PAUL WAS NOT ASHAMED OF PERSECUTION AND PRISON

Jim Laws

Perhaps there is no greater preacher, than the apostle Paul, save Jesus Christ himself. No one sacrificed more or preached more than Paul himself. A study of his life is a study of devotion, dedication, and determination. Though there are many things for which Paul may be known, one thing is for sure, Paul was a man, who was not ashamed of persecution and imprisonment. This study will do two things. First, consider in brief fashion something of the life of the great apostle with some emphasis on the suffering Paul faced by means of persecution and imprisonment. Second, it will present a number of important lessons that will help, it is hoped, every gospel preacher in their work of preaching the gospel of Christ. By considering these matters carefully, one will grow in appreciation of the life of the apostle himself and, more importantly than that, grow in faith of the Christ that he preached so faithfully.

His life begins in the Gentile City of Tarsus, a city of Cilicia. Most of what is known of him comes to us from the book of Acts, as well as, from references that are made in the epistles. His father was of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil.3:5) and a Pharisee (Acts 25:6). He had the right of Roman citizenship being "free born" (Acts 22:28). From his defense before his countrymen in Jerusalem (Acts 22), one learns that Paul, even though born in Tarsus, was "brought up" in Jerusalem; learning at the feet of Gamaliel. The Scripture tells us that Saul was still a young man, when the church began to grow so rapidly (Acts 7:58). However, his life was forever changed with the experience on the Damascus road. In fact, one decisive element in Paul's preaching and writing was his encounter with the Lord on that occasion. The one, who was so determined to persecute "the way", now, as a member of the same, finds persecution to be a very real way of life. As Saul leaves Damascus, the Jews lay in wait for him; watching the city gates; intending to kill him. In an effort to save him, the disciples take Saul by night and let him down in a basket from the wall. He left Damascus, traveled to Jerusalem, and there "assayed to join himself to the disciples, but they were afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple" (Acts 9:26). Saul is befriended by Barnabas, as he introduces Saul to the others removing the fears of the apostles. However, once again, Saul is singled out as the object of hostility, and he is urged to flee. So, by way of Caesarea he goes to his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:29-30).

Paul is stoned at Lystra. During the first missionary journey the traveling group arrives at Iconium, then they go on to Lystra and Derbe. In dealing with the uncivilized, heathen people of the area, Paul heals a cripple. Because of this miracle, the people of Lystra take Paul and Barnabas for gods. Even though the people were ready to worship them, they turn to hostility, as Jews from Antioch (in Pisidia) and Iconium turn the people against the traveling companions. They attack Paul, stoning him and leaving him for dead. However, Paul recovers, as the disciples stand around him, and he goes again into the city. They later leave and go on their way to Derbe (Acts 14:19-20).

Paul is in prison in Philippi. Once again, Paul learns in a very real way what life is like being an apostle of Christ. During the second missionary journey as the traveling missionary band goes from city to city doing good, they arrive at Philippi, where Lydia is converted (16:8-15). Paul casts out a spirit of divination from a young girl, whose masters bring Paul and Silas before the magistrates and are, subsequently, cast into prison (Acts 16:16-24). However, though the work of Satan seems to be served in having the innocent suffer, it is at midnight that the prison doors are miraculously opened and their bonds are loosed; the jailer is converted, and great good is accomplished, even in the midst of this suffering and persecution (Acts 16:25-34).

Paul and his suffering at Jerusalem and then in Rome. It is on the third journey, while at Caesarea, that Agabus foretells what awaits Paul at Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-26), but Paul can not be dissuaded from going to Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem, Paul is seized by the mob in the area of the Temple, but he is rescued by a detachment of Roman soldiers and kept in custody at the Roman governor's headquarters in Caesarea for two years. Receiving permission to speak to the multitude, Paul gives his defense (Acts 21:27-22:29). He is arraigned by the Sanhedrin, however, he skillfully sets his judges at odds with each other, and is again taken into the custody of the Romans. It is during this time that the Lord appears to Paul and strengthens him. He tells him that he will go to Rome (Acts 22:30-23:11). Paul is brought before Felix. Tertullus makes his arguments accusing Paul, which Paul effectively answers (Acts 24). He is arraigned before Festus and Agrippa; though not guilty of any crime, he exercises his right as a Roman citizen, and appeals to Caesar and cannot be released. In doing so, Paul has his case transferred from the provincial governor's court in Judea to the emperor's tribunal in Rome. (Acts 25-26). Next, we see Paul, the prisoner of the Lord, on board ship bound for Rome, and as Luke relates the story, the travelers are shipwrecked on the island of Melita (Acts 27). Finally, Paul finds himself in Rome, mostly likely in the fall of 59-60 AD. He spends two years in Rome under house arrest, waiting for his case to come up for hearing before the supreme tribunal.

