The God Over Every Circumstance

Paul’s letter reminds Christians that we always have a reason to rejoice—in the good and hard seasons of life.

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. (Phil. 1:18 -20)

Paul tells us at the end of Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice.” Paul says this as something that he has lived. He has learned to be content in all things and to rejoice in both the good and the bad (Phil. 4:11-12). He rejoices in suffering. He hopes for a deliverance yet the prospect of dying in prison does not diminish his spirit. He rejoices because in life or death, the Lord will be honored.

It is easy to rejoice when things are going well and when life is moving along with all our desires and dreams being fulfilled. It is much harder to continue to rejoice when life takes an unexpected turn or tragedy strikes. But when our focus is on glorifying Christ, we learn to have a confidence in him. No matter what happens, Jesus Christ is not surprised. Our faithful obedience through trials can continue to honor him.

In the context of the passage, Paul is rejoicing because some are preaching the gospel out of a rivalry against him. Their preaching is making his situation in prison worse. These individuals are preaching a true gospel but preaching with false motives. As they preach, Paul’s situation gets harder but his rejoicing increases because it is still the true gospel being preached. One cannot help but wonder if his opponents ever realized that their preaching brought more joy to Paul rather than defeating him. Ironically, their activity had a reverse effect than the one they wanted.

In this season, Paul does not know if he will live and be released from prison or if he will die. Paul had previously boldly proclaimed in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” He continues, even in the face of possible death, to expectantly hope that he will not be ashamed.

We find him drawing strength from the Lord to have the needed courage. One way or another, Christ will be honored in Paul’s body. It is as if Paul is saying, ‘If the Lord wishes me to serve him through being released and preaching more or if the Lord wishes me to serve him through my death, either way I am happy my body is being used for Jesus.’

In reflection, the first thing we should ask ourselves is: do I have this kind of higher focus on the glory of God in the spread of the gospel? Am I content to be used of the Lord wherever he takes me and whatever circumstances he brings into my life? It is hard to find this level of contentment. So often we want to serve the Lord if it fits within our plans or our schedules. We have a zeal for serving when we are seeing success and results but not when the path is hardship and the struggle is painful. The Scriptures call us to seek to honor God with our bodies, really our whole selves, both in life and in death.

Second, can I rejoice when the road is long and trials are hard, even painful? Sometimes in the dark seasons of life, we have to fight for joy. I may have to fight to trust the Lord. This fight for joy and trust may very well be part and parcel of not being ashamed of the gospel. I may have to stop and recognize how, through the gospel, the Lord is using the trial to transform me to look more like Jesus. We certainly see Paul throughout his epistles reacting to trials and struggles that way.

When God puts us in that position of trial that we never would have chosen for ourselves, we can rest in his unchanging grace. We can rejoice that no matter what happens, the events can serve to give greater testimony to him. He may use it directly or indirectly to win the lost, and that is the triumph of the glory of God in the gospel. He may use it to make me more like Jesus as I am conformed to his image and share in his sufferings, and that is the triumph of the glory of God in the gospel. Either way, let us renew our commitment to not be ashamed of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ for it is the power of God at work for all who believe.

Tim Bertolet

Tim Bertolet serves with ABWE as Director of Instructional Design and Theological Education. He’s served in pastoral ministry for sixteen years and knows the life of an MK firsthand. With a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from the University of Pretoria, and degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and Lancaster Bible College, he specializes in Bible and theology and is passionate about applying it to life and ministry. Tim’s also an adjunct professor, research fellow with BibleMesh, and a published author. Tim lives in York, Pa. with his wife and kids. He enjoys reading, writing, science fiction, and gardening roses.