Imprisoned, but Free

“As a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you. . .  .”

(Ephesians 4:1)

In 2014 the Institute for Economics and Peace released the Global Peace Index. It shows that the world is becoming less peaceful. Safety and security are deteriorating, and more and more nations are becoming involved in wars and military violence. 500 million people live in war zones. The increasing instability in the world is scary.

This is the world in which we celebrate Remembrance Day. This is the world in which we remember those who sacrificed their lives to protect and defend the freedoms we enjoy today. In light of the current situation you might wonder how valuable these sacrifices were. In Canada, the United States or Australia, there is relative peace and security, but this is more the exception than the rule. And it can change quickly! The sacrifices that we remember came with dreams and expectations of a better, safer and more peaceful world for the next generations. What happened to the human dream? And where does that put us as God’s children and Christ’s church?

We can and should be grateful for our political freedoms. Remembrance Day is indeed a day to praise God for the gifts of peace and security. At the same time it is good to remember that political freedom isn’t a goal in itself. As Christians our goal is to live day by day in the freedom of Christ, obtained by his sacrifice on the cross. This kind of freedom often leads to persecution, and the end of your political freedom.

Many of our brothers and sisters  in this world know what the inside of a prison cell looks like.

Those who follow Christ, confess him as their Saviour and enjoy the freedom of the gospel, will often face the resentment of the world. But don’t become discouraged. Your freedom in Jesus Christ cannot be curtailed by political and military powers.

In Ephesians 4:1 the Apostle Paul talks about himself as a prisoner. This epistle is one of several letters Paul wrote when he was in jail, most likely in Rome. In 6:20 he calls himself “an ambassador in chains.” Does he complain? Does he feel sorry for himself? No! He points at his humiliation to  reinforce his message. He uses his captivity to urge his readers to pay close attention to what he is saying. Isn’t it remarkable? A prisoner has no say. He has lost his freedom to go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do. Yet here Paul’s words become more powerful, just because he is imprisoned! “As a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you.”

Yes, the apostle is in chains, stuck in a prison cell for the sake of Christ. His enemies had arrested and imprisoned him to silence the gospel. But the Word of God is not chained (2 Tim 2:9). And God Almighty had his own plan for his apostle. He brought Paul there for the sake of the progress of his work in this world.

In the weakness and vilification Paul experiences, Christ demonstrates his power. It is the power of him who humbled himself, became obedient to death, and is now exalted to the highest place, where he reigns in glory. Imprisoned by the Romans, the apostle remains under the rule of him who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.

From his prison cell, the apostle can therefore proclaim the gospel of true freedom with more boldness and authority than ever. That’s why we can also translate the words “prisoner for the Lord” as “prisoner in the Lord.” Jesus Christ took hold of Paul. He became his Master. Whatever Paul says or writes, he says or writes “in the Lord.” His message from prison comes with the authority of Christ.

This gives him the boldness to urge the Ephesians and to urge us all not to be discouraged when God’s enemies threaten the church, and when God’s children lose their political freedoms. “I urge you,” he says, “to live a life that reflects the true freedom you were called to in Jesus Christ.”

Powerful people will try silence the gospel, but the imprisonment of his servants doesn’t restrict the power of our Saviour. The Lord of the gospel remains free and his work goes on. With his precious blood he continues to set his people free from all the power of the devil (HC, Q&A 1). Christ’s Word cannot be silenced and his liberating power cannot be restrained, not even by the walls of a prison cell. Celebrate your freedom in Jesus Christ – every day!

Rev. J. DeGelder,  Minister Emeritus of the Flamborough Canadian Reformed Church at Burlington, Ontario

 Published in Clarion, THE CANADIAN REFORMED MAGAZINE Volume 63, No. 22, pg 581,  November 7, 2014

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