One would think that the restrictions under which Paul lived in Rome should have held back his efforts to proclaim the gospel, however, just the opposite turned out to be the case. As Paul put it, "But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel" (Phil. 1:12). Paul is handcuffed to one of the soldiers, who guarded him in four-hour shifts, but he was free to receive visitors and talk to them about the gospel. Soldiers, who guarded him, and the officials, in charge of presenting his case before the emperor, were left with no doubt concerning the reason for Paul being in Rome. The gospel actually becomes a topic of discussion. This caused the Christians in Rome to grow in faith and zeal, as they become more fearless in preaching the gospel (Phil. 1:18). From Rome Paul was able to correspond with friends in other parts of the Roman Empire. Visitors came to see him, bringing news of home congregations. Epaphroditus came from Philippi; Epaphras came from Colossae. Paul received an unexpected visit from Onesimus, the slave of his friend, Philemon. Paul sent Onesimus back to his master with a letter commending him "no longer as a slave but as a beloved brother" (Philem. 16). The letters to Philippi and Colossae were sent in response to the news brought by Epaphroditus and Epaphras. Paul sent a letter to the church at Laodicea and a letter we know today as Ephesians. It can be seen, then, that the Roman captivity, as wrong as it may seem from our perspective, was a very fruitful period for Paul and his work as an apostle of Christ.

The end of Paul's life and work. From the biblical point of view little is known of the rest of Paul's life. The Bible does not reveal the outcome of his trial before Caesar. The fact that Paul was permitted to have a rented house, and that people could come and go, indicates that his confinement was of a limited nature. Luke abruptly ends the narrative with Paul in prison at Rome. Paul was later released from this imprisonment and made other travels, before being again imprisoned, an imprisonment, which was terminated by his death. Tradition holds that Paul's condemnation and execution occurred during the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Nero (67 AD). The supposed sight of this event may still be seen at Tre Fontane on the Ostain Road.

Obviously, this brief discourse does not do justice to the treatment that Paul faced as an apostle. There is much more to the suffering that Paul faced that is not recorded for us in specific detail. There were times in his life, when there were great physical and psychological persecutions faced, but just a passing reference is made to such, or just a general type of summary is given regarding the matter. For instance, 2 Corinthians, like no other book of the New Testament, relates what life must have been like for an apostle of Christ in Bible times. In the first chapter Paul expresses gratitude for the fact that he has been comforted in his afflictions. He had recently undergone one of the most painful experiences of his life, having narrowly escaped from deadly violence in Ephesus. In chapter 4 he points out that he had not used craftiness or deceit in preaching Christ--that was the underhanded methods of false teachers. Paul had preached Christ, not himself. He had suffered much for the cause of Christ, but had not lost heart. He says though the outward man perishes, the inward man is constantly renewed; that earthly afflictions are light and of brief duration in comparison with the eternal glory awaiting the Christian. By chapter 6 Paul mentions in some detail the work and trials of himself and other ambassadors of Christ. Their sufferings truly prove that they are fellow workers with God. They did not wish to give anyone a ground for finding fault, but they had toiled in the face of severe hardships. Paul's words are touching, as he states,

"Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things (2 Cor. 6:3-10)."

As can be seen from this short treatment, suffering by means of persecution and imprisonment was a way of life for the Paul and for so many that were faithful Christians during the first century. It can be said without reservation that it meant something to be a Christian in the first century.

