Because of the apostle Paul’s vibrant faith in God’s sovereignty and providence, he lived with extraordinary confidence. Like all great examples of faith, he knew that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
Once Paul understood that his thorn in the flesh was given for his spiritual benefit and that God’s grace was sufficient for him because His strength is made perfect in human weakness, Paul most gladly boasted in his infirmities and took pleasure in infirmities, needs, persecutions, and distresses for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Acts 21 records Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem. His opponents had no legal case against him. Yet, he was not released by the Governor, Felix, once this became evident. For two years he sat in prison, apparently sidelined by the devil and his allies. Paul could have gained his freedom at any time, if he had “contributed” to his cause (Acts 24:26), but he refused. A new governor—Porcius Festus—succeeded Felix, but this did not change the political shenanigans occurring behind the scenes (Acts 24:27).
Eventually Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11), and as if to rub salt into his wounds, a legal advisor told Felix, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains…This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:31-32).
The trip from Caesarea to Rome was not a relaxing, luxury cruise. Because of a violent storm, a shipwreck occurred east of the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta (Acts 27:9-28:1). At least four months after leaving port in Caesarea (cf. Acts 28:11), Paul the prisoner finally arrived in Rome. He then spent two more years under house arrest while awaiting his trial (Acts 28:30).
Clearly life had been terribly unfair to him. Paul was an innocent victim of malicious and unfounded rumors, legal shenanigans, political corruption, and bureaucratic waste. Nearly five years of his life were consumed, never to be regained.
Was Paul disillusioned with God or bitter? Was his faith devastated? Had the forces of evil overwhelmed his heart and soul? How did such a Type A person survive and thrive in such a spiritually toxic environment?
Paul’s appositive in Ephesians 4:1 explains it all—“I…the prisoner of the Lord”.
Because of God’ sovereignty and providence, the apostle Paul was arrested in Jerusalem. Like the patriarch Joseph’s brothers, Paul’s enemies meant evil against him (Genesis 50:20), but God meant it for good. The Lord Jesus Himself intended to work all these things together so that Paul could bear witness at Rome (Acts 23:11).
Because Paul loved God and desired to be used by his Master according to His purpose, he did not go to Rome as a political prisoner of Caesar. He went as a spiritual prisoner of Christ.
From that house arrest in Rome, four New Testament epistles were written—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. And the things which happened to Paul ultimately resulted in the furtherance of the gospel (Philippians 1:12).
God, His sovereignty, and His providence are trustworthy. Not only after you have been released from five years of imprisonment but also while you are being held as the prisoner of the Lord.