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StraighTruth

I am a Freelance writer, poet, editor, artist & catoonist. My work is used by several OnLine companies to attract readers. Some of my writings have been translated into Chinese on the internet. I am posted on FaithWriters & Ezine and I edit the Harford County Christian Jail Ministry, (HCCJM) Newsletter, in Harford Co. Maryland. A follower of Christ, I work for the humane treatment of prisoners, the homeless and the disenfranchised

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Location: Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Paul, A Prisoner For Christ

* indicates footnotes
“Three things will last forever - faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love.” 1* The famous “love chapter” of the Bible, 1st Corinthians 13 ends with these beautiful words. There is a reason why I begin this article about the imprisonment of St.Paul and what the modern detainee may learn from Paul’s experience with these words. While studying background material and the Scriptures in preparation to write this piece, I discovered a Paul that I didn’t know before and did not expect to find.
By that I mean that I always thought of Paul as the fearful figure that the early Church thought he was before his conversion. Paul, who was still using his given name Saul at that time after the first fearsome Hebrew King, had held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen and “… was consenting to his death.” 2* A fanatic Pharisee he was “still breathing threats and murder” 3* as he journeyed to Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem, the “followers of the Way 4* … both men and women.” 5* in chains. He was feared by the early Christians and for good reason!

Even later, during his ministry, he still seemed like a dynamic aggressive individual to me. He argued with Barnabas (who had witnessed for his acceptance into the Church) about John Mark. 6* He stood up to the magistrates in Philippi after being beaten and jailed, 7* and to the Jews in Athens by boldly speaking at the Areopagus. 8* He chastised the Corinthians for allowing incestuous adulterers in their fellowship, instructing them to turn the offenders over to Satan for destruction of the flesh, 9* and in Jerusalem he spoke boldly to a rioting mob that was screaming for his blood. 10* I always thought of him as kind-of-a-gutsy, outspoken and zealous evangelist. Well, he did all of those things and Paul was brave and zealous for certain, but there is another side to his character that had not, until now, spoken to me from the pages of Scripture. That is the Paul who truly loved his students and the congregations that he planted throughout the Eastern Mediterranean; the Paul who got tired and lonely and toward the end was betrayed and felt abandoned by those to whom he had given so much of himself for Christ. 11*

Every Biblical scholar, academic and commentator, whether secular or parochial, has there own theories about virtually everything regarding the origin, authorship and history of New Testament Canon. But many acknowledge that at least five of Paul’s thirteen extant epistles were written while he was imprisoned. Four of them are generally referred to as the Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. One is from a grouping referred to as the Pastoral Letters: 2nd Timothy. 12*

It is primarily these five letters that I studied in preparation to write this article and it is here, in these letters written from jail, that this other side of Paul spoke to me. The second letter written to his student and friend Timothy is believed to be Paul’s swan song, most likely some of the last words written by St.Paul, one of the most beloved and influential men in history. In this letter we meet a teacher who is passing the torch to one his most cherished apprentices. A teacher who is either already condemned to death or who knows he soon will be, either by a whim of Nero or one Nero’s kangaroo courts. Paul tells Timothy that everyone had deserted him except Luke 13* (the author of the Gospel which bears his name and also the book of Acts.)
Paul names some of those who betrayed him or did him harm and warns Timothy about them.
As far as those the believers who just left Paul alone however, I think it would be mistake to judge most of them too harshly. Keep in mind that during the Neronian persecution it was a possible death sentence even to be seen with Paul, to confess Christ, or to be called a Christian. My guess is that Paul probably told most of his fellowship to keep their distance except those whose aid he really needed. Luke probably got away with it because he was a Greek physician and was more than likely a man with some social status.

Paul realized all these events were in the hand’s of God whose only begotten Son, Christ Jesus had summoned Paul to service. He understood that God uses all the occasions of a life of service past, present or future; whether they bring comfort or pain, to spread the Good News to as many of us as possible. I say us because we are still reaping the benefits of Paul’s long years of selfless work for Christ. Many of those years were spent in custody, sometimes imprisoned in horrid miserable conditions meant to torture and break him; but they never did break him. Instead, Paul overcame these evil things by doing good. 14* He managed to encourage his friends, teach his students and keep many early European and Asian Churches running and growing by the loving letters and instructions he wrote them. Paul even states that many in Caesar's own household were hearing the Gospel! Plus he mentions that his guards knew that he was a prisoner for Christ. Why would these observations be worth mentioning if Paul didn’t think that some of these people were being turned to Christ?

The modern detainee who has confessed, repented and come to know the saving grace of Christ, should learn from Paul’s example. Do as he did. Stay in touch with your family as much as possible. Keep your business affairs in order as best as you can. Don’t give up! Don’t let your mistakes keep you from growing in your life or in your relationship with the Lord. Realize, just as Paul did, that it is all in the more than capable hands of Christ. Know that He loves you, and lay your problems at His feet in faith. Seek the Fruit of the Spirit 15* in your life regardless of your circumstances. Live as an example of Christ’s dignity. Share His gifts with the lost souls whom God has placed with you.
If you don’t yet know Jesus and want to, look for Him and you will find Him. If you don’t have a copy of the Scriptures; ask around you will find a copy. I would suggest that you start your study of the Bible with one the Gospels or maybe the Psalms.16*

In Jesus, God gave us the wonderful promised gift of His Son. He came in a human form and we can relate to Him, and He with us.
Just talk to Him like He is right there with you, because He is.
Then just listen, my experience with Him is that He seldom shouts, He usually whispers ...


Footnotes:
1) faith, hope, love: 1st Corinthians 13:13 NLT (2nd edition)
2) consenting: Acts 8:1 NKJV
3) threats and murder: Acts 9:1 NKJV
4) “followers … Way”: one of the firsts terms used to describe Christians.
Acts 9:2 NLT 2nd
5) men & women: Acts 9:2 NLT 2nd ed.
6) John Mark: Acts 15:36-40
7) Philippi: Acts 18:38
8) Areopagus: Acts 17:16-34
9) destruction of the flesh: 1 Corinthians 5:5
10) Jerusalem riot: Acts 21:27-22:22
11) betrayed and abandoned: 2nd Timothy 4:14-16
12) Pastoral Letters: 1st & 2nd Timothy & Titus, three letters written to trusted students of Paul to advise them how to pastor the Churches in Ephesus (Timothy) & on Crete & elsewhere (Titus)
13) all except Luke: 2nd Timothy 4:11
14) overcome evil with good: Romans 12:21
15) fruit of the Spirit: Galatians 5:22
16) Don’t make the mistake of trying to read the Bible by starting at Genesis and reading through to Revelation. That method seldom works for the first time readers. In The Road Best Traveled, Stuart McAlpine suggests starting with the Gospel of Mark. It is a short, concise and easy to understand narrative of Jesus’ life.



first published in the HCCJM Newsletter - Summer 2006
as a feature in its running series Prisoners in the Bible
researched and written by the editor, Jim Stratemeyer

Copyright © 2006 by James A. Stratemeyer
The HCCJM: The Harford County Christian Jail Ministry
is a non-denominational, Bible based, all volunteer, prison outreach.
Ministry website: http://www.hccjm.com/

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