Today’s selected reading begins the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto Philemon. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the first seven verses of the epistle. When you come to this particular epistle within the New Testament you will find the final epistle of the apostle Paul within the New Testament. While the second epistle which was written unto Timothy was the final epistle written by the apostle Paul from a historical standpoint, the epistle written unto Philemon was the final epistle written by the apostle Paul found in the New Testament. With the conclusion of this epistle the writings of the apostle—writings which began immediately after the book of Acts with the epistle written unto the church in Romans, and continued through until Philemon—would draw to a close. Immediately following the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto Philemon the New Testament transitions to epistles which were written by various other personalities and characters within the early church—individuals such as the apostle Peter, the apostle John, James, Jude, and the author of the epistle which was written unto the Hebrews. What makes this particular epistle so intriguing though—in addition to the subject matter and context which was at hand—is the fact that it is another one of the prison epistles written by the hand of the apostle Paul. If you study the New Testament epistles written by the apostle Paul you will notice and discover that certain of those epistles were written while he was in fact in prison. In fact, twice within the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus we find the apostle writing from prison, and what marks his words as so incredibly powerful, is that he didn’t refer to himself merely as a prisoner. If you read and study the words which the apostle Paul used when writing unto the Ephesian congregation you will notice his referring to himself—not as a prisoner of man, but rather as a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. What’s more, is that twice within the epistle written unto the Ephesian saints you find the apostle Paul referring to himself as a prisoner of the Lord—once in the first verse of the third chapter, and a second time in the first verse of the fourth chapter. Consider each of these references found within the New Testament epistle unto the Ephesian saints:
“For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power” (Ephesians 3:1-7).
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the body of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:1-7).
These two references are only two of the references found within the New Testament that speak to the apostle Paul being in prison, and being found in chains, shackles and fetters. With these two verses we discover that the epistle which was written unto the Ephesian congregation was one that was written unto the these saints while the apostle Paul was indeed and was in fact a prisoner. It is at the end of the epistle which was written unto the Ephesian congregation that we actually learn and discover where the apostle Paul was imprisoned, for this epistle concludes with the words “Written from Rome unto the Ephesians by Tychicus.” These words bring us face to face that this particular epistle might very well have been one of the final epistles which the apostle Paul wrote, for if you read and study the New Testament book of Acts, you will find that the apostle Paul’s life and journey ended and concluded while he was in fact in the city of Rome. The journey which the Lord had the apostle Paul on from the moment He encountered him on the road to Damascus would ultimately conclude within the city of Rome, and even the final verses of the New Testament book of Acts speaks of and confirms the reality of the apostle Paul in Rome: “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31). Earlier on in this very chapter we find the apostle Paul giving testimony concerning himself, and how he traded the chains of Jerusalem for the chains of Rome. One of the most interesting realities and concepts of the life of the apostle Paul is that what began with being in chains and bonds in the city of Jerusalem would ultimately and inevitably lead him to being a prisoner in chains and bonds within the city of Rome. Consider the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto those within the city of Rome beginning with the seventeenth verse:
“And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of. For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain. And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came shewed or spake any harm of thee. But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against. And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging: to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not. And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves” (Acts 28:17-29).
