I’ve often pondered on the significance of the verse in Ephesians 3:1 where the Apostle Paul said, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…”
What did Paul mean about being a prisoner of Christ for our sakes? In what way were his constraints benefitting us? And then, I thought of people like Heidi Baker, Brother Yun, and Canon White. These tremendous heroes of our faith have modelled lives of sacrificial surrender to bring the Good News to the poor and those imprisoned and persecuted for the Name of Jesus.
During the Kingdom Trilogy meeting last week, Canon Andrew White, also known as the Vicar of Baghdad, shared many testimonies of miracles in his church and among the thousands of refugees who were displaced from their homes in Iraq by the vicious and murderous Islamic State/Daesh.
He recounted in his book ‘Father, Forgive’: “My trust in the Church has been so greatly enhanced by living with my people here at St George’s in Baghdad. Here, our people have nothing, most have lost everything, yet the presence of Jesus is so real. We talk about love all the time, and in love we see the beginning of reconciliation. The glory or miraculous presence of God is a constant topic of conversation. God is ever present in His power and majesty, and in times of distress, the Holy Spirit provides comfort and, truly, a peace that transcends the rational. When everything else is gone, Jesus is all we have left.”
Prisoners of Christ
Paul writes, “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Eph 4:1 Under Roman law, prisoners commonly relinquished all rights and desires to the point of complete surrender. They lose everything, including their identities, and their only protection was from their captor, with no hope of any remuneration or reward inside the prison system.
But Paul, this great Apostle, Evangelist, and anointed Epistoler, did not consider himself a prisoner of the Roman judicial system. He declared himself a prisoner of Christ alone. He might’ve been imprisoned physically, but spiritually, he lived in the exhilarating freedom of the Messiah.
How about us? We may not be locked in a real jail, but are we living bound by the cares of this world? Has pain kept us captive in a prison of fear and anxiety? Listen to Paul’s exhortation, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” 2 Cor 2:14
The physical reality of Paul’s confines in a location enclosed by iron bars was transcended by the supernatural reality of God’s heavenly presence with him constantly. Calling himself a prisoner of Christ was actually a declaration of His faith and love in a Living Hope to encourage the Church. He was completely secure in the power of the Word and his faith in the Lord. So too must we.
Prisoners of Hope
‘Prisoners of hope’ is a beautiful phrase. It reminds us that, whenever we’re in a spiritual stronghold, we’re not to be like hopeless prisoners but as those filled with hope, knowing that God will release us from captivity.
Rev 2:10 says, ‘The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you.’ The Lord once told Dr. Brian Bailey that He never puts His people into caves, but only sends them through tunnels, as there’s light at the end of every tunnel. God always bring us out of a trial (prison) regardless of how long it takes, because His plans are to give us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). Amid his persecution, Paul could still say, “It’s because of the hope of Israel that I’m bound with this chain.” Acts 28:20
Looking around the world, we see countless Christians persecuted simply for their faith in Christ. Beheadings, bombings, beatings – these are just some afflictions our brothers and sisters experience for following Jesus. The tragedy is that, due to this targetted violence and injustice, there’s been an unprecedented exodus of Christians from the very lands Christianity was birthed and flourished in.
According to The Review, ‘Christians in Palestine represent less than 1.5% of the population, while decreasing in Iraq from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000, on unprecedented persecution by extremists. In other parts of the world, China’s churches must operate underground with their pastors beaten and jailed for being outspoken. More recently in Sri Lanka, the Easter bombings in April killed innocent worshippers and brought devastation to families and churches.
Beloved, we’ve been insulated thus far from the shakings and tribulations that the Body of Christ is experiencing around the world. Blessed as we are to live in this wonderful nation, we have a responsibility towards them. Paul said that, if one part of the Body suffers, every part suffers with it. We must weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
How will you respond to the cries and needs of our persecuted brethren? As Pastor Yang exhorts at the end of every meeting, we can do three things to stand in solidarity with them – pray, give or go. We were asked to pick one. I assure you it’s not difficult to do all three. May the Lord give us grace.