Isn’t it amazing how our thoughts about a person, group of people or even a team affects how we see the things done by that person, group or team? Think about how we react when different children are being particularly loud in a public place. If it is my great grand children then I’m sure everyone will enjoy whatever cute and sweet things they say or do. But if it is some stranger’s kids, I sometimes wonder what they are thinking when they just sit there and allow their children to go wild. There may not be any difference between the actions or even the volume of noise going on. The difference is in how I see the children.
I was watching the Arkansas – Kentucky basketball game after church yesterday afternoon. Of course it was frustrating to see Kentucky run away with the game and when the Arkansas boys became so frustrated that they misbehaved near the end of the game it was very understandable to me, even though I wished they hadn’t done so. But when the goofy announcer kept on going and going about their behavior and it being a reflection of the team, the coach and their training, it wasn’t the team that bothered me nearly as much as it was the announcer, whose bias was showing all over the place.
The thing about how we see things and it relating to our feelings about the people involved, is that it isn’t limited to a few aspects of life. It runs right through our lives and even when we try to be unprejudiced and see everything fairly, it will still shine through to the degree that others may be amused at what they observe in us.
Think about an incident described by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Philippians. Paul was writing this church that he loved dearly and had a very special relationship with, from a Roman prison where his only crime was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. It had started back in Jerusalem where Jews that despised the gospel of Jesus had him arrested. After spending three years in jail at Caesarea he had appealed to Caesar to keep from going back to Jerusalem to appear before the Jewish leaders. It had been a tough trip from Caesarea to Rome involving a huge storm and shipwreck that had destroyed the ship but didn’t have any loss of life. Inside the Roman prison Paul writes the people who had raised money to send to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Notice what he said beginning in verse 12 of chapter one. “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.”
I would certainly think that the people in Philippi saw Paul’s being thrown into prison first in Caesarea and then Rome as a major tragedy. Why would such a good, godly man who was intent on preaching the good news of Jesus to the world, be thrown into prison? They likely knew many who had committed real crimes but who had never gone to prison for a single day. Yet here was Paul the man of God and preacher of righteousness who was behind bars for carrying a liberal contribution back to his home town to help the poor among the saints of God’s people. Yet, it is Paul the prisoner who they felt was being treated unfairly, who was writing this letter to them to encourage them. He wanted them to know that instead of this being a tragedy, it was really turning out to be a great thing. Many of those who had met Paul were searching for the truth of the good news of Jesus. They wanted someone among the Converts to Christ to tell them this story of grace that was being preached in the name of Jesus to the world. Paul may well have been the first person they had met who was a true believer in Jesus and they looked to him to learn what it all really meant.
Notice the two ways that him imprisonment had turned out to be a blessing while others were thinking it was a curse. First, many of those in Caesar’s household had been able to hear the gospel for the first time and had given their lives to Jesus. Right here in the very place where Paul would be stating the message of good news. Some of those in Caesar’s family had given their lives to Jesus. That was amazing. Here in the palace among the people that would have him put to death by an unstable ruler, stood Christians, saints in Caesar’s household. So the fact converts to Jesus had been made was reason enough to say that something good was happening. Second, he said “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
Would you have considered imprisonment in Rome a blessing? What if you saw some give their lives to Jesus because of your witness? What if you heard that some people you loved were now preaching that had before been unwilling before you were arrested? What if you heard of some people who had always opposed you were now preaching Jesus and you knew it was out of envy and jealousy? It is difficult to say how we would react. I hope I could say with Paul, that things had turned out for good. But it would have been a huge challenge to feel good about those preaching who simply wanted to add to my affliction in jail. It demonstrates that much of how we see things either for good or bad, is determined by our attitude. I long for that kind of attitude shown by Paul here. I hope you do to and maybe together we can get there.