Intro: Ps 27:11-14 – Teach me Your way, O Lord, And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies. 12 Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries; For false witnesses have risen against me, And such as breathe out violence. 13 I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. 14 Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!
Do you think the apostle Paul found comfort in reading the OT Psalms? I can imagine that this Psalm of David would have spoken to his circumstances on more than one occasion. Paul and David had a lot in common when it came to being misunderstood, falsely accused, and relentlessly attacked by his enemies. Paul could have found some lessons in the trials of David.
Paul was destined to suffer from his enemies. Speaking to Ananias, the Lord said of Paul, “He is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
Interestingly Paul viewed his suffering from this very perspective – as evidence of His commission and approval by Jesus. In defending his apostleship to the Corinthians in his second epistle to them he catalogued his troubles, not to complain, but to validate his position as Jesus’ messenger as opposed to the false apostles. 2 Cor 11:23 – Are they ministers of Christ? — I speak as a fool — I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.
The apostle writes 4 of his letters while incarcerated. Paul was familiar with the inside of a prison cell. Of Paul’s imprisonments recorded in Acts (at Philippi [16:23- 24], Jerusalem [22:24-29; 23:10, 18], Caesarea [23:35; 24:27], and Rome [28:16-31]) and his second Roman imprisonment (2 Tim 1:8), only the one at Philippi had taken place as Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. He had already been in prisons more frequently. How many other times he was imprisoned is unknown; the church father Clement of Rome, writing at the close of the first century, said Paul was imprisoned seven times.
I. Lessons from Paul’s Chains. In a recent Bible class, a question was asked about how much one should dwell on the past, especially if one has a past of sin and rebellion. Doesn’t God want us to leave the past in the past and move on? Interestingly, Paul speaks to both sides of this question.
A. In Phil 3:13 he said he was forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forward to the things that are ahead. Yet Paul recounted his checkered past often:
• Acts 22:3 – I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,
• Acts 26:9-11 – Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
• 1 Cor 15:9 – For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
• Gal 1:13 – For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.
B. Paul did not allow the guilt of the past to overwhelm him or conquer him. He was sure of God’s forgiveness. But there were lessons to be learned from the experience. So also Paul was willing to speak of his imprisonments to others. He knew there were lessons to be learned from the experience. Each of his “prison epistles” contains a reference to his captivity. If take a look at these references we can learn some lessons that are relevant to our struggles.
C. Col 4:18 – This salutation by my own hand — Paul. Remember my chains. These are the last words of his letter to the Colossians. In these closing remarks he mentions several fellow Christians and companions who were encouraging to Paul in his ministry; Tychicus, Onesimus, Mark, Aristarchus, Justus, Epaphras, whom he calls a fellow slave. (4:12). They all had a story of suffering to share. We speak more about the importance of this latter in the lesson.
1. But in these last words he makes a simple request: remember my chains. Keep me in mind while I go through this hardship. Paul is not looking for pity, or boasting in his troubles, as though he is suffering more than others. He’s not pretending everything is perfect and the struggles don’t exist. But he is acknowledging the weight of his burden and asking others to share in it. Heb 13:3 – Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also.
2. We need to share in the struggles we experience as Christians. We often allow pride to keep us from opening up to others or asking for help and guidance. We rob ourselves of true encouragement and strength. If Paul needed it, so do I.
D. Eph 6:20 – for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Paul always viewed his difficult circumstances in the context of his mission to preach the gospel. He tells others that he is an ambassador, a representative acting on behalf of the King of kings. This position comes with responsibility, mainly, to proclaim the mysteries of the gospel boldly.
1. Paul does not allow himself to wallow in self-pity. He does not allow himself any excuses toward disobedience or neglect. He represents Jesus – ALWAYS. Phil 3:17-20 – 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things.20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ
E. Philemon 23-24 – 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. Here the apostle references Epaphras, another evangelist who is also imprisoned for his faith and work in Christ Jesus.
1. Solidarity is a very powerful tool for the Christian as he faces opposition and suffering for the cause. We are members of a body – when one suffers we all suffer. In the body we are not alone – We have God – we have each other. Two things about your struggle today:
a. You are not the only one to go through these things.
• 1 Cor. 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
• Heb 2:17-18 – Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
• 1 Peter 5:8-9 – Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.
b. God calls you to share the burden.
• Gal 6:1-2 – Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
F. Phil 4:22 – All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household. Paul has already referenced his incarceration and its spiritual purpose at the start of the letter – turned out for the furtherance of the gospel. (Philippians 1:12-14).
1. Here at the end of the letter he speaks directly to the fruit that had been produced. Christians in the household of Caesar!? Who could have possibly foreseen this?
2. God can reach places we view as unreachable. His hand is not shortened that it cannot save. The chains of Paul is proof positive of God’s sovereign rule over the process of salvation. He opened doors that must have seemed sealed tight and unapproachable.
Conclusion: How are you handling those chains of yours today?
- Don’t forget the chains of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Pray for each other.
- Display Christ as you go through your dilemmas.
- Keep your eyes fixed on the big picture, and know God is in control.