by Jeff Dominguez
Welcome to our new Bible study series!
For this year, we will study the so-called PRISON EPISTLES of the Apostle Paul. What are these?
The Prison Epistles are Paul’s letters to the Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and one personal letter to Philemon (who also live in Colossae). These 3 churches were the ones who reached out to him during his first imprisonment in Rome (Acts 21-28; around 60-62 AD).
Unlike his other letters where Paul had to address certain issues like Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, here, he primarily wrote these letters to thank them for their help and support. At the same time, Paul also used this opportunity to teach them certain doctrines, especially about Christ. This is why the format and the contents of these letters appear to be random. Nevertheless, all of these letters are centered on Christ.
INTRODUCTION TO THE PRISON EPISTLES
For this session, we will explore the backstory as to why Paul was imprisoned in the first place. We can read the whole story in Acts chapters 21 to 28. Here’s the summary of the story:
In chapter 21, Paul returned to Jerusalem to deliver his ministry report to the Apostles (vv1-19). But after hearing his report, James warned him of the trouble that is awaiting him (vv20-26).
And soon enough, Paul was arrested in the temple by the “Jews from Asia” who were zealous for the Law (Orthodox Jews). Paul was dragged and beaten until the Tribunal arrived and intervened (vv27-36). Paul was also supposed to be flogged by the Roman Tribunal, but because he was a Roman citizen by birth (Acts 22:28), he was spared (by rule, Roman Citizens are elite members of the Roman Empire and are exempted from such punishments).
After this, Paul defended himself from everyone. He defended himself from his fellow Jews (Acts 21:37-40; 22:1-21). He defended himself before the Jewish Council (Acts 22:30; 23:1-11). He defended himself before government officials like Felix the Governor (Acts 23:23-35; 24:1-21) and King Agrippa (Acts 26). Both of them did not find sufficient reason to condemn Paul. The Jews didn’t like this and because they hate Paul, they crafted a plot to kill Paul instead (Acts 23:12-22). Fortunately, Paul’s nephew heard about this plot and warned him. This made Paul agree with Felix and Aggripa’s decision to have his case pleaded to the emperor himself, Ceasar (Acts 25:10). So Paul was sent to the capital of the Roman Empire which is in Rome, Italy (Acts 27).
Upon arrival, Paul defended himself again to the Jewish Council there (Acts 28:17-22). While waiting for a decision regarding his case, Paul was detained there. And it was during this time when Paul was visited by many Jews who wish to hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the representatives from the church at Philippi, Ephesus, and Colossae (Acts 28:23-31).
SO WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY?
Aside from being inspiring, we can also learn so much from Paul’s behavior in this story. First, we can notice that Paul viewed the situation positively. Instead of complaining or grumbling, he was actually happy because all of these became opportunities for him to share the gospel. According to Paul:
Like Paul, we should also learn to be hopeful at all times and use every circumstance in our life to share the gospel with others.
Second, we can also see that God uses our worst situations to do something good. It is not uncommon to hear stories of people who met the Lord Jesus while they were in prison. In fact, some of the most devoted and passionate Christians were products of prison ministry. This just reveals that God’s work is not just limited to the confines of the church building. Wherever we are, even in the darkest of places, we are never too far from God’s reach. After all, He is the Great Shepherd who left the 99 just to find that one lost sheep (Matthew 18:10-14; Luke 15:1-7).
So this is the backstory regarding Paul’s prison epistles. Next week, we will officially start our Bible study. And for our first book, we will begin with Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
God Bless!! 🙂