Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Prison Perspective

"Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel" (Philippians 1:12).

In prison, Paul could look back at Joseph. Joseph was imprisoned for being faithful to God, just as Paul was. Joseph did not know it at first, but when the baker and cupbearer were tossed into prison, he realized that the pharaoh of Egypt was very dissatisfied with his chief counselors. Moreover, God was working on Pharaoh. Eventually Joseph stood before Pharaoh, preached the truth to him, and was welcomed (Genesis 40–41). Similarly, Daniel found himself in exile and even imprisoned with lions, only to get out and speak before kings who were ready to listen.

With these examples of God’s acts before him, Paul could be very optimistic about his prison experience. Perhaps God was working on the heart of Caesar. Perhaps soon Paul would have a chance to stand before Caesar, and Caesar would receive the Gospel and bring the Roman Empire under the easy yoke of biblical law. We know that in Paul’s case, the outcome was not as immediate and positive as it was with Joseph and Daniel; but Paul had reason for optimism anyway.

He tells us in Philippians 1:13 that his witness has gone throughout the official palace guard of Caesar, the famous Praetorian Guard. Moreover, the word has gone out all over the palace, so that “everyone else” also knew that it was because of this “Christ,” this “Jesus,” that this man Paul was in chains.

In addition to this, Paul said that many in Rome had been encouraged to speak out for the Gospel. Paul had become a hero to the Christians. His imprisonment was a cause for joy. He was the talk of the town. The notoriety of his chains had provided many Christians an opportunity to share their faith with boldness. To be sure, a few of the Christian leaders were envious, and talked down Paul while they talked up Jesus; but even this, says Paul, advanced the Gospel.

Finally, Paul fully expected to be delivered from prison (vv. 19–20). He thought that he might stand before Caesar and be well received; or that he might be martyred. Either way, he would be delivered, and either way it would turn out for the best as far as the Gospel was concerned.