When Martin Luther King Jr. penned his Letter From a Birmingham City Jail in April 1963, he joined a long tradition of Christians who wrote letters and books while in jail, including John Bunyan, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and most notably, the apostle Paul.
This month we will be studying Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, all letters the apostle wrote as a prisoner in Rome. At that time, people were sent to prison not as punishment, but to await trial and possible execution. When Paul wrote these letters, he was most likely serving a two-year “house arrest” (Acts 28:30). This meant he was able to live in a rented residence, though in chains and guarded.
This was not Paul’s first arrest. Imprisonment was so much a part of Paul’s Christian experience that he included it on his resume. In 2 Corinthians 11:5 he began his defense by claiming that he was not inferior to those whom others may view as “super-apostles” or perhaps better translated as “eminent” or “chief apostles.” To support this assertion, Paul reluctantly listed some of his accomplishments (vv. 22–29), including his frequent imprisonment.
We tend to look at a church’s size and budget as evidence of God at work. The apostle Paul recognized that God works through weakness. For this reason, Paul wrote, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (v. 30).
You may be surprised to find that the letters we will be studying this month are some of Paul’s most joyful. Yet Paul wrote them while under house arrest in Rome. Instead of curtailing his ministry, this imprisonment allowed Paul to articulate some of the deepest theology in the New Testament.
>> What appears to us to be a setback is often an open door. We do not need a large platform to make an impact on those around us. As we make ourselves available, God will work through us even in the most confining circumstances.
Lord, You are perfect and powerful! Our weaknesses remind us that it is You who is good, who does good, who reaches people’s hearts. Give us peace in Your power and perfection.