/ James Faris

Paul: Fettered but Fruitful

Many of us are confined to our homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. We feel fettered or at least hindered. What can we do? The Apostle Paul spent two years in Rome under house arrest. Inconveniently fettered, he was nevertheless incredibly fruitful in Jesus Christ. Though our circumstances are not identical, we can glean much from his example and pray the Lord would make us flourish in our days of hindrance.

He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. - Acts 28:30-31

What did Paul do under house arrest?

Paul Cared for People. He welcomed all who came to him. Just a few years earlier he wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Now he practiced among them what he preached. We know from his other writings that he kept discipling people including Aristarchus, Luke, Mark, Justus, Epaphroditus, Demas, and Onesimus in this season. He labored to resolve the conflict between Onesimus and Philemon by writing the Epistle to Philemon. He cared about the saints in Ephesus and Colossae, and so he wrote to them and sent Tychicus to them (Ephesians 6:21 & Colossians 4:7). He loved the Philippian people, so he wrote to them and sent Epaphroditus to them (Philippians 2:21-30) with a follow-up plan to send Timothy too while hoping to go himself (Philippians 2:19-23). Don’t forget that Paul cared for Epaphroditus in his sickness at this time too - a sickness that brought him near to death. Then, remember the prayers that Paul prayed for the saints in these times because he loved them so dearly (see Ephesians 1:16ff, 3:14ff; Philippians 1:8-9, 4:4ff; Colossians 1:9; Philemon 1:6). Our circumstances are different, to be sure. Imagine what Paul would have done with internet access under house arrest! Since we have so many more advantages than Paul did, let us continue to love people and welcome them into our lives, to disciple others, to write to those in need, to spend this time resolving conflicts between brothers, to care for the emotional and physical needs of the sick, and to labor in prayer. Yes, we need creativity, diligence, and sensitivity to love people like this, and the Lord is faithful. He always gives us exactly what we need to take the next step in serving him and others.

Paul Proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Imagine Paul recounting to everyone around him the kingdom promises and activities of God. He might have started in the Garden of Eden where Adam was called to be vice-regent of the earth and gone on to remember Abraham who was called to be the father of many nations. He probably described the Lord’s declaration that he was establishing a kingdom of priests at Sinai and God’s promise to King David of a Son who would sit on the throne forever. An account of the glorious visions of Daniel predicting the everlasting kingdom might have given way to testimony of Jesus the King who came preaching the kingdom and attained it by his crucifixion and resurrection. Paul would not have missed the ascension of Christ and his ongoing reign that Paul had proclaimed in so many lands as recounted in Acts! What a way to fill time at home?! It gave Paul great confidence that the Lord was at work through him even as he was home bound and under guard. The guard (Acts 28:16) was Paul’s captive audience through which the whole imperial guard heard about the King of that kingdom. Paul wrote with great joy: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (Philippians 1:12-14). Paul was so convinced that the Lord would use his distress that he could be content that the Lord would be honored in his body whether by life or by death. For him, to live was Christ, and to die was gain. He did not worry about death, he worried that he proclaim Christ and serve others well.

Paul Taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul used his time to instruct. To see what Paul was thinking about during his imprisonment and what he was teaching, we need look no further than the content of the four epistles he likely wrote in this time (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon). Paul meditated on and imparted a profound Trinitarian theology (Eph. 1), a humbling soteriology (Ephesians. 2), a glorious Christology (Philippians 2 & Colossians 1), a beautiful ecclesiology (Ephesians 4 & Col. 3), a precious Christian life (Ephesians 5-6 & Colossians 3-4), and so much more. What are you thinking about in your time of quarantine? What are you reading, teaching, and practicing? Do you know Christ more now than you did when he sent you home for this season? If our minds and hearts would be filled with half the glories on which Paul meditated and if we would teach them to our loved ones, our home-stay would bear fruit for generations to come.

Paul was hindered in more ways than we are today. But he lived and communicated with an undaunted boldness. He knew that though he could be bound, God’s word is not bound. Paul’s years under house arrest are the footnote to the book of Acts. We sometimes wonder why God didn’t give us the rest of his story. At least part of the reason is this: the book of Acts is about Jesus, not Paul. Paul decreases while Jesus increases without hindrance.  Most Christians probably can't remember what Paul did under house arrest without a little prodding of the mind. But most of us can remember how the Lord has blessed us through Paul's writings in that era, and we are heirs to those he taught in those days.

We keep hearing that we live in unprecedented days in 2020. We don’t. Not ultimately. This event will fade in memory like the influenza epidemic of 1918. We will fade away too, forgotten by history. What can we do to make these days of restriction count? Like Paul, we should patiently serve people and glorify God knowing that Jesus will not be hindered. Present and future generations will be quietly blessed if we do.

James Faris

James Faris

Child of God. Husband to Elizabeth. Father of six. Pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ordained as a pastor in 2003.

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