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PAUL THE PRISONER
Intro: Paulís letter to the Ephesian church is a blessing. For it is in this letter that we learn about who we are and all that we have as a result of Godís grace. We have discovered the truth that grace is the reason we are saved in the first place. We have learned about how lost we really were before the Lord came to us and delivered us from the bondage and deadness of our sins. We have learned that, in Jesus, we are brought near to God. We have learned that through Jesus, we are in His kingdom. We are members of his family. We are stones in the living temple of God. For me, the journey to this place in this book has been a joy, a challenge and a blessing
As Paul opens this chapter, he begins with the intention of praying for the Ephesian church. He makes the opening statement we have here in verse 1, then for the next thirteen verses Paul delays his prayer as he continues to talk about the divine mystery of the body of Christ. He doesnít begin his prayer until verse 14. We will look at the teaching in these verses over the next few weeks.
Today, I want to focus in on Paulís statement in Eph. 3:1. In this verse, Paul reveals his identity as ďa prisoner of Jesus Christ.Ē In this small, but powerful verse, Paul gives us some insights into life that we do not want to miss. I want to preach about Paul The Prisoner today. I want to share with you the insights into being a prisoner that not only helped transform Paulís time in prison into a ministry, but that also served to transform his life for the glory of God. The insights given here have the potential to do the same for us. Letís take a few minutes to consider Paul The Prisoner.
I. THE CONTEXT OF HIS IMPRISONMENT
Verse 1 identifies Paul as ďa prisonerĒ. The word refers to ďone held in bonds.Ē By the time Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, he had been in prison for five years. He was originally arrested by the Jews and charged with taking a man named Trophimus, a Gentile companion of Paulís, into a forbidden area of the Temple in Jerusalem, Acts 21. Paul did not do this, but the Jews believed he did. They tried to kill him, but he came under protection of the Roman soldiers.
The Jews wanted Paul dead. The Romans were obliged to protect him since he was a roman citizen, and there was no proof of his guilt. Eventually, Paul was sent to Caesarea, where he spent two years in prison. While there, Paul was examined by the Jewish Sanhedrin, Roman governors Felix and Festus, and before King Agrippa. If Paul had not appealed to Caesar, Agrippa would have released him. However, since Paul had appealed his case to Caesar he was sent by ship to Rome. The voyage took nearly a year to complete. When Paul arrived in Rome, he remained under house arrest for the next two years.
Paul lived in a rented house. In that house, he was free to move about during the day, but at night he was chained to Roman soldiers to prevent him from escaping. Paulís life was not one of luxury. He was a prisoner and his circumstances reflected that fact.
This is just a reminder that life does not always go how we plan it. I am sure that Paul never thought he would end up in prison. I would imagine that he saw himself going to Rome to stand in the Forum preaching to huge crowds. I am sure he thought that he would preach to Caesar and the Senate of Rome and see great numbers of Romans converted. But, here he is, in prison because he dared preach Jesus crucified and resurrected. No, Paulís ministry did not play out the way he surely thought it would.
But, thatís life isnít it? The path of life never takes us where we think it will. Most things in life never go as we plan them, do they? Whether itís a relationship, a job, a vacation, or a hobby, there are always changes to the plans we have scripted in our minds. What if everything in your life turned out the way you planned it? Would you agree with me that if we were left to drive the course of our lives, we would end up in bigger trouble that we already do?
The fact is, we rarely know what is best for our lives. Why? We lack all the information. We cannot see very far down the road. We do not even know what is going to take place in the next few minutes. We just donít know, so we make our plans on faulty information.
As we will see, God had Paul right where He wanted him. God put him in a prison so that he might expand his ministry. That sounds strange to our ears, and it is strange, but it is still the truth.
If you are saved, and you belong to the Lord, you are under His direction. He determines where the path of life leads you.
∑ Solomon said this, ďTrust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths,Ē Pro. 3:5-6.
∑ And this, ďA man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps,Ē Pro. 16:9.
∑ Jeremiah said it this way, ďO LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,Ē Jer. 10:23.
Regardless of where we find ourselves in life, we must come to the place where we are confident of His sovereign leadership and direction. Otherwise, we will never have peace and joy as you walk in this world.
I. The Context Of His Imprisonment
II. THE CAUSE OF HIS IMPRISONMENT
Paul says, ďFor this cause I Paul...for you Gentiles.Ē Paul wants his readers to know that he is where he is for their sakes. God had taken this strong, prejudiced, powerful Jewish man. God saved him by his grace, and sent him out to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. The Jews hated Paul for this. They saw him as a traitor to God, to the Law, to his birthright, and to God. They wanted him dead! Thus, they did everything in their power to rid themselves of him and his preaching.