The words which we find in verses seventeen through twenty-nine of the twenty-eighth and final chapter of the New Testament book of Acts describes the testimony the apostle Paul had while he was found within the city of Rome. How absolutely incredible it is that even though the apostle Paul was found to be in chains, and was found to be in prison and a prisoner, the word of God was not and could not be imprisoned or put in chains. How absolutely incredible and powerful it is that the word of God can never, has never, and will never be put in chains, nor can it ever be imprisoned. Oh it is true that men and women might seek to bind the word of God, and might seem to limit and restrict its movement, it’s freedom and its impact within the earth, it is absolutely impossible to imprison the word of God. In fact, in the ninth verse of the second epistle which was written by the apostle Paul unto Timothy we find the following words: “Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, (even] unto bonds, but the word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9). With these words the apostle Paul clearly and emphatically declares that though his physical body might be bound, the word of God could never and would never be bound. What’s more, is that while it is true that the physical body of the apostle Paul was bound and imprisoned by men, his heart, his soul, his mind, his spirit remained entirely free. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and consider this, for although our physical bodies might be imprisoned, and although our wrists might be placed in shackles and our ankles placed in fetters and chains, there is not a single man on the face of this plant who can imprison our minds, our hearts, our souls, and our spirits. There is absolutely nothing that any man can do to put our hearts in chains, nor is there anything any man can do to imprison our minds, our souls and our spirits. Though our physical bodies might be found to be locked within a prison cell, and though our hands and feet might be found to be in shackles, stocks, chains and bonds, our inner man can never be bound. I have not heard of a single man within and throughout history who possessed the ability to not only imprison the physical body, but also imprison the heart, the mind, the soul and/or even the spirit of a man. Lest you consider—even for a brief moment—that what I am speaking is somehow false or inaccurate, I would strongly urge you to consider the words which our Lord declared unto the His disciples when He sent them out to engage in the ministry and work of the kingdom:
“And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the mater of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:22-28).
While this particular passage speaks of man being able to destroy the physical body, it also speaks of a reality which is far greater than the destruction of our natural body. It is true that man is capable of destroying the physical body, and it is true that man is able to imprison the physical body here on the earth, but it is also equally as true that man cannot touch, harm or destroy the soul that is found within any man or woman. I have to admit that I absolutely love that which Jesus declares in this passage, for it powerfully and wonderfully reveals that although man might be able to imprison our physical bodies, and although man might be able to torture and beat our physical bodies, there is absolutely nothing man can do to touch, harm or destroy our human spirit, nor our soul, nor even our heart and mind. This reality is perhaps best revealed in the fact that from the Day of Pentecost through to the year 70 A.D. there were in fact two temples which existed within and upon he earth. There was the earthly Temple which was known as Herod’s Temple, which stood within the city of Jerusalem on the Temple Mount, but there was another Temple which existed on the earth—a temple that was made without human hands. It is absolutely intriguing and captivating to think that for a period of thirty plus years there was present within and upon the earth two distinct temples—one which was built by human hands, and a second temple which was built not with human hands, but with the divine breath and presence of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus who is the Christ. In order to truly understand this particular reality, it is necessary that we first examine the words which Jesus declared unto the apostle Peter when he declared the true identity of Jesus Christ in the company and presence of the other disciples. It is also equally as fitting to consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote in both epistles which were written unto the Corinthian saints, as well as that which he wrote unto the Ephesian saints. Consider if you will the following references found within the New Testament:
“Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for blush and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).
“Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith He, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth dornication sinneth against his own body. What? Know ye. Not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:15-20).
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:15-18)
“…for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint suppliers, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:12-16).
With these words we encounter the tremendous reality that we as the people of God—we as the saints of God and disciples of Jesus Christ—are not only one body here within and upon the earth, but we are also the Temple of the Holy Spirit. One thing you will notice and discover from the book of Acts, as well as church history is the tremendous persecution which rose up against and broke out against the followers of the Way, and the disciples of Jesus Christ. What’s more, is that while it is true that the Romans were successfully able to destroy the physical Temple of the Lord which stood within the city of Jerusalem, they were completely unable to destroy the spiritual temple of the Lord which was still present within and upon the earth. Though man might have destroyed the physical Temple of the Lord which stood within the earth, man could never and would never destroy the spiritual temple which remained within and upon the earth. Even though the physical Temple of Jerusalem would eventually and ultimately be no more upon the earth, the spiritual temple would still remain alive, active and well upon the earth. There was absolutely nothing man could do to destroy the spiritual Temple of the Lord, and what’s’ more is that even though man might have persecuted the Christians within the earth, and even though man might have destroyed the physical bodies of Christians—either by crucifying them on crosses, sending them to the arena to be slaughtered by gladiators or devoured by wild beasts, or by burning them alive at the stake, or any other means and methods—man could never destroy the temple of the Holy Spirit within and upon the earth. In fact, while it is true that the physical Temple of the Lord was destroyed—not once, but twice throughout history—the spiritual Temple of the Holy Spirit has remained in existence within and upon the earth since the Day of Pentecost. Despite the tremendous persecution which broke out against the church throughout the ages in various and divers places, the Temple of the Holy Spirit has never and can never be destroyed. What’s more, is that there is no demon in hell, no principality, no ruler of darkness, no spiritual wickedness in high places—not even Satan himself—can destroy the Church of Jesus Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Since the Temple of the Holy Spirit was made without human hands, human hands can never touch it—much less destroy it from within the earth. Jesus’ words were quite clear—though man might be able to destroy the physical body, man cannot and will never be able to destroy the soul. Oh, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize that man is limited in the scope of what they can actually do to us, for the extent of the damage and destruction they can do only touches the natural and physical realm. There is absolutely nothing man can do to touch the unseen, spiritual and supernatural realm, and while man might be able to destroy the physical temple which exists in the natural and physical realm, man cannot and will not be able to touch and destroy the spiritual temple which exists in the unseen and spiritual realm.
