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Global Outreach International

"Because of my chains": In God's kingdom, your weakness is strength

by Rory Tyer
Chains, whether physical or metaphorical, don't have the final say in the kingdom of God.
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)

Consider your own life over the past few months. What are your "chains"?

Chances are you're not actually chained to a wall inside a prison cell, as Paul was when he wrote the letter to the churches in the city of Philippi. It's been said that everyone you meet is fighting some battle, secretly or openly. We live in a fallen, broken, painful world, where even our greatest joys are often shot through with some reminder of weakness or suffering.

I have just recently spent time with a couple whose infant son died days after they brought him home, and with another couple that has been fighting a three-year battle with cancer. The husband has been in nearly constant agony for almost a year. In both cases it is not hard for me to see that their suffering and grief form invisible chains.

So I ask you again: what are your chains? And a follow-up question: If you were writing this sentence, how would you fill in the blank: "Because of my chains, ______."?

Maybe you've filled in this blank like me at different points in my life.

"Because of my chains, it's been difficult to focus on anything lately."

"Because of my chains, I wonder where God is and why He isn't intervening."

"Because of my chains, I haven't felt free to be vulnerable with those around me."

"Because of my chains, I am discouraged."

"Because of my chains, I have cursed God in my heart."

Now consider the way Paul fills in that blank from the passage above: "Because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear."

If your chains feel particularly heavy right now, you may be tempted to read that and think, Right--that's Paul we're talking about. I'm not surprised he had a superhuman ability to take bad circumstances and turn them into something that strengthens others, but I'm not Paul--I'm just me. How am I supposed to do that?

The answer may be found later in the letter, near the end. Most of us are familiar with Philippians 4:13. A common translation is: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." People tend to abuse those verse, taking it out of context to refer to things Paul didn't have in mind.

What did Paul mean? The 2011 NIV translates it as follows: "I can do all this through him who gives me strength." This translation makes clear that, rather than talking about "all things," Paul is talking about "all this"--in other words, the things Paul has been talking about right before this verse. And the best way to sum that up is "contentment." Paul says he has "learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (4:11), which for him has included being in need and having plenty, being well fed or being hungry (4:12).

So I ask you again: what are your chains? Or to borrow another metaphor, in what ways are you "in need" right now, or "hungry"? Be released from believing that it is your responsibility to shoulder this burden alone. Be relieved of the lie that the strength to endure these things, to turn them into opportunities to actually strengthen others, comes from you or is dependent on you at all.

It is the Lord who gives us the kind of strength to view weakness as an opportunity to bless and encourage others. Praise God that if you're in Christ, you have the Spirit, who is even now working in and through you in ways you don't even understand right now!

Paul's chains became an opportunity for gospel witness and gospel discipleship. This has nothing to do with Paul and everything to do with Jesus, who became Paul's strength through the Holy Spirit working in and through Paul. You have that same Spirit, if you are in Christ, and that means God is working that same power in you--power that was enough to raise Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20).

In Christ, we have the ultimate freedom that comes from knowing and being known by our Creator God. I pray that you can rest more completely in the sufficiency of God's grace this week. As you do so, you will find God transforming your chains into opportunities for gospel witness and gospel discipleship.