When Paul was arrested and carted off first to Caesarea and then to Rome, the Jews probably assumed they were finished with Paul forever. They probably believed they had silenced this troublesome preacher. They might have stopped Paul from traveling around the world preaching, but their hatred against Paul had a surprising effect. Because he was locked up in prison, Paul had a lot of time on his hands. He used that time to write many of his epistles. He also used that time to tell people about Jesus Christ, and some, even some in Caesarís household, were saved. Phil. 4:22 says, ďAll the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household.Ē
So, while we do not possess a large body of Paulís preaching; we do possess an astounding wealth of theology from the pen of this amazing man. The Jews unwittingly helped place Paul in a position where the Lord could speak through him to the churches. We are still benefitting from their error today!
God used Paul to lay an incredibly important foundation for the church. God actually used Paulís imprisonment to expand his ministry. If Paul had been free to do as he pleased, he would have traveled around and preached from place to place, but because God was directing the course of his life, Paul ended up right where God wanted him. He ended up in the place he could do the most good.
Even in Paulís day, he was not considered to be a very powerful speaker. Paul wrote the following to the church of Corinth, ďFor his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible,Ē 2 Cor. 10:10. The ministry of Paul might have been no more than a footnote in the history of the church had he not been imprisoned and given the time to empty the contents of the divine revelations that were given to him by the Lord. Paul suffered and we are still benefitting from his sacrifice for the Lord.
This is just a reminder that nothing will derail Godís plan! He accomplishes His purposes in spite of the sins and opposition of His enemies. I praise Him for that, donít you? Iím not going to stop Him. Youíre not going to stop Him. Those who oppose the church are not going to stop Him. Our enemies will never even slow Him down. He is the Lord and He is in charge of all things at all times; no matter how it may appear to us!
God has you where you are for it is there that you will bring Him the most glory. It is there that you will be prepared for the assignments He has for you down the road. It is there you will be shade into the image of Jesus. It is there you will grow, be developed, and shaped for His glory. He has you right where He wants you! The best thing you can ever do is learn to ďgrow where you are plantedĒ and become all God saved you to be!
I. The Context Of His Imprisonment
II. The Cause Of His Imprisonment
III. THE CONTROLLER OF HIS IMPRISONMENT
The Jews had arrested Paul, but he did not see himself as their prisoner. They charged him with blasphemy and wanted him killed. He had been detained for his own protection, and sent to Rome, at his own request, by the Romans, but he did not see himself as their prisoner either. He was waiting to appear before Caesar to face examination by the most powerful man in the world, but he did not consider himself to be Caesarís prisoner either!
Paul says that he is ďthe prisoner of Jesus Christ.Ē Paul saw himself as a man who lived under the sovereign control of God. He saw all the events of his life, the good and the bad, as being part of Godís divine plan. He knew that the Romans could not hold him; the Jews could not stone him; and Caesar could not execute him, unless it was part of Godís plan for his life. Paul saw himself as ďthe prisoner of Jesus Christ.Ē That phrase suggests the idea that Paul saw Jesus Christ as the ultimate cause behind his imprisonment. He knew that unless God had ordained it, he would not be where he was.
The Romans may have kept him chained, but Paul was bound to Christ by the very fact that Jesus had redeemed him from the deadness of his sins and given him a new life. Paul was the prisoner of Jesus Christ, bound to Him forever, regardless of where the Lord might lead him, or cause to happen in his life.
Paulís perspective regarding his trials served to help his faith grow. If Paul had come to the place where he thoughts the Jews, the Romans, or even Caesar was in control, he would have given up and fallen into discouragement and despair. Because Paul knew that everything he faced was part of Godís plan, he could rejoice even in trials, Phil. 1:12-14.
Perspective is everything! How you view the events of your life is more important than the events themselves. We are taught in the Bible to walk ďby faith and not by sight,Ē 2 Cor. 5:7. We are taught that God is working ďall things together for good to them that love God,Ē Rom. 8:28. We are taught that we should rejoice in our trials, because they help us to grow in the Lord, James 2:1-4; 1 Pet. 4:12-19. Ill. Paul and Silas - Acts 16:19-25.