LESSONS TO BE LEARN REGARDING PERSECUTION AND IMPRISONMENT

It is simply not enough to learn the specific events that transpired in the life of the great apostle. One must ask the question, "How does all this apply to me?" One will see in his writing that Paul emphasized both doctrine and practice. He does not believe that sound doctrine avails, unless one allows that truth to lead to Christian activity, and he does not believe Christian activity avails, unless it is rooted in sound doctrine. So often, Paul's emphasis in his writing begins with strong doctrinal teaching and ends with a strong practical admonition toward Christian living (e.g. Romans 1-11- the doctrinal section of the book; 12-16 - the practical section of the book). What then is the application to be drawn from the life of a man, whose life was filled with such suffering for the cause of Christ? By looking at the end result of Paul's life the answer may be more easily seen, and in doing so, we may turn learn that there were great benefits to be obtained, due to Paul's suffering as a Christian.

Without doubt when considering the life of Paul, one would immediately see a man, who believed in the power of prayer. The fact is Paul was very diligent in prayer. His admonition to the church at Ephesus was, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints (Eph. 6:18). It is clear that Paul's advice was advice that instructed others to never stop praying. Colossians 4:2 states, "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving", that is to say, pay attention to what you are saying in your prayers. One can see the example of persistence in prayer, as Paul prays over and again regarding the thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-8). One will remember the trying circumstances in Philippi and, even though, Paul and Silas find themselves in prison, due to their preaching and teaching of God's word, still they turn the matter over to the Lord in prayer (Acts 16:25).

The end result of persecution and imprisonment produced a man concerned with growing stronger spiritually. This is certainly one of the great needs that every child of God would have: the need to mature and grow stronger in faith with each passing day. Paul's rebuke of the church at Corinth was about the matter of their failure to grow spiritually. They were acting more like the people of the world, rather than people belonging to Jesus. It was for that reason that he could not speak to them about great spiritual truths, rather, he had to speak to them, as if they were babies, as far as their faith in Christ was concerned. They were still babes, spiritually speaking, and, as yet, unable to receive the meat of God's word, and had to feed on the milk of God's word, rather than the meat (1 Cor. 3). He admonishes them to grow in faith and not behave as children of the world. In teaching the church at Philippi regarding the Christian life, Paul makes mention of the fact, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil.4: 13). The matter of growing in strength spiritually were important matters for him, as his prayer for the church at Ephesus included this notion, "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16).

The end result of persecution and imprisonment produced a man of sacrifice and self-control. Paul discusses both of these important needs in the Christian's life in 1 Corinthians chapter 9. Here, Paul emphases the fact that he had practiced what he was pleading for others to do: he had foregone personal rights, an example of sacrifice for the benefit of others. He had the right to live at the expense of the Corinthians, while he was working there; to abstain from manual labor; to lead about a Christian wife at the expense of the church. However, he did not take advantage of these rights for himself. In showing that men, who preach, have the right to be supported by the church, Paul refers to soldiers, to keepers of vineyards, and to those who tend flocks, as illustrations of men receiving support from their work. He, also, shows that the law had spoken in defense of the practice. Paul, then, goes on to plead for the exercise of self-control, referring to athletes, as examples. He refers to himself, as running the Christian race with a certainty of where he is going. He shifts to the thought of boxing, and says that he does not beat the air. Rather, he buffets his body to bring it under subjection, lest he, after preaching to others, might be rejected. The man, who had suffered so much, had learned so much about these important qualities of life, and encouraged others to do the same.

The end result of persecution and imprisonment produced a man of conscience. In fact, the matter of conscience was so important that Paul teaches that if one is engaged in an activity and at the same time doubts its righteousness, then one, in reality, is in violation of his own conscience and, in turn, guilty of sin. Consider carefully Rom. 14. Here, Paul discusses matters of indifference, matters in which there is personal liberty. In this category Paul places the eating of certain foods and the observance of certain days. If a man cannot eat certain foods with a good conscience, he should not eat them. It may be that Paul is thinking of certain Jews who, after becoming Christians, still had scruples regarding foods. The same may be true of the observance of days. If one wishes to study God's word and pray on certain days, he may do so, but he is not to seek to bind this on others. Nor is he to judge others, who do not engage in the same practice. Emphasis must be given to the fact that Paul is discussing things of an indifferent nature, matters of personal practice. He is not discussing matters in which God has legislated. He is not saying that Christians should be indifferent toward matters of right and wrong. However, even in matters of indifference, that which cannot be done with a clear conscious, is sin (v. 23). When one violates his conscience, he lowers his resistance to sin, even if the thing being done is not within itself wrong. One should never tamper with his conscience. Paul was a man of great conscience.

