewpoint.
Chains obstruct progress. Movement is quite limited. Think of animals that are moored in so they don’t move too far away. Or kids who are kept in a sand box to obstruct their straying from the confined place. Or even boats that are tied to a pole. These are done so they don’t move far away from where they are tied. Chains hold back.
When Paul says he was in chains, he was obstructed from progressing. Other people must have thought because of the chains, they could limit his progress. But the chains didn’t hold Paul back. What was meant to hold Paul back was now helping him to advance the gospel. It led him to take the gospel forward (Phil 1:12). The whole imperial guard knew why Paul was there (Phil 1:13). He continued to preach the gospel, even in chains. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” Phil 1:12.
2. Take account of where your identity lies.
It is really when the tests and trials come our way that we can check where we are banking our identity on. Paul being in prison and probably tied to another soldier did not really think he was tied down or feeling sorry for himself. A lot of people have a defeated mentality. They think they have lost it in life. “I am a failure”, ” I am not financially well-off”, “I am divorced”, “I have been single for a long time” are some of the labels that people get attached to!
For Paul, his identity in who he was in Christ and the conviction of the message he was preaching about was always on the forefront of his living. Whether in chains or set free, he continued to preach the gospel. Paul focused on the gospel that was advancing rather than focusing on himself.
3. Don’t focus on other’s reactions.
Instead of showing sympathy towards Paul while he was in prison, some believers took advantage of it and were promoting their own ministry. This was in direct contradiction to Christ’s self-giving nature (Phil 2), because all that they were trying to do were done out of selfish ambition (Phil 1:17).
Have you noticed that when you are promoted, a friend or a neighbor will go, “Oh, he has it all together,” or “Wow, what a big car you got there,” or “Did you spend a lot to get this new house?” Instead of rejoicing with you, all they have to offer you is sarcasm and envy, which is motivated by self-love. Don’t focus on other’s reactions. Refuse to compete with those who like to compete with you.
4. Develop a goal that is bigger than your challenges.
For Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Instead of competing and reacting to envy and rivalry, Paul developed a bigger goal – to live is for Christ and to die is gain. He was in chains. He could either be put to death or be released and set free. But he had a winning attitude. Even though he was in jail, he was as productive as he was when he was free. Whether he lived or he died he wanted to glorify God. We can say that a person with such a goal is completely permeated with Christ: his breathing in and breathing out, his sleeping and his waking up, his being in chains or being free, whatever goes on in his life, he does it is all for Christ!
I usually ask people what their purpose statement is in life. They say, “I want to finish my Ph.D.” When I had finished my Ph.D, I remember I had worked so hard for 7 ½ years. As I walked up on the stage on completion of my Ph.D, it struck me, “Did I really work so hard for 7 ½ years for this?” It felt like a mirage! Anything that you may be seeking in this world that is outside of Christ is simply a mirage! You keep chasing one mirage after another and it simply is not real.
G. Walter Hansen, in his book, “The Letter to the Philippians” said, “When the goal of living is Christ, then living inevitably follows the way of Christ, the way of self-giving, self-humbling, and self-sacrifice.” May we live out these principles from Paul’s life and overcome limitations, chains, and reactions, and live above the challenges of life for the glory of God.