Life in an Egyptian prison:

Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, – GENESIS 39:20

Prisons were grim places with vile conditions. They were used to house forced labourers or, like Joseph, the accused who were awaiting trial.  Prisoners were guilty until proved innocent, and there was no right to a speedy trial.  Many prisoners never made it to court, because trials were held at the whim of the ruler.  Joseph was in prison two years until he appeared before Pharaoh, and then he was called out to interpret a dream, not to stand trial.


Paul & Silas praise God in:

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.  Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. –  ACTS 16:22-25

Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten, and placed in stocks in the inner cell. Despite this dismal situation, they praised God, praying and singing as the other prisoners listened.  No matter what our circumstances, we should praise God.  Others may come to Christ because of our example.


Even in prison Paul shared the gospel:

The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.  –  ACTS 25:23ff

Paul was in prison, but that didn’t stop him from making the most of his situation. Military officers and prominent city leaders met in the palace room with Agrippa to hear this case.  Paul saw this new audience as yet another opportunity to present the gospel.  Rather than complain about your present situation, look for ways to use every opportunity to serve God and share him with others.  Your problems may be opportunities in disguise.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. –  2 TIMOTHY 1:12

Paul’s second letter to Timothy was written about two to four years later after his first letter. Timothy had been Paul’s travelling companion on the second and third missionary journeys, and Paul had left him in Ephesus to help the church there (1 Timothy 1:3, 4).


How Paul saw it as an opportunity:

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  –  PHILIPPIANS 1:12-14

Being imprisoned would cause many people to become bitter or to give up, but Paul saw it as one more opportunity to spread the Good News of Christ. Paul realised that his current circumstances weren’t as important as what he did with them.  Turning a bad situation into a good one, he reached out to the Roman soldiers who made up the palace guard and encouraged those Christians who were afraid of persecution.  We may not be in prison, but we still have plenty of opportunities to be discouraged – times of indecision, financial burdens, family conflict, church conflict, or the loss of our jobs.  How we act in such situations will reflect what we believe.  Like Paul, look for ways to demonstrate your faith even in bad situations.  Whether or not the situation improves, your faith will grow stronger.


How did Paul end up in prison?

As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. –  PHILIPPIANS 1:13

How did Paul end up in chains in a Roman prison? While he was visiting Jerusalem, some Jews had him arrested for preaching the gospel, but he appealed to Caesar to hear his case (Acts 21:15 – 25:12).  He was then escorted by soldiers to Rome, where he was placed under house arrest while awaiting trial – not a trial for breaking civil law, but for proclaiming the Good News of Christ.  At that time, the Roman authorities did not consider this to be a serious charge.  A few years later, however, Rome would take a difficult view of Christianity and make every effort to stamp it out of existence.  Paul’s house arrest allowed him some degree of freedom.  He could have visitors, continue to preach, and write letters such as this one.  A brief record of Paul’s time in Rome is found in Acts 28:11-31.  The “whole palace guard” refers to the Praetorian guard, the elite troops housed in the emperor’s palace.


Paul imprisoned twice in Rome:

for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  –  PHILIPPIANS 1:19-21

This was not Paul’s final imprisonment in Rome. But he didn’t know that.  Awaiting trial, he knew he could either be released or executed.  However, he trusted Christ to work it out for his deliverance.  Paul’s prayer was that when he stood trial, he would speak courageously for Christ and not be timid or ashamed.  Whether he lived or died, he wanted to exalt Christ.  As it turned out, he was released from this imprisonment but arrested again two or three years later.  Only faith in Christ could sustain Paul in such adversity.


Have sympathy for those in:

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering. –  HEBREWS 13:3

The Jewish Christians were being ridiculed and persecuted by Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus the Messiah. Most of the book of Hebrews tells them how Christ is greater than the sacrificial system.  Here the writer drives home the point of his lengthy argument: It may be necessary to leave the “camp” and suffer with Christ.  To be outside the camp meant to be unclean – in the days of the exodus, those who were ceremonially unclean had to stay outside the camp.  But Jesus suffered humiliation and uncleanness outside the Jerusalem gates on their behalf.  The time had come for Jewish Christians to declare their loyalty to Christ above any other loyalty, to choose to follow the Messiah whatever suffering that might entail.  They needed to move outside the safe confinement of their past, their traditions, and their ceremonies to live for Christ.  What holds you back from complete loyalty to Jesus Christ?


©Kingsway International Church 1973.


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