It is unlikely that Paul wished that some of his last years would be spent confined to a rented house in Rome. Yet, Paul found himself forced into house arrest by the Roman authorities. Times like this can make us relate to Paul in a whole new way! Sure, our situation is not one of persecution, like Paul’s was, but we can still find commonality even without identical circumstances. What wisdom can we glean from Paul’s house arrest?
Here is what was going on. Jewish authorities were attempting to have Paul killed for his persistent proclamation of the gospel. Their prosecution put him in a lengthy process of as he was shipped around like cargo going before different governing authorities. This was a complex situation since Paul had Roman citizenship. Because of his citizenship, he exercised his right to stand trial in Rome.
After a long travel experience to Rome via a shipwreck (as if things couldn’t get worse!) Paul is put on house arrest for two years while waiting for his trial.
Luke the writer and companion of Paul records this for us.
When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. – Acts 28:16
Two years of house arrest was not the worst Paul had faced. He had endured mob beatings, floggings from the authorities, and cold nights in an isolated, dark, dungeon. However, Paul knew this was nearing the end of his ministry and his life. Whatever time he had left, he knew it was scarce.
Try to imagine the very real, human emotions that Paul must have felt.
Undoubtedly he wished to see the leaders in Ephesus again, whom he loved! I bet he daydreamed about the taste of flame-grilled fish from a fresh day’s catch. He probably wished he could take a walk through the bustling marketplace. Or feel the sand in his feet as he walked by the vast sea. Paul was a well-seasoned man. He had traveled to many places and experienced many things. House arrest does not suit someone like him.
Yet, there was something indomitable about Paul’s attitude. While constrained to his home; Paul did not see the work of the gospel as constrained. Look what Luke writes:
For two whole years, Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! – Acts 28:30-31
Those who were able to come to see him, Paul welcomed and shared precious time with. And for the many that he wished to see he took up the pen and wrote! In this way, Paul’s purpose carried on “without hindrance.” During this time of house arrest, from approximately 60-62 AD, Paul penned some of his greatest—if not his greatest—letters (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon). These became known as the “Prison Epistles” since they were written during Paul’s house imprisonment.
Paul, a man familiar with suffering, wrote to house churches also familiar with suffering. And instead of ruminating on and on about the hardships, the letters exude themes of joy, gratitude, generosity, and hope.
Yes, the themes we need now more than ever are pervasive in Paul’s “prison epistles,” as they have been famously called.
The first-century Christians are an inspiration to the twenty-first century Church by their example of resiliency. Remember the humanity of Paul. He was not impervious to anxiety, fear, and discontentment. Yet, during this two-year house confinement, he was determined to be a man of action. These were not two years of simply “getting through it.” Paul made a decision to make the most the unideal circumstances of house arrest.
Paul accomplished some of his most Christ-honoring, purpose-fulfilling, and legacy-defining work when his influence was limited to pen and paper. If the Holy Spirit can use Paul mightily in that way, confined from home, imagine what the Holy Spirit can do through us with the various kinds of technology we have access to!
We don’t have a blueprint of how to go about a global pandemic in the twenty-first century. But the time of extra (even forced) reflection may grant us the creativity and innovation needed to overcome the present challenges.
Let’s concede; this is not ideal. Our hearts are grieved for the health of many and for the economic situation of nearly everyone! In some way, shape, or form everyone is being affected by this. We are on our knees, sincerely praying for every one of you. All of this is uncharted territory.
We draw strength from Paul and his companions. If they could meditate on the themes of joy, gratitude, generosity, and hope during such tumultuous times, maybe we can, too.
We are not facing a situation we can simply “pray away,” as much as we wish we could. Sometimes we have to settle in and find a new normal, even if it is only temporary.
As spiritual leaders, we are committed to you, even while distancing. We are using technology and social media platforms as much as we can to stay connected and provide you with resources that will provide spiritual sustenance. We are staying informed by trustworthy sources so we can best lead through this unprecedented time. And we are being watchful as to how we can continue to partner with our communities to meet basic needs at this time.
Like Paul, we don’t want to just pass the time, we still want to proclaim the message of Jesus by word and deed, adapting our method if we need.
As always, personal self-care is vital. When we thrive, we are prepared to help and serve others. To reiterate what Pastor Robert encouraged us with, here is what we can, practically and personally, do to thrive:
- Be Healthy. Create a new rhythm. Set a schedule (wake up times, rest times) with goals and priorities. Remember that health is holistic: spiritual, mental, social, and physical.
- Be Active. Even if it is an at-home workout; there are plenty of YouTube videos that are available. For those who are able to get outdoors, get outdoors and move around (while abiding by the social distancing regulations and the park restrictions). Physical well-being is connected to our emotional and mental health.
- Be Connected. Stay connected to God, family, and others – spend time in daily devotionals, get into the Word and prayer. We need the substance and depth the Bible provides. Use Facebook to form study groups online, meet with your Life Group online. Use this time redefine your relationship with your kids and spouse.
- Be Watchful. Look and listen for opportunities to encourage and also to stay informed. But also know when to stop your media in-take for the day.
- Be Bold. Use this time to be bold and share with others your God-story, or how God is helping you manage fear or anxiety. Ask questions, How are you feeling? What are you concerned about?
We pray these words of Paul, which he wrote while on house arrest, over you, today:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3:17b-21
God is not trembling at the circumstances. He is not limited by what we perceive as limitations. We may not have all the answers, but we can lean into the God who supplies the immeasurable strength needed to make something beautiful out of this time!