All of this helps point to the tremendous reality that while man might be able to cast the physical body of a person into prison, man cannot and will not touch the human soul, or the human mind, or the heart and spirit of an individual. Though the physical body of the apostle Paul was cast into prison, and although his hands and feet were in chains and shackles, his heart, his soul, his mind, and his spirit remained completely and totally set free and at liberty. It is important that we recognize and understand this, for one thing the writings which the apostle Paul wrote while in prison reveal is that neither the word of God, nor the inner man of an individual can be imprisoned. Not only was the word of God not bound, but neither was the heart and mind bound by man. What’s more, is that the soul and spirit of the apostle Paul was completely free and set at liberty within the earth—even though his physical body was found to be in prison. The epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Ephesian saints and church was written from prison in Rome, thus indicating that towards the end of the life of the apostle he was found to be imprisoned by man. We must recognize and understand that the apostle Paul was no stranger to spending time in prison, for the epistle which was written unto the Ephesian congregation was not the only epistle written while in prison. In the first chapter of the second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto Timothy we find the following words written in the eighth verse: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). What’s more, is that twice in this epistle written unto Philemon we find the apostle Paul once more referring to himself as a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first verse of this particular epistle we find the following words: “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow-labourer” (Philemon 1). Again in the ninth verse of this epistle the apostle Paul writes the following words: “Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such as one as Paul the ages, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Philemon 8-9). The epistle of Philemon—much like the epistle written unto the Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul from the city of Rome where he was in fact a prisoner. The second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto Timothy was also written by the apostle Paul from Rome when he was brought before Nero the second time. The epistle unto the Ephesians, the epistle unto Philemon, and the second epistle unto Timothy were all written by the apostle Paul from Rome where he had been brought from the city of Jerusalem as a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ.
While these three epistles were written by the apostle Paul from the city of Rome, it is imperative that we recognize and understand that they weren’t the only epistles written by the apostle Paul while in prison. What’s more, is that there was yet another epistle which was written by the apostle Paul—not only while being a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ, but also from the city of Rome. The New Testament epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the congregation of the Philippians would also be written from the city of Rome as well. Thus the epistle written unto the Philippian congregation would be the fourth epistle written by the apostle Paul from Rome where he was a prisoner of Nero, but most importantly—a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, four times within the first chapter of this epistle the apostle Paul speaks of his bonds, which he was enduring for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of the Gentiles whom he sought and destined to minister unto. Four times between verses seven and sixteen the apostle Paul writes concerning his bonds, thus using his bonds—not only to describe his presence situation, but also to describe the work of the ministry of the gospel of the kingdom, and concerning Jesus the Christ. Beginning with the third verse of the first chapter we find the following words:
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifested in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident in my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preaching Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:3-17).
