Pardon Me, But Who’s Chained to Whom?
I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear. (Phil. 1:12–14)
Paul was rotting away in a Roman prison—chained twenty-four hours a day to an imperial guard—when, apparently, a man named Epaphroditus arrived with a letter from the Christians in Philippi. The letter was lost long ago but textual clues in the book of Philippians suggest that these Christians inquired about Paul's well-being while under arrest. An affectionate relationship existed between Paul and the Philippian church—a church birthed in another jailhouse episode (Acts 16). Locked up for preaching the gospel in Philippi years earlier, Paul and his companions kept everyone awake belting out hymns around midnight. An earthquake shook the land, walls came a-tumbling down, and the evangelists were freed from their cells. The incredulous jailer, along with his whole family, went down to the river shortly after and was baptized—the beginning of the First Church of Philippi.
I wonder, then, if something in the letter to Paul said: "Don't worry, brother Paul, we know from experience that prison walls and chains can't keep you down. We're praying for a miracle: that your chains break open and you're set free!"
What was Paul's reaction to his predicament? Like you or I would be, he was likely down in the dumps. Paul was an adventurer church-planter, moving from country to country to preach the gospel and defend the new faith. Now he was chained 24/7, his free spirit bound and locked down. Perhaps he prayed furiously, "Lord, unchain me from this guard; set me free to do your work."
"Paul," God must have said to him. "Look! You've got it all wrong. You're not chained to that guard. He's chained to you! And I gave you the gift of preaching. Preach, Paul! Preach!" Paul literally had a captured audience in the persons of these imperial guards who arrived every eight hours for their shift. Some of them became believers and in turn spread the gospel throughout the imperial guard—a special force of men from Rome's elite families. God used Paul's "imprisonment" to influence Rome's high society with the gospel!
Paul's perseverance in prison, shrewd evangelistic tactic, and courage to preach to the very guards who held him down, encouraged other Christians to be bold as well.
Questions for discussion:
- Now, what are you chained to that is actually chained to you?
- How can you turn around a difficult situation to advance the Kingdom of God?