Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually 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. (Philippians 1:12-13 NIV)
At the end of Acts (Acts 28:30-31), Paul is in Rome and under house arrest. He is Rome courtesy of the Roman emperor because of the legal process that started in Jerusalem when he was detained because of the crowds in Acts 21. He appeals to Caesar as he is a Roman citizen (Acts 25:11). Paul is conscious that it is the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem who want him executed. Although it might mean that he will have to travel to Rome, he appeals to Caesar so that he can escape these Jewish authorities. In some ways, Paul moves from one imprisonment to another. If he stays where he is in the Jerusalem area, he will be in prison and eventually the Jewish authorities want him executed. To save himself from these Jewish authorities, he appeals to Caesar in Rome. He reaches Rome but is a prisoner of the Roman emperor.
Most Bible scholars agree that when Paul writes the Philippians, he is in Rome after Acts 28:30-31. Therefore, Paul moves from being under house arrest to a prison cell where he is in chains. Paul might be chained but the gospel is not chained. In fact, the whole palace guard of the emperor knows that he is in chains for Christ (Philippians 1:13). Somehow Christ speaks through Paul’s imprisonment. The whole palace guard knows about the Jesus Christ who helps Paul even though he might be in chains.
“I am in chains but Christ speaks through my chains.” As we read the story of Paul’s imprisonment, we also sense that he is assured that God is in control whether Paul is in chains in Jerusalem or in Rome. These words in Philippians have always been an inspiration for me. I remember when I decided to read and study Philippians when I was still in Vancouver. Esther was just born. I had just left the church I was working in. I was in-between churches. In some ways, when it came to Esther, it was a great time for me. I could look after her as I looked around for churches to apply to. She had just turned a year old. However, sooner or later, the anxiety of whether one can pay for one’s bills after the E.I. ended sinks in. The lack of guaranteed employment becomes “chains” for me. I could identify with Paul’s predicament being in prison and chained. I am in chains but God is not chained. This idea spurred me on.
Eventually, Lorie, Esther and I would move to Brampton for a pastoral position in Brampton. God also moved us closer to Lorie’s parents in St. Catharines.
Looking back, I am indeed grateful for these words from Paul. Due you feel you might be in a “prison” of some sort at the moment? Remember, Paul is in chains but God is not chained.