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, ESV)
Jail? Unjust sentence? Yep, God can use that. There are just some things, or so it seems to us, that hamstring God. Scenarios that catch him napping. The imprisonment of the apostle Paul would seem like one such scenario. Had I been a Christian during those days, my prayer might have gone something like this:
“Hey God. So ummmm…you might not have noticed this, but…ummmm…Paul was thrown in jail the other day. I know the Bible says that you’re in control of everything that happens (Ephesians 1:11) but I just wanted to double check to make sure you were on top of this one. You probably know this and all, but he’s like our cleanup hitter. His faith is strong, he leads people to you by the hundreds and he even writes letters that carry your very authority. I don’t want to tell you what to do, but it might be a good idea to put him back into play. If someone’s got to go to jail, make it someone, you know, less important…besides me, that is.”
Admittedly not a spiritual prayer, but probably what would have come from my heart if I was honest. But Paul looked at things through a different lens.
He saw the gospel penetrating an unreached group of people — Caesar’s soldiers. Paul’s guards were getting saved and taking the message of Jesus’ love back to the palace! Additionally, the average Joe in the pew was getting fired up with Paul out of the picture. Plenty of Christians were saying, “Hey, who’s going to take his place? If he’s willing to go to prison for this message, then why am I sitting around being silent?” The gospel was advancing.
So can God use something as awful as an unjust imprisonment for his glory? You bet! What are the chances he’s going to use your circumstances for his glory too? I’d say they’re pretty good.