1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, 2 and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Usually when we read the Apostle Paul describing himself as a prisoner of Christ, we immediately “translate” that to refer to his being in a physical prison. But if we actually read his letters and understand his relationship with God, we will realize that this phrase isn’t just a reference to his physical imprisonment, but also his spiritual servitude.
Being a prisoner for God is much different than being a prisoner of God (note: this is what Paul says here). Many times throughout Paul’s letters, he uses analogies that refer to being a slave, servant, and prisoner of God. Our humanistic reaction to this is generally negative, since our “modern and advanced” culture has caused us to scoff at prisoners, hate slavery, and look down upon common servants. Even as Christians, the term “servant” is delicately used and specifically defined so as not to hurt the feelings of others and inspire each other to serve instead of offend. But what do these words really imply?
They imply bondage, indebtedness, and a life of obedience. How do these things make you feel? Do they make you energized, excited, and ready to live it out for the rest of your life? The general answer is no unless you have either fully accepted your plight or have fully grasped Paul’s concept here of Godly servitude. Satan didn’t like these things so he rebelled, taking 1/3rd of heaven with him saying, “I will not be a slave or servant; I will be my own master.” This is the very thing we say to God when we are disobedient to Him.
In order for us to fully understand Paul’s perspective on being a prisoner of Christ, we need to shave off all the cultural implications of the words and completely grasp their meaning. We need to see past our humanity and understand the actual freedom in being a slave of Christ. Many criminals actually prefer being in prison than to being “free” because they know certain things are certain in jail. They have a bed to sleep in, they have clothes to wear, they have food to eat, they have medical needs met, and they always have someone watching over them. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT GOD OFFERS TO US!!! Yet, our pride gets in the way and we have to “do it on our own.” The difference between God’s prison and actual prison is that in God’s prison, obedience and love is what gives us entry whereas disobedience forces you into earthly jail. In God’s prison, we are actually freed from the bondage of sin whereas in man’s prison we remain even more bound to our sinfulness.
The more we “give in” to God’s calling to live a life of obedience and consequently freedom the more we won’t want to leave it. The more we experience the simplicity of life in God’s Kingdom, the more we will want to stick around and learn more. Yet our pride and self-righteousness prevents us from doing it. I know it sounds strange to look at imprisonment, servitude, and slavery as freedom, but God’s Kingdom isn’t defined by earthly and cultural boundaries. It is a kingdom that is the exact opposite.
Are you a prisoner of Christ living in the freedom He offers or a prisoner of disobedience and sinfulness tricked into thinking you are free?