The end result of persecution and imprisonment produced a man of wisdom. It is the Bible that teaches, in such a wonderful way, the eternal lessons of life by which to live. Those truths, when followed properly, will carry one on into eternity with God. We can never fully appreciate, nor study too much the Word of God, the Bible. If one is to grow in faith, then he must study the Bible (Rom. 10:17). To say it another way, one's faith cannot out run his knowledge of the word of God. Knowledge of God's word comes with study, however, the proper application of these divine truths to everyday life takes wisdom. James states, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5). In other words, God will not scold the individual, who asks for wisdom. As you will notice, the passage simply states the fact that wisdom will be given and does not state how God gives such wisdom. One thing is for sure, that wisdom is acquired by means of a knowledge of God's word, coupled with a faithful living of it day by day. This helped to produce a man like Paul, who was wise in the work of preaching the gospel through out the ancient Near East. The experiences of being stoned at Lystra, of being put in prison in Philippi, of facing the mob in Jerusalem, and countless other occasions, where the gospel was met with opposition, were rich experiences. As terrible as these experiences were, they produced wisdom upon the part of all, who faithfully endured them for Christ and the gospel's sake.

Paul used this wisdom that came to him, both from experience, as well as, divine wisdom coming from inspiration for the benefit of others. Paul gives divine counsel to Titus, when he says that the younger should look to those, who are older (Titus 2:3-5). This reference is one of many that urges, both the older generation to recognize its responsibility in teaching, training and guiding the younger in the way of righteousness and the younger generation's responsibility to listen to and take to heart their instruction. Why? As Paul puts it: that the word of God, the gospel, may not be injured by the inconsistent lives of those, who profess to be influenced by it. God's word, when it is allowed to work in the lives of men and women, will produce the qualities and characteristics of life that are pleasing in the sight of God. When it is not allowed to shape our lives accordingly, then those lives are a reproach to those, who are without the body, and the gospel message is counted as being of no value. Taking the advice of the older has always been the instruction of God to his people. Much of the book of Proverbs is written from the standpoint of the older, wiser father giving godly advice to his son. A wise son or daughter will listen and take to heart the righteous instruction of mother and father (Prov. 1:7-9). The future of the church depends upon our young people. Rehoboam's failure during the days of the Old Testament was a failure to listen to the advice of those, who were older and wiser. His outcome will surely be our own, if we do not pass these divine truths on to the next generation, and if the next generation fails to honor them, as they should.

The end result of persecution and imprisonment produced a man, who was concerned with his Christian influence toward others. Paul stressed, both by example and by word, the importance of being concerned about our influence on others. This concern is seen in his desire to so live, as to save others (1 Cor. 9:19-23). He commands us to do likewise, which is, in reality, imitating the example of Christ (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1). Peter mentions the importance of example and influence, when referring to Christian wives winning their husbands to Christ. It is possible to win them over by how they conduct themselves toward their husbands (1 Peter 3:1,2). What is said of a wife's influence on her unbelieving husband would, also, be true of a Christian's influence on others. Paul's concern for his influence should be ours, as well.

The end result of persecution and imprisonment produced a man who was concerned with the stewardship of time, money and body. The Bible teaches clearly that we are stewards of our time, our money, and our bodies. This is clearly evident from our Lord's parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). Paul's instruction concerning our bodies is important to remember (1 Cor. 6:19-20). He makes clear that our body is the temple, where the Holy Spirit lives. The Spirit dwells in the child of God, and as the verse teaches, comes from God (v. 19). Consequently, we are no longer our own: God has paid a great price for us. Therefore, we are to use our body to honor God (v. 20). A lesson in the stewardship of our means comes from Paul, when he warns the child of God regarding worldly possessions (1 Tim. 6:17-19). The rich are not to be filled with pride (v. 17), nor should they put their trust in wealth that is so easily lost. Rather, we must put our faith in God, who is rich and blesses us so abundantly. The faithful steward of his wealth will use it wisely for the good of the work of the Lord, both in preaching and teaching the lost, as well as, meeting the needs of those, who are poor. As Paul mentions, by doing this they lay a sure foundation for the future (v. 19). Further, Paul instructed the church at Ephesus that they should be involved in "redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). Once again, his point has to do with stewardship; he is saying that those were evil times, and that they should make every minute count. We should, therefore, buy up every opportunity that presents itself to serve the Lord. Applying this to our lives as we ought, will make of us good stewards with which God has blessed us.

