A Hopeful Perspective
Bible Reading: Philippians 1:12-26
I came across this helpful quote from Chuck Swindoll years ago: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
We have little or no control of our circumstances or of what others say or do, but we can control our attitude. And a healthy attitude can radically affect our spiritual and emotional well-being and dictate, to some extent, our usefulness to God. Recall that hope is an attitude, a way of thinking. A way of thinking that is well-founded on the God of hope, borne in us by the Spirit, and instructed and encouraged to us by the Word of God. Hope is essential if we are to maintain our focus and persevere through challenging circumstances. In fact, hope’s value and beauty are made manifest not so much in our easy times, but when times are tough.
Paul was a man full of faith and hope in Jesus, writing to the Philippians from jail. His hopeful attitude was essential to his positive response. This was not the first imprisonment of the Apostle Paul. In fact, back when Paul first brought the gospel to Philippi, a riot ensued, and he and Silas were locked up in a prison. Remember that? And what happened on that occasion? Paul and Silas were “praying and singing praise to God” (Acts 16:25). And the prisoners were listening to them. And God caused a great earthquake. And the jailer, terrified because he himself would be executed if he were to lose his prisoners—was ready to take his own life. But Paul shared the gospel with him, and he and his whole family were saved! Now our text says that Paul’s later imprisonment worked out for the “greater progress of the gospel,” but what was true in this later case was also true in the first.
So Paul was locked up in jail again. The man who had thrice journeyed afar, bearing the gospel message, was imprisoned. But hope, well-founded on the God of Hope, the God with whom nothing is impossible, is not constrained or deterred by challenging circumstances. How did Paul’s circumstances work for the “greater progress of the gospel?” Because of his imprisonment Paul was able to reach people with the gospel he would have otherwise not been able to reach (Philippians 1:13; 4:22). Because of his imprisonment, and specifically because of his godly and courageous response to it, others had “far more courage to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14). Though some were taking advantage of his situation, envious as they were of Paul, and were preaching out of selfish ambition, Paul nonetheless rejoiced in that the gospel was being preached (Philippians 1:18). In addition, Paul’s imprisonment provided an opportunity for the Philippian believers to express their loving concern for Paul (Philippians 4:18). Much of these positives would have been impossible if Paul would have spent his time bemoaning his circumstances, or if he had allowed his troubles to dictate his attitude. Hope made the difference!
Optimism is defined as an “inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.” According to this definition, Paul was an optimist, and for good reason. It was his walk with Jesus that made him so. It was because his hope was set on God, and he well knew what God could do. What about you? How’s your attitude? As Thomas Brooks once said, “A man full of hope will be full of action.” And he will not be deterred!
“A man full of hope will be full of action” – Thomas Brooks
Heavenly Father. How thankful we are that You are well able to bring good out of our bad! Time after time we’ve seen You do that. And even though we know that You cause all things to work together for good in our lives, we are oftentimes doubtful and sometimes complaining about the circumstances we find ourselves in. Forgive us our lack of faith and cause us instead to be filled with a hope that is well founded in the knowledge of who You are and what You are able to do. May the Spirit work within us that we might think about things in tune with the great hope that is ours in You. That both in our “good” and in our “bad” You might be honored and glorified in our lives. Amen.