God can TURN our DETOURS into PATHS of BLESSINGS: "But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." (Phil. 1:12-14)
Earlier in his life, as Apostle Paul was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest and imprison the Christian disciples with authority from the High Priest, he himself was arrested by the Lord Jesus Christ as he came close to his destination (Acts 9:1-9). He was given a vision and a new mandate to spread the gospel among the Gentile population all over the world. He then started on his new gospel mission work immediately (Acts 9:20) and proved to be highly effective as a blazing trendsetting missionary. However, after many years of tirelessly working to spread the gospel, Paul had to make a detour in his missionary journey when he was arrested and put in a Roman prison and was awaiting trial from the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar.
The above scriptural passage (written by Apostle Paul from his prison cell) is indicative of the fact that this detour (a circuitous way used temporarily when the main route is closed) actually turned into a path of blessing in Paul’s ministry. It was easy to infer that Paul’s imprisonment had brought the spreading of the gospel to a standstill or, at least slowed its progress significantly. However, this did not happen, and through Paul, many people had heard the gospel who would not otherwise have heard it. Paul had the opportunity to witness to many high-ranking soldiers who were in close vicinity. His example of aggressive witness had also inspired the Roman Christians to be more outspoken in sharing the gospel. This is another wonderful illustration of how God overrules the wicked plans of Satan and brings triumph out of tragedy and beauty from ashes. Paul considered his imprisonment to be the result of God’s sovereign will, and turned a distressing, personal humiliation into a means of glorifying Christ and furthering His kingdom.
In His wisdom and sovereignty, God had deliberately designed His servant’s present circumstances, as undesirable as they may be, for the gospel’s benefit. Paul’s imprisonment did not hinder his ministry of intercession, his ministry of evangelism, his ministry of writing, but overall, his incarceration advanced the gospel message much further. Paul’s imprisonment furthered the gospel in four specific ways:
- First, the palace guard and even the royal house of Caesar (see 4:22) heard the gospel as Paul boldly preached it from his prison cell. Under normal circumstances, they would have been closed to the gospel message!
- Second, all the rest of Rome heard the gospel through people who visited Paul in prison. Some of his visitors were leaders of the Jews in Rome (see Acts 28:17). Under normal circumstances, they would have never heard the gospel as well.
- Third, other Roman Christians were thereby encouraged to be more fearless in testifying for the Lord Jesus. Persecution often has the effect of transforming quiet and bashful believers into courageous witnesses. The whole church, thus stirred, did more in spreading the Good News than Paul could have done by himself had he not been in jail. Although they too could be imprisoned as Paul was, the Roman Christians were emboldened by Paul’s courage and were able to proclaim the message about Jesus Christ fearlessly.
- Fourth, since Paul was idling in prison, he could write so many epistles to different churches and individuals, which have proved to be such a great blessing to Christian believers throughout the years as they help in distilling God’s plan for the church today and beyond.