Here in England we have just entered our third COVID-19 lockdown. The restrictions are a little lighter than the first – churches can still hold services, funerals can still go ahead (which I was thankful for as my grandma’s was on Tuesday) – but many of us are exhausted from the strains of the past year and any reserves we had are all but depleted. How can we find the strength we need even to endure these new restrictions?
As so often, we can learn something from Paul in Philippians. Paul was also in lockdown – or rather, he was locked up! His powerful preaching and teaching ministry could no longer happen in person – and he didn’t even have Zoom by which to connect with others, but had to rely on pen-and-parchment.
What’s more, others were having ‘success’ at his expense. In chapter 1 vv 15-18 he seems to be responding to a concern that the Christians in Philippi have expressed, that people are preaching the gospel out of envy and rivalry. They are stealing his patch! While his ability to minister is restricted, others are muscling in and taking advantage. Paul’s response: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (v. 18).
Paul wasn’t threatened by someone else gaining attention and prestige while he was out of the way. What mattered was that Christ was being preached, and more people were coming to know him.
I can almost hear him giggling with delight as he describes how his imprisonment ‘has actually served to advance the gospel’ (1:12)!
Just think – if he had been free to travel around preaching and teaching, his words may have reached tens, even hundreds of thousands of people in his lifetime. But because of the restrictions placed on him, they had to be written down – and hence have reached hundreds of millions of people over thousands of years, all the way down to us.
How might this lockdown ‘actually serve to advance the gospel’ through your life? What has been made possible through these restrictions that was impossible when we were ‘free’? Could it be that God is still at work, and that lockdown might actually be worth living for?