SIMPLE TRUTH: Except for these chains

Published 1:54 pm Thursday, December 26, 2013

By Charles Christmas

Because of false accusations and attempted murder by the Jews, the Apostle Paul was rescued from their hands and bound with two chains by the Romans authorities to await clarification as to what “such a criminal” may have done. Not being able to find him guilty, the military commander forwarded his perplexing problem under military protection to Governor Felix and King Agrippa, before whom the Jewish leaders could accuse Paul.

When given his turn to defend himself before the king, Paul boldly gave the account of his own conversion to Christ on the Damascus Road followed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Old Testament. The king’s response was, “Paul, in this short time, do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian?” Paul answered, “Whether short time or long, I desire that you and everyone who hears my voice become what I am, except for these chains.” He was saying, “I want all of you to be saved, but not falsely chained as if you were a common criminal.” Paul despised these chains and what they were supposed to represent: a criminal against the Jewish people and against Rome.

These despised and painful chains would seemingly become daily companions to be endured until Paul’s death. He refers to them in the final chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and in five New Testament books written by Paul: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and 2 Timothy.

God enabled Paul to have eternal ministries in spite of and because of these confining, despised and painful chains, which he would have never had otherwise. He did not want the chains, but he accepted his chains and imprisonment as God’s place and situation for serving. He said that he was in chains “for the hope of Israel.” He said the he was “an ambassador in chains for God’s good news to all nations.” He said, “I am in chains for Christ.” He wrote to Timothy, “It is because of the gospel God has entrusted to me that I am suffering, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” (2 Timothy 2:9) He said, “I endure everything for those who will be saved.” (2 Timothy 2:10)

In the Book of Philippians, Paul describes how God had used him in his chains: “What has happened to me has 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.” (1:12-13) “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the Word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” (1:14) Telling of the conversion of a runaway slave named Onesimus, Paul said, “He became my son while I was in chains.” (Philemon 13)

As Paul wrote to the churches while being chained, he thanked them for their love and support and prayers. He assured them that they were having a part in everything God was doing through him. He primarily asked that they pray for him, that he would be bold and fearless, and that God would open doors for him to proclaim the Word of God and the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The last words in his letter to the Colossian church were, “Remember my chains.”

Well what is the point for us? At this very hour, faithful Christians in many nations are in chains, in prisons, are suffering mistreatment and are being killed for the name of Jesus Christ. We owe them our sincere prayers and whatever possible support we can provide. God still uses those who are suffering and dying for the name of Jesus Christ to challenge us to be more fearless, courageous and zealous for Christ. God can make the guards and others know that the Christians are not being imprisoned or punished for crime, but for Christ.

Some of us have chains that have placed limitations upon us. Within the limitations that the chains placed upon Paul, he still found open doors in his prison, pain and confinement to serve and to share the saving and life-changing Gospel. As long as he could talk or write or communicate in any way, he would not allow the Word of God or the Gospel be chained, but to be set free to do its powerful work in someone’s life. This means that few of us could have any possible excuse for not serving in the Gospel by some means.

—Charles Christmas is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. His column appears each Thursday.