Today’s passage reminds me of a time, a few years ago, when I was in Birmingham on tour with the opera. It seemed to me that all the major faiths were out on the streets spreading their various messages. I particularly remember the heavy sense of disappointment I felt when I found a bunch of Christian street preachers taking turns to stand on a box and wave their bibles in the air. That they were preaching at all was lost on me. It was almost impossible to hear them over the happy din the Hare Krishna group were making right next to them. I was almost angry with the street preachers for making such a pathetic impact. One of them noticed me watching and scowling and came over to talk to me. I let my frustration out and really laid into him, asking what the point was and did they really think they were doing any good, etc etc… His response was calm, brief and utterly humbling. He said, “we have no power to persuade people on our own, we are here to serve the Lord whose message we are preaching. We trust that the Lord will convict people’s hearts, our job is just to believe that and preach the message.” Even if those brave street preachers didn’t touch another soul that Saturday, I certainly learned a valuable lesson from them and I hope I never forget it.
Philippians 1:12-19 NLT
And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.
Paul is keen to share that his imprisonment, far from hindering his ministry, has in fact enhanced it and arguably, made it more credible, more powerful even. My goal, therefore is firstly to trust that the business of converting people into believers is the Holy Spirit’s, not mine, and secondly, to have faith that my circumstances, however pathetic, can be used powerfully in the service of God. I must remember that all things are possible for God, especially when his followers obey his will. I hope my motives will always be pleasing to God, but above all, I hope I can stay as motivated as those street preachers I saw in Birmingham.
Isaiah 57:15-59:21, Philippians 1:1-26, Psalms 71:1-24, Proverbs 24:9-10