I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the Christians here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah.
It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.
So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!
And I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out. Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. I can hardly wait to continue on my course. I don’t expect to be embarrassed in the least. On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit! Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.
As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better . But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues. You can start looking forward to a great reunion when I come visit you again. We’ll be praising Christ, enjoying each other.
Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You’re involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter.
It’s a single word and it has ridiculous power when we embrace it.
Webster’s dictionary defines it this way, “1 : the angle or direction in which a person looks at an object. 2 : point of view. 3 : the ability to understand what is important and what isn’t; ‘I know you’re disappointed, but keep your perspective.’ 4 : an accurate rating of what is important and what isn’t; ‘Let’s keep things in perspective.’”
This word is what popped into my mind as I read this passage this morning.
I think that over the last 18 months or so we have all had a crash course in perspective.
We have had to discern what is really important and what isn’t. We have had to make choices to help us to keep from becoming distressed and heartbroken over and over again. Disappointment seems to be around every corner and so we have had to learn the art of “managed expectations.”
Perspective is something that we have had to learn to hold on to.
Paul had mastered the art of keeping perspective. He had figured out what was most important and in so doing was able to keep everything else in its proper place. He was able to see the beauty and good in those who were even preaching the gospel from impure motives. He knew that he wanted to be with the Lord but he knew that what mattered most, at least in this moment, was loving those entrusted to his spiritual care. It’s wild to think that someone could say something like, “There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.”
I’ll tell you what, that’s a perspective that can only be held and shared by someone who has walked through a depth of suffering and come out the other side. For many of us, to say that would be trite. But, for Paul, it was truth. He lived that out. This was not a philosophical truism. No, this was a reality that he had embodied.
When I think of someone who is able to keep perspective I am struck by my good friend Mike. He suffered the loss of his only son. Yet, from this loss he has encouraged and loved others with a depth that most of us can only imagine having. Holding the perspective that Mike does about pain, suffering, and heartache, was one that he lived. Mike didn’t read about it and dispense it tritely. No, Mike has lived it and holds on with grief and joy all wrapped up together.
As I read these words this morning it is this word, perspective, that is pricking my spirit. In what ways have I lost perspective? Where do I need to re-evaluate my perspective? Are there things of lesser importance that need to be let go of in light of greater depth?
How about you? How are you doing at keeping perspective on life?