When you come to the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the congregation of the Colossians, you will find that this too was an epistle which was written by the apostle Paul while he a prisoner, and while the apostle Paul was in prison in Rome. If you turn to the final words at the end of the epistle you will find the following words: “Written from Rome to the Colossians by Tychicus and Onesimus.” These words now confirm and mark the reality that this was now the fifth epistle which the apostle Paul wrote while the apostle Paul was in prison, as well as while the apostle Paul was in prison at Rome. In fact, twice in the fourth and final chapter of the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Colossian saints we find the apostle Paul writing and referencing the bonds he was in—the first is found in the third verse, and the second is found in the eighteenth verse. In verses one through five of the fourth chapter we find the following words: “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven. Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:1-6). In the eighteenth and final verse of his particular chapter we find the apostle Paul writing the following words to close out the epistle: “The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen” (Colossians 4:18). With the words we find in this particular epistle we encounter yet another epistle written by the apostle Paul while he was in prison, and more specifically, in prison within the city of Rome. Most scholars will agree that the epistles Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon make up “the prison epistles” written by the apostle Paul, but I am convinced that the second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto Timothy is a fifth and final prison epistle which was written by the apostle Paul. The epistle which we find written unto Philemon was one of the five epistles written by the apostle Paul from Rome where he was imprisoned after being brought from the city of Jerusalem to stand trial before Caesar. In fact, the opening verse of this epistle clearly brings us face to face with the reality that the apostle Paul was in fact a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ, and what’s more, is that Timothy might have been a prisoner with him there in Rome. This epistle was in fact written by the hand of Onesimus, but the salutation of the epistle suggests that Timothy might very well have been there with the apostle Paul, for the apostle Paul did instruct Timothy to diligently strive to come unto him.
What I so absolutely love about this particular epistle is not only that even while the apostle Paul was in prison he was still speaking of grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, but the apostle Paul also continued in humble prayers and intercessions for the churches. The language found in this particular epistle is incredibly similar to that which is found in the epistles which were written unto the churches in Ephesus, Colossae and Philippi, for in each of those epistles the apostle Paul wrote concerning his continual prayer(s) and intercession(s) for each of these churches. Now, when writing unto Philemon the apostle Paul continues the language of prayer and intercession, for he writes unto Philemon that he thanked his God, making mention of him always in his prayers upon hearing of his love and faith, which he had toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints. This is actually quite remarkable and astonishing when you take the time to consider it, for even though the apostle Paul was in chains, and shackles, and bonds, and even though the apostle Paul was indeed a prisoner, he not only continued preaching and speaking of grace and peace, but he also continued praying night and day for the churches. What’s more, is that in this particular epistle the apostle Paul declares and writes that he always makes mention of Philemon in his prayers, having heard of his love and faith toward the Lord Jesus, as well as toward all the saints. Although the apostle Paul’s physical body was in prison, his prayers were completely unrestrained and unrestricted, and in fact, I would dare say that the apostle Paul had a tremendous amount of time on his hands to give himself continually to pray and make intercession for the saints of God. After all, when the apostle Paul was in prison with Silas, what did they do at the midnight hour? You will recall that they were found singing praises unto the living God at the midnight hour. As a direct result of their praise unto the living God, not only was the prison shaken, but every man’s prison door was opened, and every man’s chains and shackles were loosed. The question we must ask ourselves is how we respond when we find ourselves in situations when all our comforts, all our conveniences, all our securities are completely stripped and removed from us. What do we do, and how do we respond when we are no longer in control of our lives, nor are in control of our freedom and liberty? How do we respond, and how do we react when all our liberty is stripped away, and when our freedom is in fact no more? The apostle Paul never viewed himself as a prisoner of men, but rather as a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ, thus indicating that even in his discomfort, and even in his affliction, his heart, his mind, his thoughts, his focus were completely and utterly placed upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh that we would be directly challenged by the writings of the apostle Paul from prison, for I am convinced that we have been called to be prisoners of Jesus Christ—those who recognize that they are no longer in control of their comforts, those who recognize that they are no longer in control of their conveniences, those who recognize that they are no longer in control of their freedom and liberty. I am finding myself incredibly challenged to spend my days as a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ—as one who recognizes that I am no longer in control of my life, and as one who has absolutely no desire to take or seize control of my life, my circumstances of situations.