The end result of persecution and prison produced a man who was set for the defense of the faith. In Philippians 1:7 Paul states, "Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; in as much as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace." Once again, Paul teaches, "But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel" (Phil. 1:17). Paul stood in the defense of the good news, even though he was at that time in prison for doing so. It will take courage to do what Paul did, that is, to stand in defense of the truth in the face of such consequences. Often, there is a price to be paid for defending the truth of God (Rev. 1:9). However, those, who have the courage to stand up and speak out for truth, will be saved (Rev. 20:4; 21:8). The fact of the matter is that it is sinful to remain silent, when the truth is being mishandled and misrepresented. Notice the instruction that God gave the children of Israel (Exo. 23:1,2). When we are in the midst of a group, and the truth is being made to suffer, it is wrong to simply go along with the "false witness" of the crowd, (even by our silence), when we know what the truth is. Therefore, to be a friend of the truth means having the courage to speak up for the truth (Eph. 5:11). Peter's silence illustrates the evil of silence, when the truth is being misrepresented (Luke 22-54-62). While the truth must certainly be spoken "in love" (Eph. 4:15), it, nevertheless, must be spoken, and it must be obeyed. As the Lord teaches, the person, who "does the truth", will be saved (John 3:21).

The end result of persecution and prison produced a man who believed in and preached the reality of the kingdom of God. Paul is plain, when he teaches about the kingdom; there is no ambiguity on his part at all. For instance, he teaches that the church is the kingdom of Christ. To the Colossians he taught that they had been "translated into the kingdom of his dear Son (Col. 1:13; see also Rev. 1:9). Paul, also, described the church as the body of Christ to illustrate the important relationship that exists between Christ and the church, as well as, each member of the church to one another (Eph. 1:22-23). We are members of the body and of one another (1 Cor. 12:27; Rom. 12:5). Paul described the church or the kingdom as "the household of God" (1 Tim. 3:15). Such a metaphor emphasizes the family relationship each one enjoys being in Christ. Paul described the church or the kingdom as the temple of God (Eph. 2:19-22). As the temple of God, each member must maintain moral purity, so as to be pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17). It was Jesus, who taught his disciples to put the kingdom of God first in their lives (Matt. 6:33). This is certainly seen being put into action in the life of Paul. There is no doubt that he was aware of the truth that Peter expressed: that an entrance into the "everlasting kingdom" will be abundantly supplied (2 Peter 1:11). This everlasting kingdom refers to the heavenly kingdom that all faithful children of God will enjoy one day.

The end result of persecution and prison produced a man, who was not ashamed of the gospel and demonstrated that love by preaching it faithfully. Romans 1:16 states, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." The New Testament records the work of Paul, as he took the great commission of Christ seriously to the world of his day (See Matt. 28:18-20). As has been noted already in this study, as far as the New Testament is concerned, no one sacrificed more, preached more, or suffered more than Paul, save Jesus himself. The statement that he makes, regarding his love and devotion to the gospel, truly reflects his life, as an apostle (Rom. 1:16). Truth, today, needs courageous, committed friends, who are willing to speak up for truth (Eph. 6:19, 20). Paul's admonition is to be taken seriously, "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong" (1 Cor. 16:13).

SUMMATION

This research has emphasized something of the life and work of the great apostle Paul. It has as its primary focus, those aspects of Paul's life that have to do with his suffering as an apostle of Christ. In addition to this it has spent some time looking at the important lessons that may be properly deduced from the facts of his life, and the instruction that he presents, as one of the inspired writers of the New Testament. It does not claim to have exhausted the matter regarding such, however, it does a sufficient job to prove that the apostle Paul stands as an example for all to emulate, in so far as, he has followed the life of Christ.

 John the Baptist

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