Paul's Imprisonment...Not so Bad

I was surprised at what I found on this topic of Paul’s experience while in prison. According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary, “Roman criminal law did not recognize the imprisonment of free persons as a form of punishment.” Unlike our culture today, Roman imprisonment was simply a way of holding the prisoner until a trial could be performed. There was no such thing as habeas corpus (right to a speedy trial) under Roman law which meant that the time of imprisonment could have been quite lengthy before a trial was given.

During this holding time friends and family were, in most cases, allowed access to the prisoners. Albert A. Bell Jr. writes in his book Exploring the New Testament World, “Some magistrates did gain reputations for treating prisoners cruelly, but this was a matter of individual personalities, not of Roman policy.” The prison systems of today in our culture would be more regulated and be used for holding for trial as well as punishment. The sentence of a 1st century criminal would never be imprisonment. The closest punishment similar to imprisonment would be exile, but as far as we know Paul was never exiled.

Acts 28:16 tells us that Paul was living by himself, most likely in a house, with a soldier guarding him. This description would give more of an idea of house arrest as opposed to imprisonment that we would think of. In Acts 28:20 Paul talks about being in chains, but this was most likely referring to his transport. Prisoners were usually only chained while being transported from one city to another. Acts 20:23 says, “…they came to his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”

Paul was still able to do ministry work even though he was imprisoned. As a result of these points Bell seems to conclude, “Being ‘in prison’ in ancient Rome begins to sound more like a minor inconvenience than a fate to be dreaded.” I would have to agree with Bell's statement. I'm not sure what the application is for knowing this, but it is always helpful to have as much information as possible when reading the scriptures in order to come to the most accurate interpretation.


Is it Enough?

Is salvation enough? This is the question that bears down on my heart today. Christine and I have been struggling with infertility for over 4 years now. We are in a church full of babies and everyone around us seems to have them at will. We, on the other hand have been to two different doctors and have spent close to $5000 out of pocket between MRI's, HSG's, Fertility Medicine, Fertlity Tests, and finally surgery this past December. Thank God for teacher insurance. After all of this we have yet to have success in this area.

We were riding home tonight from our friend's house after another month of disappointment. As I was driving down the road I was pretty bummed out and I could tell Christine was as well. I started to ask the question of "why?" when I felt God say to me, "If all I did is save you, wouldn't that be more than enough?" The answer, of course, is a resounding YES!

God saved me. He really saved me. He called me out of darkness, gave me his righteousness, gave me all the inheritance as an heir the throne of grace, and adopted me into His family. He set His love upon me, came off of His throne and paid the punishment that I deserve for my sin all in the name of love. He not only saved me from sin and hell, but he loves me. He loves me with a love that surpasses knowledge; a love that will never be fully comprehended this side of eternity. Because of this he works everything my good. All of the circumstances of my life have been foreordained before the foundations of the earth to bless me and glorify Him. Not only that but God commands that I be happy and gives me all the capacity to have unending joy in Him. This is a joy and pleasure that is unmatched by anything this world has to offer (including the joy of having a baby).

So, the answer is yes. I chose to believe God's promises and deny my flesh, my emotions and Satan, who all want to drag me through the mud of discouragement and despair. I am free of that.

There are many different stories in the bible that speak on this subject. Right now I am reminded of the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar tells these three men that He will burn them in the furnace if they do not bow down and worship the gold statue. This is how they replied.

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

This is were I stand right now with the infertility issue. I believe, without a doubt, that God will one day bless us with a child that is our own. But even if He doesn't, I want to make it clear to you, reader, that His salvation is enough.


Audience of One

As I continue to read through "A Work of Heart" by Reggie McNeal I am challenged once again by a vary important question to a Christian and especially a Christian leader. He asks, "Who is your audience?" In our performance based culture we so often get trapped in the snare of man pleasing in our Christian lives. Whether it's parents, pastor, mentor, friend, wife or husband we aim to perform well for the approval of those we look up to. This in turn leads to finding your identity in something other than the finished work of Christ. I know I must remind myself constantly that there will only be one being in this universe who will say, "Well done my good and faithful servant." No one else will utter those words except our audience of One who is our Father. McNeal puts it this way:

"Moses' One gave him a private burial. David's One secured his kingdom forever. Paul's One awarded him a victor's crown. Jesus' One sat Him down again at His right hand."

As we walk out our Christian lives we must only seek the approval of One, and He is our God, our King and our Deliverer.


Saul's Transformation

I was thinking about Saul's conversion earlier as I was continuing to read through "A Work of Heart". Saul is a Pharisee. A big part of the Pharisaic theology was the eager awaiting of a Messiah. In acts 9 the Messiah meets Saul in a striking way.

3 As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
5 "Who are You, Lord?" he said.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," He replied. 6 "But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

So Jesus, the Messiah, shows up to a man whose colleagues were the ones who crucified Jesus. Not only that, but Saul himself was overseeing the persecution and martyrdom of the followers of Jesus. I can't imagine what was going through Paul's head at this time. He has just realized that the one he has been waiting for his entire life was the one he was persecuting. The perspective here that I did not see before is what Jesus leaves him with for three days. He says, "Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what to do." That's it. So now we have Saul who has not only realized he was persecuting the Messiah, but now he is left blind with no words of comfort. With Saul's view of God at this time he probably thought that God was going to kill him when he got to the city. I can't imagine the agony and the realization of the sinfulness of his sin over these three days. This Godly sorrow that Saul felt was not the end. Three days later he met the God of mercy and grace.

9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." 11 And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.

This perspective on Saul's transformation definitely helps me understand why Saul spent so much of his epistles reminding the churches of the amazing grace of God. Saul had experienced God's forgiveness in a way that propelled him to live a life completely abandoned to Jesus Christ and the spreading of the gospel!


Self-confidence is not Pride

An excerpt from "A Work of Heart" by Reggie McNeal

"Contrast David's personal perception of self-confidence to that of Saul's sense of inferiority. Saul's lack of ego strength bred paranoid and schizophrenic behavior. Saul never saw himself as king. He told Samuel the prophet that he had chosen the wrong man because Saul was from a small tribe and an undistinguished family. When Saul anointed Samuel as king, Saul did not tell anyone about it. He had to be coaxed out of hiding on the day of his presentation. This action should not be mistaken for humility. It revealed a self image problem that eventuated in Saul's incapacity to establish solid relationships. Saul's public failures were perfectly consonant with his internal view of himself.
David's security in himself did not lead him into believing more about himself than he should. He did not ever fully believe his press. He knew where his real source of strength resided. His confidence grew out of the security of his own relationship with his King."

So as you can see, in this situation David's self-confidence was not pride. It was rooted in something much deeper than that. Self-confidence in the life of a believer is supremely important in the fulfillment of God's mission for our lives. God commands us to love one another and love our enemies. If we are to truly follow the example of our savior in this area then we must not only love people in our minds but also in our actions. Without believers who are self-confident it makes this part very difficult. We must be confident enough to walk up to a guest on Sunday morning, shake their hand, hear about their lives and ask, "How can I pray for you?" We must be confident enough to do the right thing in a situation where everyone around us is doing the wrong thing. We must be confident enough to sit down with a complete stranger and tell them the gospel with a heart of love.

As Christians we should be more confident in ourselves than anyone else. This is not based out of pride, arrogance, naiveness, or presumption. It is based on the fact that we are sons and daughters of the King of Kings. Jesus emphasizes this while giving us our great commission. He gives us an impossible task of making disciples of all the nations of the Earth. Then he says in Mat 28:20 "Behold, I am with you always until the end of the age." If God is with us, who can be against us?