At Creekside we have been experimenting with extending the dialogue on Sunday mornings. We’ve been playing with the idea of text messaging questions that people have from Sunday’s sermon. If you are interested in doing this check out PollEverywhere.com.
Well I spoke on Philemon 1-7 this week and I received this question:
In vs. 1 prisoner of Christ why does he say prisoner. figurative and literal? language a bit morbid?
So why did Paul use this phrase? The simple answer is that he was actually a prisoner. Paul is uses this phrase twice in Philemon (vv 1, 9), and then again in Ephesians 3:1. For the writing of both of these letters, Paul was in Jail for preaching the Gospel. Paul spent a lot of time in prison, and he references prison and his chains often.
Prison during the first century was generally a miserable experience. Our prisoners today have it way easier. Paul never would have received free cable and a gym membership. But Paul wasn’t always in the deepest, darkest pit that Rome could find. In at least one of his imprisonments he was on house arrest. During this time he literally had a Roman soldier chained to him at all time. So Paul had someone to share his faith with every day of his captivity, so he had something to do at least. Paul took his chains and used them as an opportunity to preach the gospel
12Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[a] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. Philippians 1.12-14
Paul was able to take a bad situation and make it a gospel opportunity. He had nothing to lose, he only had souls to gain for the Kingdom of God.
Part of the power of Paul’s Prison imagery, was the freedom that he found even though he was in physical chains. No prison could hold his spirit. And he was truly free from the chains of the law, and he was free to live in the grace and mercy that Christ purchased for him on the cross.
So Paul’s references to prison are, in a way, ironic. Yes he is in physical chains, but the chains around his heart are gone. And that’s what happens in our lives when we surrender our lives to Christ. No matter what situation we are going through in our lives. We are free in Christ. The real trick then is to acutally live in the freedom.
In Galatians Paul is talking to a group of people who are reverting back to the prison of legalism. They are putting themselves back in prison and closing the door, behind themselves. Jesus broke the locks, he’s set us free. Whenever we try to earn God’s favor, or live in a law-based, legalistic way, we are putting ourselves in prison and are denying the power of the Grace of Christ in our lives.
Whenever we play around with temptation and sin, we are putting ourselves back into the prison that Jesus set us free from.
The contrast between Paul’s physical chains, and his message of hisFreedom in Christ, should remind us that we truly can be free, and that we can only find that freedom through the Grace of Christ. We just need to walk out of those open prison doors and into the grace of Christ.