His circumstances were hardly ideal. He had been beaten, was falsely imprisoned, and there was a price on his head and a plot to kill him. Not the sort of situation In which I’d want to find myself. But the apostle Paul didn’t look at the unfairness of the situation or complain about it. Rather, he looked at the people God was placing in his path. These were people to whom he could witness: fellow prisoners, Roman soldiers, even the king. God used Paul’s circumstances to further the spread of the Gospel. In fact, one could say God even orchestrated those less-than-ideal circumstances.
Put yourself in Paul’s place for a moment. He was in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Pentecost after having completed his third missionary journey. But some troublemakers came and stirred up the crowd, turning them against him. So effective were they that the people of the mob dragged Paul out of the city and started beating him, trying to kill him. He was saved by the Roman tribune and Roman soldiers and centurions, ironically. To keep him safe, they kept him in chains in the barracks while they tried to decide what to do with him. But then Paul finds out that a group of overly-zealous Jews had taken a vow that they wouldn’t eat or drink until they had killed him. Yikes. This was pretty serious. Yet in the midst of all this, God appeared to him and told him, “Take courage. As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11). You see, this was all part of God’s plan.
To escape the plotting of the Jews who wanted Paul dead, the Roman tribune had Paul transported, and as he traveled, he witnessed. He was able to speak about Jesus to Governor Felix, Governor Festus, King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, many other high-ranking officials, and possibly even Caesar himself. While in Rome, he was under house arrest for two years, but during those years he wrote letters to the churches of his day; letters which we now know as Epistles in the New Testament. The results of his unjust imprisonment were actually very well choreographed. Paul acknowledges this in his letter to the Philippians, where he says, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the Word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14). Paul was able to look beyond his circumstances to see the opportunities God was giving him.
Friends, I don’t know what circumstances you face today. Perhaps you’re stuck in a job, a town, a situation you don’t particularly like. Perhaps you face unjust treatment. Maybe things in life haven’t gone at all the way you planned them, and you’re disheartened or bitter about that. But rather than moping around feeling sorry for yourself, take a moment to stop and consider the people God has surrounded you with. Pray that God will open your eyes to see the opportunities He is giving you. It was because of a physical ailment that Paul was able to preach in Galatia (Galatians 4:13). While in Rome under house arrest, he was even able to witness to Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22). Can God not use your own less-than-ideal circumstances to reach out to those He has placed in your path? From a human standpoint, Paul’s life seemed to be way off course; a once-promising career traded for a life of hardship, beatings, imprisonment, and death threats.
But for God, the circumstances were, quite simply, ideal.