Friday, February 9, 2018

Paul, a prisoner (Philemon 1b)

“a prisoner of Jesus Christ” - desmios Xristou Iesou 

Sometimes Paul refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, stressing his calling and mission from God.  Often Paul refers to himself as a slave of Jesus Christ, a menial servant who does whatever his master demands.  But in this personal letter, Paul uses a different noun to describe himself: “prisoner”.

We can learn much from this description.  First, we may take the declaration naturally.  Paul is truly a prisoner at this moment.  He is under arrest in Rome, chained to a Roman guard every hour of every day.  As a prisoner for two years in the Middle East, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar.  Now, for almost two years, Paul has been waiting in Rome for an audience with Nero.  As he pens this letter to a friend, he notes his physical position.  He is indeed a prisoner. However, he does not consider himself a prisoner of Rome or of Nero.

No, the description Paul primarily had on his mind when he penned the word “prisoner” was not about his physical imprisonment. Paul views himself as a spiritual prisoner.  He is “chained” to Jesus every hour of every day.  He goes where Jesus goes.  He does what Jesus does.  He says what Jesus says.  And his “imprisonment” is something he gladly accepts!

The phrase “a prisoner of Jesus Christ” may be interpreted in more than one way even when describing his “spiritual bondage”.  He is a prisoner “belonging to” Christ.  He is Jesus’ “peculiar possession”.  He is also a prisoner “for” Christ.  His devotion is not to himself, his family, his friends, or even his emperor.  No, Christ has made him His prisoner and all that entails (travels, words, actions) is in service to and for Jesus.

This one who, like each of us, was in bondage to sin has been set free from that sin.  He is now happily in bondage to Christ, gladly doing his bidding, whatever it may be.

May you and I view ourselves as prisoners of Christ.  May we see ourselves chained to our Lord, saying and doing (and thinking) only what our dear Savior says and does (and thinks!).

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