If we lose sight of Godís power to control all of life, we will be discouraged and we will quit. Consider this E-mail I received this week: ďI know you donít care but I am going to write this letter anyway. By accident I read the sermon when your dream becomes a nightmare at the end you say bring your life to Jesus and let him turn them into a source of glory, etc. Well, I had a vision for service and thought that God was leading, but that was 25 years ago. I am now 46 and too old and beat up to be used of God if he wanted to use me. I am broken spiritually, financially, relationally, emotionally, and every other way. I worked in the church for years, but have quit totally. In fact I have basically quite going to church. It DOES NOT WORK and God does NOT fix you! I think of suicide almost daily. Well, as I said, I doubt you care or can do anything, so I guess this is just a waste of time so Iíll quit.Ē
I pray for this man. I pray the Lord will help him and cause him to see his life through Godís eyes. I do not know what he has been through, but every bit of it was designed to either bring him to God if he is lost, or to make him more like Jesus if he is saved. That is the perspective we must develop, if we are going to survive the various upheavals of life.
Who is your warden today? Are you a prisoner of your circumstances, or are you the prisoner of the Lord? Paul saw himself as being under the direct, sovereign of God Himself. He understood the truth that the Lord was the Master of all the paths of life, Psa. 37:23. Paul understood that the Lord was working in his life. Paul understood was working to accomplish the things that brought God the most glory, Job 23:10.
If you are a prisoner of the circumstances of your life, you are going to be a miserable person. If you allow the actions of other people to cause you problems, you will never have joy. If you allow the setbacks, the problems, the trials, the tribulations, and the many other disruptions that can occur to cause you to forget that you are being led every step of every day by the ďunseen handĒ of Almighty God, you are going to have a hard time in life.
However, if you can comprehend the truth that all of life, including every good and every bad day, every mountain, and every valley, every success and every failure, every blessing and every burden, and every moment of peace and every moment of pain, are all the work of God in your life, you can experience ďjoy unspeakable and full of glory.Ē Our lives are not the product of chance, luck, karma, or accident; they are the product of the love of a sovereign God Who controls all of life for his glory and our good.
∑ ďIn whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,Ē Eph. 1:11.
∑ ďWhatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places,Ē Psa. 135:6.
∑ ďRemember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it,Ē Isa. 46:9-11.
∑ ďAnd all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?Ē Dan. 4:35.
Our duty, even when we cannot comprehend the burdens and the problems of this life, is for us to bow before the Lord in humble acceptance of the path He has chosen for us. Anything less is a recipe for disaster. But, to do so brings both peace and ultimate blessing in the Lordís time.
That is the message of 1 Pet. 5:5-7. Peter writes, ďLikewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.Ē
We must ever remember that He is the potter and we are the clay! Ill. Rom. 9:18-21; Jer. 18:1-6; Isa. 45:9.
Illustration: As I said, perspective is everything. William Barclay shares the following illustration. ďThere is a famous story of the days when Sir Christopher Wren was building St. Paulís Cathedral. On one occasion he was making a tour of the work in progress.
He came upon a man at work and asked him: ď“What are you doing?“Ē
The man said: ď“I am cutting this stone to a certain size and shape.“Ē
He came to a second man and asked him what he was doing.
The man said: ď“I am earning so much money at my work.“Ē
He came to a third man at work and asked him what he was doing.
The man paused for a moment, straightened himself and answered: ď“I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build St. Paulís Cathedral.“Ē
If a man is in prison for some great cause he may either grumblingly regard himself as an ill-used creature, or he may radiantly regard himself as the standard-bearer of some great cause. The one regards his prison as a penance; the other regards it as a privilege. When we are undergoing hardship, unpopularity, material loss for the sake of Christian principles we may either regard ourselves as the victims of men or as the champions of Christ. Paul is our example; he regarded himself, not as the prisoner of Nero, but as the prisoner of Christ.Ē[i]
Conc: Are you the prisoner of Jesus Christ, or do other things hold the keys to your life?
Paul suffered much in his life, 2 Cor. 11:23-28. He placed his sufferings along the sovereign will of God and here is his conclusion. In 2 Cor. 4:8-15, Paul says this, ďWe are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.Ē
Whatís going on in your life today?
∑ If the Lord is working in some ways in your life that you do not understand, why not bring that to Him right now?
∑ If it seems that the Lord has you shut down, locked up and hemmed in, why not come talk to Him about that today?
∑ If you can see the hand of God working, leading and moving in your life, why not come and praise Him for that right now?
∑ If you are not His, why not come to Him right now so that you can be saved?
[i] The letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. 2000, c1976 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (121). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.