This week we find Paul building on this idea when he reflects on his imprisonment, realizing that regardless of the outcome - whether he is released or martyred - that it is his "eager expectation and hope" that he and the gospel will not be "put to shame". Indeed he says that he is confident that the outcome will "result in
Interestingly, this passage is often read in very individualistic terms with a lot of pious observations of an almost sentimental nature ("oh, may it be that each of us is always longing to die and be with Christ for that is so much better, but if we must remain here let us work hard in ministry"). Well, there is a kernel of truth in the notion that each of us should cultivate a longing to be close to Christ whether here or beyond the veil but this is not what Paul is talking about here. He is talking about something that is 180 degrees in the opposite direction of that kind of individualistic focus on personal suffering. The meat of what Paul is saying here is that his hope lies in his situation being located in the bigger picture of what God is doing in the world. Here is why we know this is what he is up to.
1. The phrase "result in my deliverance" is a direct quote from Job 13:16 from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagent). In this passage, Job is contesting the claims of his critical friends who have said to Job that his suffering must have been brought on by his sin. He responds to them in the presence of God by insisting that one day he will be delivered and that his life will be vindicated. In spite of all of the "evidence" to the contrary, Job stays the course and insists that God will vindicate his life one day (Job 13:18). Somehow, deep in his bones, Job knew better than to let others say that he is evil and deserving of punishment when he knows this is not true. Though not claiming to be perfect, Job claims in the narratives in the book bearing his name that he is faithful to God. Perhaps in Paul's quoting of this passage we find a clue to what his enemies were saying about him being in prison. Perhaps they were saying, you must have done something to end up being treated like this by God. Regardless, Paul, by turning this phrase with an inter-textual echo from Job at its heart, is saying that he is not worried about how he or the ministry of the gospel will be judged. God will always vindicate the righteous who suffer because God has promised to right all wrongs in the shalom of the world to come.
2. The phrase "eager expectation" is an example of Paul quoting himself from Romans 8:19. This Greek word, which some think Paul may have coined, is used only twice in the New Testament. It is translated "eager longing" in the NRSV and is translated, "eager expectation" in Philippians. Clearly, Paul sees his suffering as part of the big picture of God's cosmic plan of redemption in the world (see fuller context of Romans 8).
3. Because of his eager expectation of God's promised redemption he hopes (and I think we are to hear in this an eager and expectant hoping) that he will not be "put to shame". Again, Paul borrows language and categories from the Old Testament to invoke the big picture of God's redemptive promise for the world. Throughout the Psalms and Prophets the cry of the righteous is that the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless will result in God not letting them be "put to shame". Living on this side of the resurrection we know that God answers this cry because of what Christ has achieved in his life, death and resurrection from the dead. This brings us to our summary.
Paul is expressing confidence in the midst of his suffering in prison not by starting with himself and his circumstances but by understanding his plight against the larger backdrop of God's redemptive work in the world. He can find hope in the story of his life by locating the story of his suffering in the story of God's redemptive work in the world, replete with OT echos of redemptive hope to fill out the picture. This model of locating our suffering in the bigger picture of God's redemptive promise is surely the comfort that we are to turn to when all of the circumstances in our life point towards despair, the opposite direction of redemption and hope. When circumstances make it appear that God is against us or, when we are tempted to think that God does not exist, our hope lies in God's vindication of Jesus ( the fulfillment of Job's hope and the reason that all those who trusted in Yahweh would not be put to shame). For, in Jesus' life he shares our suffering, and in his death he shares our feelings of being abandoned by God. Moreover, his death appeared to be the end of hope, presenting circumstances that appeared to final and hopeless. Yet, Yet!, there is vindication in the resurrection. This is the gospel. We are invited to share in Christ's story, to locate the story of our lives in his story. We share in Christ's resurrection and are confident that we will not be put to shame because Jesus has not been put to shame!
Questions for discussion:
1. As discussed above, vindication for Paul could occur as a result of either dying a martyr's death or being found not-guilty and being returned to ministry. In your own words talk about what Paul thought vindication consisted in. How can this help you think about situations in your life where you feel that you are being unjustly accused of something? What should your goal be in the midst of that sort of suffering?
2. In the midst of your mundane, day to day life can you think of any examples or occasions when you lose sight of the big picture of what God is doing in the world and how it should inform the way you think of your life against that backdrop? What can bring you back to seeing your life in the context of God's big picture?
3. Do you have a hard time sensing that things will be OK when you are in the midst of adverse circumstances? Are you inclined to doubt God's existence in those moments, or, at least, his goodness? What sort of exercises can we do to build our trust in God for when times get very tough?