Paul in Prison

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was a prisoner (Philippians 1:7, 13, 17) but hopeful of being free to visit them soon (2:24). In last week’s post I said that I agree with those who think that the imprisonment in which Paul wrote Philippians was the one in Rome (A.D. 60-62) described in Acts 28:16-31. In this post I’ll describe briefly what life was like for Paul during that imprisonment.

According to the account in Acts, he was allowed to live in his own rented house, guarded by a soldier to whom he was bound by a light chain, and he welcomed all who visited him, preaching the kingdom of God to them and teaching them about the Lord Jesus Christ. Most of the account describes two visits that the leaders of the Jews made to Paul, which culminated in his applying Isaiah 6:9-10 to them and asserting, “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted).

Paul’s having such freedom during his imprisonment is also suggested by the final greetings in his letter to the Philippians. He sent greetings to them from “the brothers who are with me” and “all the saints…especially those of Caesar’s household” (4:21-22). The first expression indicates that he was able to have coworkers (including Timothy, 1:1; 2:19-24) associated with him. And the second expression, which seems to refer to all the Christians in Rome (especially those in the emperor’s service), reflects his freedom to entertain visitors and his getting them.

In fact, when he wrote Philippians, Paul felt that his imprisonment had served to advance, rather than to hinder, the gospel. As he explained in 1:12-18, this had happened in two ways, through his contacts with his guards and others and through the encouragement that his imprisonment gave other Christians to witness more vigorously. Since Paul’s guards rotated (every four hours, according to Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995, page 113), he had access to several of them. Also, his being chained to them forced them to listen to what he said and to observe what he did. Thus by the time that he wrote Philippians, he could claim, “[I]t has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Phil. 1:13).

“But not only that; there were also weaker brethern in the church at Rome who were equally effected by him. It was a very difficult time to be a Christian. They were being persecuted for their faith, and threatened with still worse things, so that some of the weaker Christians were beginning to lose ‘the hope of their calling’ [Eph. 1:18, KJV]. But when they heard of Paul in prison, of how that true man of God was conducting himself, and how he was standing for Christ in the face of death, then their courage began to revive. That is what happened—they were fainting, but Paul was beginning to preach and testify. Ah, my dear friend, no man lives to himself in this world. What you and I do in the time of adversity and trouble is going to affect many others… You must live in such a way that after [Christian people who have become a little bit doubtful and hesitant] have seen you they will say, ‘Yes, it is quite true after all, he went through it; she stood up to it, without any change, without any flinching, without any apology all all.’ Thus, the weaker Christians will see that the gospel is true and that the promises are firm. See in it an opportunity for witnessing and if you face it like that, whatever it may be, you will conquer it.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Joy: An Exposition of Philippians 1 and 2, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989, page 82)

Yesterday evening the Life group which Leonora and I host held our first meeting for 2016-17. We discussed the introduction to Philippians given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.” We plan to meet at 7:00 each Thursday, alternating between a study of Philippians led by me and a Voice of Martyrs study led by Ray Noble.

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