I have had many a heavy-hearted drive home in recent years. Many times when I have cried out to God for deliverance. Many times where I have looked at the situations in my life and just said, “God how can this be where we’re at? This story doesn’t feel done yet. Please don’t let this story be over yet.” Suffering leaves us asking questions, searching. Suffering leaves us with a healthy desire to see God move.
If you have been following the series through Philippians, you know that Paul is in prison. He is in a crisis, in suffering. In this, we see what it looks like to have Christian joy in the midst of suffering. So far we have seen Paul rejoice at the help of his community and at his confidence in Christ’s plans for his situation. So far Paul has been looking backwards at the things that have happened, shedding the light of Christ on dark circumstances, but now he turns his gaze forward. This transition is clear at the end Philippians 1:18. He gets done looking at all that has happened and says “And because of this I rejoice.” After this he immediately goes on to say “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (NIV). This is a continual theme in the Bible. Throughout the old testament, the Israelites are told to look back on God’s salvation and faithfulness, and then look forward to His continued plans for them. This is continued in the New Testament as Christians look back at God’s salvation and faithfulness in Jesus, and then look forward to His continued plans for them. Paul knows that God has been faithful in the past, and he rests in that knowledge, letting it stir him toward hope for the future. In Paul’s example we see how to have courage and hope in the face of fearful circumstance. We learn how to look forward.
“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:18b-21 NIV)
In this passage, Paul tells us why he can have hope and joy going forward. He tells us why he does not sink into fear and anxiety, and why we, regardless of personal situations, can have hope and joy as well. He tells us that prayers are heard, he teaches us about God’s deliverance, and he shows us where his hope is rooted. These things are not just for Paul in prison, but for every believer in every circumstance.
Prayers are Heard, the Spirit Moves
“For I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1:19 NIV). The first thing that Paul shows us is that God hears our prayers. This is good news! Prayer is hard, especially in the hard times. When we are in the middle of crisis, it feels like God is doing everything but answering prayers. What Paul tells us here should give us hope and motivate us to pray. He says that we have a God who hears our prayers and provides. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 John 5:14 ESV). We cannot let suffering take away our motivation to pray. God is a Savior, a Deliverer, and He answers prayers. He does not always answer prayers in the way we expect, and He can answer “no” in His wisdom, but He wants to answer prayers and do good for His children.
Too often we view prayer as if God were a genie in a lamp. We pray, and if God does not do what we want we get mad, assuming that he either isn’t good or isn’t powerful to move. Scripture shows us that God is a good Father. He wants us to pray to Him, and He is faithful to answer. But as God’s wisdom is above our wisdom, and as any parent would not give a toddler a machete just because he asked for it, God gives us what is good to see his plans through in the answering of our prayers.
Prayer requires faith. Faith that God is good. Faith that God is powerful and wants to help us. Faith that God will provide. Paul says he knows that God’s provision comes by the Spirit moving. The Holy Spirit is moving to accomplish God’s purposes in the world and in believers. Prayer may move mountains, and it may move our hearts toward Jesus. Either way, God is moving for good. When we believe this, we will pray with fervency and confidence, knowing that God will do what is necessary and what is good, and He will move.
The Nature of Deliverance
One thing that struck me about this passage is that Paul does not equate deliverance with being removed from his situation. Most of the time when we think of being delivered, we think of being delivered out of a circumstance. God though, time and time again, shows that he often delivers through situations, using what seemed bad for good (Genesis 50:20). Paul says, “what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:19-20 NIV). Paul does not say, “I know God will get me out of jail and back on the road.” He hopes for that end, but thats not what he says. Paul says, “whether by life or by death” he knows “what has happened to [him] will turn out for [his] deliverance.”
If this is the case, then what does this mean for us? When we find ourselves in hardship, how should we hope? First, we should know that deliverance is not always being removed from the situation. God does not promise that being Christians means we will never encounter hardship. Instead, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). Jesus tells us in many places that we will encounter hardship in this world, but we don’t have to fear because our trust is in Jesus. Our deliverance is not from our situation, but to Jesus.
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV).
Hope is Rooted in Christ, not Circumstance
What we learn from Paul in all of this is that our hope should be rooted in Jesus, not in our circumstances. “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21 NIV).
Like Paul, we can trust that in Jesus we will not be ashamed. On the cross Jesus has secured our salvation, our righteousness, and our eternal destinies. 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (NIV). Our hope is secure in Jesus.
Like Paul, we can have sufficient courage in Christ. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (NIV). The gospel of Jesus Christ brings us face to face with the power of God. The gospel does not bring us to shame, but gives us confidence to face any situation with boldness and power because Jesus has already accomplished the task. We have already been saved by His work on the cross. This gives us strength to go forward, and Jesus tells us, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 ESV). As Christians we have boldness to face our circumstances because we are saved by Jesus, and empowered by His Holy Spirit to go forward in power (Acts 1:8).
When our hope is rooted in Christ, we do not have to live in fear of our circumstances. We can look to Jesus as our deliverer. We can trust in the hope offered by His work of salvation. We can pray boldly and expectantly, knowing that God is good and He will move. Like Paul, we can look back on God’s faithfulness, and we can look forward confidently, trusting Christ and having hope for the future. We can trust God and choose hope.
“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
(Philippians 1:18b-21 NIV)