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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, September 22, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Philippians 1:12–20

I want you to know, beloved that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear. Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. (NRSV)

There goes Paul again, making lemonade out of lemons. He’s in prison. And yet, he is assuring his followers, Christ’s followers, that his being in prison is part of God’s plan.

I’m guessing most of us wouldn’t see it that way if we were the ones imprisoned.

But Paul makes the case that his imprisonment is helping to spread the gospel. How? The gospel has been heard by the Roman guard and spread throughout Roman headquarters. Paul’s courage in preaching the gospel, though imprisoned, has given others more courage to preach the gospel, too. Not only that, even the people preaching Christ for the wrong reasons, out of jealousy or competition or relief that Paul is out of the way, are still spreading the message. Great, says Paul. Part of God’s plan.

I’m thinking about a friend of mine, a Presbyterian pastor colleague, who just died at age sixty. Her death makes no sense to me. She leaves behind a husband and a daughter, who have already endured great suffering through other losses. I can’t wrap my mind around the reasons for her death. But the tributes written about her all point to one thing—the way she reached out to people in particular ways. She had a sixth sense about what was needed and reached out with intentionality in kindness, thoughtfulness, and love, because she was faithful to the God who had already loved her. She spread the gospel in so many ways.

I would never glibly tell her grieving family that this was part of God’s plan and that they should rejoice. I am still wrestling with whatever God’s plan was in this death. But I know that her death has emboldened people to be more courageous and intentional about their own spread of the gospel—acts of kindness, sharing of love, trying to be faithful. God’s plan? I don’t know. But the gospel of love is being spread in greater measure than before. And for that I rejoice.

Loving God, give me eyes to see the bigger picture, the ways your plan is unfolding. And most of all, increase my ability to love. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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