You didn’t know there were lumberjacks in the New Testament?
Well there are, or at least Paul refers to them indirectly! You can be forgiven for not having heard of them because the translators never say their names, and Paul only refers indirectly to them in a passage dealing with a much more serious topic, but one which we are all called to face at some time in our lives — afflictions, impediments, and obstacles.
Check out this passage in Paul’s letter to his beloved Philippians [Philippians 1:12-14 NIV]
“12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” [Emphasis mine]
The Greek word which has been translated here by the phrase “served to advanced”, was a word which, in the first century, described the activities of a platoon of lumberjacks, or “wood-cutters”. These were the men who were deployed ahead of an army to cut down obstacles and clear a path through woods and forests so that the army could advance unimpeded. When we remember that the roads in Paul’s time were little more than cattle tracks that meandered all over the terrain, a straight line cut through all obstacles could give a tremendous strategic advantage to an advancing army. So it was a common practice to send out these arboreal engineers to ensure that nothing would slow the progress of the mission.
Paul says that his circumstances are are the divine lumberjacks, cutting a way through the opposition so that the gospel might be advanced!
What were these circumstances to which Paul refers? He was chained to a Roman soldier, day and night. He was imprisoned in a dungeon. God had allowed a fence to be built around him. God had allowed Paul to be handicapped and suffer limitations - but Paul says these are just the divine lumberjacks cutting a way through the dense foliage of opposition so that the gospel would advance.
As a result, Paul now had a captive audience that could not escape hearing the gospel preached! Other believers were inspired and encouraged to be bold in their proclamations because they saw Paul demonstrate that his circumstances were not really limitations or hindrances as they might have thought, but in reality opportunities for the furtherance of the Good News!
Let me suggest that it is also true in our lives as well. The things that hedge us in, the handicaps that restrict our activities, the tests that we are called to endure can all be God-appointed lumberjacks to clear a path for us to proclaim the gospel. We may suffer the disappointment of unfulfilled dreams, or be beset by illness, we may be in difficult circumstances, yet if we are in the center of God’s will, all these are contributing strategically to the relentless progress of the gospel.
At the end of his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 4:4-7 [NIV]) Paul is able to instruct the believers (and us):
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Emphasis mine]
It certainly does not sound like Paul was feeling sorry for his limitations — does it?
Let us then give thanks to God for the handicaps and testings, for we will be able to do supernatural things for the Kingdom by relying on God’s strength and power rather than ourselves. Let the holy lumberjacks do their job, and what they do best, and what we can't — chop down the obstacles that get in the way and clear a path to glorious victory!
I pray that it may be so in your life.