What if you’re in prison?

What if you’re in prison?

St. Paul in Prison - Rembrandt

No one has known Christ better than Paul, nor surpassed him in the careful example he gave of what anyone should be who bears Christ’s name. So precisely did he mirror his Master that he became his very image.

 

By a painstaking imitation, he was transformed into his model and it seemed to be no longer Paul who lived and spoke, but Christ himself.

 

—From a treatise on Christian Perfection, by St Gregory of Nyssa, bishop

 

Is there any greater compliment that could be paid to a follower of Christ?  So transformed was he by God’s grace, that to the Corinthians who desired proof that Christ was speaking in him St Paul says:

It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

All the more do I appreciate him as I slowly continue to make my way through his prison letters, especially Colossians 1:24-29 and 2:1-5 where I happen to find myself today.

Here we read St Paul as he writes to the Colossians from that Roman prison. In this letter we get an expose, a glimpse into the heart of a man who is going through a struggle for believers he has never met, but whom he greatly loves.  He says:

Yes, I want you to know I have to struggle hard for you, and for those in Laodicea,

and for so many others who have never seen me face to face.

—Col 2:1

It’s only one verse, but it’s so powerful. In naming the Laodicaeans with the Colossians, it’s as if he’s picturing all the believers from the Lycus valley, a group of three towns, including Hierapolis, and letting them know he has them in his heart. The Gk word he uses for struggle is the word from which we get the English, agony.

As I read I wondered,

What kind of struggle is he fighting for them? He’s already in prison awaiting judgement; maybe even knowing the emperor Nero’s condemnation was at his door.

 

Just a few verses back, St Paul says that “he became a servant of the Church when God made him responsible for delivering God’s message to them,” vs 25  Once that message was a mystery; it had been “hidden”… for generations…  but now it’s been revealed to his saints.

It wasn’t some secret knowledge like the Gnostics believed– truth only revealed to a select few– No, the mystery of Christ was among them now, even the pagans; Jesus was the hope of their glory. This message was meant to instruct everyone so that they may be perfect in Christ.

And St Paul was happy to suffer for them because of it.

I imagine him praying in prison, crying out to God in prayer the very words we read, knowing he is responsible for a people he’ll probably never meet. He longs to go to them, to bind them together in love, to stir their minds until the fullness of God’s wisdom is made manifest in them and they are made perfect in Christ. ( vs 28 -29)

And then there was the matter of protecting them from false teachers who were attempting to deceive these young believers with “specious arguments”. ( 2:4)

In Chpt 1: 39, I can almost feel his agony as he says he is struggling on helped only by God’s power which was,

driving him on irresistibly.

—1:29

I think his agony was the struggle he was facing for them in prayer and though he longed to go to them, he was in prison. Perhaps he had come to the realization that there was only one recourse left for those he so dearly loved.

Prayer.

Bound by distance and circumstance, he wrestled for those he couldn’t see, trusting that what he could no longer do himself, God must now do.

How many of us can relate to Paul though we may never have experienced a physical prison? Don’t we all have family members, especially children, or friends for whom we’ve spent not a few sleepless nights agonizing in prayer for their souls, no longer able for whatever reason to bring them the needed message of the Good News, Jesus their only hope? How we know the message would free them, but we can’t get to them anymore. We feel imprisoned by the restraints whatever they may be, but St Paul shows us, there’s always a way to “struggle hard” for them and that is the way of prayer.

What if you’re in a prison of sorts and can’t get to the ones you love?

It can be a very hard battle indeed, but then our teacher is one of whom it is said,

 

So precisely did he mirror his Master that he became his very image.

 

Jesus, I trust in you.

 

+PAX

 

  • St Paul in Prison, Rembrandt c. 1627
  • Scripture, The Jerusalem Bible
  • study notes, Letters to Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Barclay

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