Affliction and oppression are an incredible tool of the Lord. Through them God creates a situation and period in which the normalcy of our comfortable lives is thrust from the calm waters into the tuumult of the raging river. We find this time to be a stress-test upon the chracter that God has created and is nurturing within us. I do not believe that God calls us to be comfortable, though I personally wish all-too-often for comfort and normalcy in life. It is not the lake that carves the path of influence throughout the landscape, but it is the raging river whose testimony is left for all to see. Paul, in multiple places, speaks fondly of his affliction:
“I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-13)
Paul, a man imprisoned due to the oppression against his proclamation of the Gospel, finds himself yet again afflicted in the state of imprisonment. Paul’s call to preach the Gospel to the gentiles supercedes any personal comfort. His call is from the God most high who will uphold him for God’s own purpose and glory. Paul might have said, when asked by his accusers, if he believes in Christ, might have put his faith more subtly, hoping to get off with another warning or lashing, but knowing Paul’s character and call from God, we can only conjecture that he preached the gospel vehemently to his accusers so that the calling might continually be fulfilled in him. He could have chosen comfort in face of opposition and certain imprisonment. However, we find that comfort is not Paul’s priority. Paul sees that his call as a proclaimer of the gospel to the gentiles and his faith in God supercedes all earthly health and comfort.
It is through this infliction and oppression that we see Paul’s faithfulness testified. We see in this passage from Philippians that Paul believes his imprisonment to be good. Indeed the resolve and outlook of this man was incredible. He believed his imprisonment to show the power of God in affliction and oppression, for he says that it has “really served to advance the gospel.” Through this imprisonment Paul calls his hearers to know of the incredible praise that is to be lauded to God through the salvation of a few imperial guards watching over him. In his affliction, some who might not have heard the gospel heard it. Not only that, but they were strengthened and were “much more bold to speak the word without fear.” In Paul’s affliction incredible grace was brought.
We need to repent of our desire for comfort and the false notion that somehow God can use me better when i’m comfortable, rested and unafflicted. This is an all-too-prevalent thought in my own mind that I need to reconsider. Christ did not die an excruciating crucifixion so that I might live comfortably. He died so that I might be justified in God’s sight and carry my own cross through the call He has placed upon my life. May we remember that when we are afflicted and oppressed that God can use me maybe even more in our discomfort for displaying His glory. If even at the least, discomfort brings prayer to our lips, then God is glorified as Lord of our lives. May we not fear discomfort but embrace it when it comes knowing that God is more powerful than our affliction. I cannot but help think of so many incredible pastors and theologians who were afflicted and oppressed throughout their lives and how that tumult strengthened their ministry and how they saw the Lord. May we know of the incredible grace that God can wield when the adversities of life seem like too much. It is a great occasion for seeking the Lord with all of our heart and crying out to Him in prayer. May we be sanctified through it and may the Gospel shine through us in affliction, just as it does in comfort.
Paul did not choose to live his call as a lake, residing in one spot. Rather, he chose the route that God had destined for him, a river that might in contrast to opposition and adversity, carve a testimony of the grace of God throughout all he encountered and be left for thousands of years for all to see. For indeed the gospel message which Paul preached vehemently through the tumult of life has left it’s imprint on the landscape of history just as the river has carved away a path for all to see for thousands of years.