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Prison Pen Pals

Updated on March 19, 2018
Anna Watson profile image

Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.

Time to Write

Anybody who has ever devoted any time to writing knows that finding the time to write can be difficult. Life often happens, and little distractions can make it tough to meet deadlines. The Apostle Paul certainly knew this, for he was a man of the world. Between his travel, his preaching, extinguishing fires in various churches, and of course, his tent making, it’s a wonder poor Paul found the time to do anything. Time is a precious commodity, something that we seemingly never have enough of, yet can weigh awfully heavy when we do. Towards the end of his life, Paul found himself with ample time. He was no longer a missionary globetrotter, bringing the good news about Christ to the citizens of the world. Now in prison, Paul had plenty of time for deep thought and quiet contemplation.

2 Timothy

Preaching the word of God had cost Paul his freedom on more than one occasion. This imprisonment gave him time in abundance to write many letters. One letter to Timothy he wrote from death row; awaiting trial during the reign of the merciless emperor Nero. The Roman Empire, by now, had turned against Christians. Nero wasn’t content to simply disagree with their theology, nor was he satisfied by mere imprisonment. No, Nero preferred to torture the Christians before executing them for the intolerable crime of worshipping the one true God. Paul was very aware of this. He knew very well what Nero was up to and he had a pretty good idea of the fate that awaited him. In 2 Timothy 4:18 Paul wrote: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul had dedicated his life to following God, and after he found Jesus, Paul risked life and limb to follow Christ as well. Paul knew that the end was near. He was in prison and could no longer travel from post to port preaching the Gospel, as he had so often done before. Paul knew he needed someone to carry on his life’s work when he was gone. In writing 2 Timothy, Paul was grooming Timothy to be his successor. 2 Timothy was one of the last letters that Paul would ever write. In it, he writes to Timothy like the old, faithful friend that he was, referring to him as a “dear son” and reminding Timothy to be strong in the faith.

In this letter, we get to see a personal side to Paul, a lonely man who has been deserted by many of his friends but who still has faith in the goodness of God. Perhaps because so many people had abandoned him, Paul felt an even greater appreciation for those who stuck by him. Taking no one for granted, Paul passes along greetings to his other faithful friends at the end of the letter. Paul knows he’s at the end of the road and in 2 Timothy we can see that his imprisonment has allowed him to really take stock of what’s important: loved ones are very important, but greater still is faith in God.

In 4: 6-8 Paul wrote: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Paul knew that his time was up, he knew that he could finally rest in the goodness of God’s glory, so he passed the mantle of the Gospel to Timothy. For nearly 2,000 years, Christians the world over have enjoyed the fruits of the two men’s labor.

If we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are unfaithful, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.

— 2 Timothy 2:11-13

Ephesians

Another prison letter that Paul wrote was to the Ephesians. If Paul’s second letter to Timothy was urgent, his letter to the Ephesians was calm. There were none of the more serious problems that we’ve seen in some of the other churches. To the church in Ephesus, Paul is able to devote time to reflect on God and the overall scheme of the universe. Clearly, this was no idle letter. Prison had given Paul time to ponder the deep questions in life: why we’re here. Everybody, at some point has questioned life, but Paul actually had the answer: “And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on Earth together under one head, even Christ.”

Paul explains that we were chosen before the creation of the world to be the adoptive sons and daughters through Christ. We were redeemed by the blood of Christ and our sins were forgiven. There were no pressing concerns in the church of Ephesus, none of the problems that plagued some of the earlier churches. Paul was able to spend his time focusing on the love of God. We are the body of Christ, as Christians we represent the Creator and His Son. We should live a life worthy of such an honor. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, the church there already knew the basics. In this letter he took it further. Now was the time for them to grow in their faith, and live godly lives.

Paul urged the Ephesians not to live as the gentiles did, with the “futility of their thinking.” (4:17) The gentile’s hearts were hard and they were ignorant. Paul asked the Ephesians to cast off their old selves in favor of new bodies which were created to be like God in holiness. Love others as Christ loves, forgive as Christ forgives, be kind and compassionate, submit to others in reverence to Christ, and always give thanks to God the father.

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

— Ephesians 6:19,20

Colossians

In addition to Ephesians, Paul also had time to write Colossians while imprisoned and we can see a similar theme. It is believed that Paul wrote both letters during the same prison stint. Paul devoted some time in both letters to focus on godly living and righteousness. In Colossians 3:2 he reminds the readers to set their minds on heavenly things, rather than earthly pursuits. He compares greed to idolatry and admonishes the reader to put to death such earthly matters as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. We are to replace those faults with the virtues of compassion, humility, kindness, gentleness, and patience.

Paul wrote 2 Timothy to prepare Timothy for a world of ministry after Paul’s death. He wrote Ephesians to a church that was doing well and ready to grow into a more mature church. Paul wrote Colossians to attack specific problems; namely false teachers. Colosse was a part of a major oriental trade route. Such a bustling city often fell prey to cults and false prophets, as philosophies and ideas were exchanged as freely as the goods and spices carried along the ships. Paul’s letter to the Colossians is a reminder that Christ is all that is needed for salvation.

The angel worship, false spirituality, and religious festivals that were common in Colosse were leading people away from the truth of Christ. The Book of Colossians was a gentle reminder to the church to remain on the right path. Thus far they had avoided the temptations of the false prophets, and Paul meant to keep it that way! He reminded them that we’re to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts and to be thankful. (3:15) We need not worship angels, Jesus contains all the fulness of God. And so, whatever we do, we must do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Though Colossians and Ephesians are different in tone and text, the theme is the same in both: Live a life worthy of being called the children of God. The church in Colosse was in danger of corruption, while the church in Ephesus was ready for greater theological teachings, but the same truth remained; the power of Christ brings us nearer to God.

Prison is a punishment, something that people avoid at all costs, and no doubt, Paul would have preferred to be anywhere else. But it was his stay in prison that allowed him the luxury of time—time to ponder the great truths of God. Thanks to that time, Paul was able to write these letters (along with Philemon and Philippians), as a result, Christians all over the world have been able to grow in the truth. Paul was imprisoned for preaching the word of God, that very confinement allowed him to spread that word even further. Irony can be delicious sometimes.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

— Colossians 3:15-17

© 2018 Anna Watson

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