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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder


Philemon 1-3 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow-laborer, and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in thy house: grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

To be a prisoner of Jesus Christ is a very interesting study. The apostle, Paul, refers to himself in these exact words in the 9th verse of this epistle, as well as in Ephesians 3:1. Similarly, he acknowledges that he was the prisoner of the Lord (Eph. 4:1), and an ambassador in bonds (Eph. 6:20). Writing to Timothy he encourages him to be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner. Following this, Paul encouraged Timothy to also become a prisoner of Jesus Christ: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God (2 Tim. 1:8). Does this mean that every Christian should become a prisoner of Jesus Christ? I believe that is exactly what it means!

Usually we think of a prison as a building having cells in which people are confined; a place where convicted criminals are detained; a place where accused persons are held awaiting trial. A prison is a jail cell. A prisoner, then, is a person that is confined; one held captive; one incarcerated and separated from society; one that is denied the privilege of freedom, and held in police or military custody.

Paul had first hand knowledge of being a prisoner. Returning to Jerusalem after his missionary journeys, Jews from Asia, who probably had personal knowledge of Paul, and stirred up the people against him. He was seized, taken out of the temple by Jews who went about to kill him. Paul was rescued by Roman soldiers, only to be placed in bonds by them, and taken before Roman authorities (See Acts 21:27-40). The remainder of the book of Acts tells of Paul's defense before the Jewish council; before Felix, the governor of Judea, and his successor, Festus. And it was during the hearing before king Agrippa, that Paul appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen. After many hearings and imprisonments, Paul was taken to Rome, placed in prison, and there spent a number of years awaiting his trial before the Roman courts.

Indeed, Paul knew what it was like to be a prisoner of civil authorities. However, as Paul begins this letter to Philemon, he isn't referring to his civil imprisonment when he stated that he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ. True, the fact that he preached the gospel message of Jesus Christ did result in the Jewish uprising, which led to his arrest and captivity by Roman rulers. Yet it is also true that the apostle Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, became a prisoner of Jesus Christ - a captive servant of Jesus Christ,long before civil authorities imprisoned him.

To be a prisoner of Jesus Christ is much different than being prisoner of a civil government. However, there are some similarities. As a Roman prisoner, Paul had to relinquish his freedom; he could not go where he wanted to go, or do what he wanted to do. His will was not his own. As a prisoner of Jesus Christ, Paul also gave up his freedom to do his will. On the road to Damascus, Paul accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior, and was baptized into His body. This required him to give up the Jewish law in which he was born and thoroughly trained. All the things he had gained from his Jewish heritage, Paul said, those I counted loss for Christ (Phil. 3:7). His will was not his own. He was given, and gladly accepted, a new responsibility - to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8).

There are differences between the two types of imprisonment. To be a prisoner of Jesus Christ there is a joy and gladness not found as a civil prisoner. In the latter there is sadness and humiliation, but in Christ Paul says there is no shame (Rom. 1:16). This same thought is expressed in his letter to the church at Philippi. Without shame, Paul says that Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. To this he adds, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:20-21). From a physical standpoint, Paul was troubled, ...perplexed, ...persecuted, and ...cast down (2 Cor. 4:8-9). For the sake of Jesus Christ, Paul gave his life. Yet he did so willingly that he may enjoy life everlasting. This was the only thing that the civil authorities could not take from him. To become and remain a faithful Christian, one must give up personal freedom. One must relinquish their own will and accept the will of Christ. As an obedient Christian, I too, like Paul, must become a prisoner of Jesus Christ. What a lesson for all Christians today - to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21)!