Sudden isolation brings all sorts of unforeseen pressures; we can find ourselves getting bored, frustrated or depressed. So it is helpful when we can find something purposeful to do! Gardening, DIY, and contacting friends we haven’t seen for ages become highlights of our day! Maybe even the forgotten art of letter writing is being rediscovered?
How did the apostle Paul cope with isolation? Imprisoned in Rome, Paul now has time to write all those letters he had meant to write but had been too busy dodging threatening hordes of Pharisees, or being shipwrecked, or flogged, or stoned, or escaping down city walls in a basket. But now, he can put quill to paper and get in touch.
He shakes his manacled wrist and dips the quill in the ink. The guard peers curiously at the blank page as Paul begins, and a blob falls on the pristine page. He sighs. Its difficult to write when you are chained to a soldier. He hears voices outside, a key turns in the lock, and his colleague and adopted son is let in. Timothy! They greet each other joyfully, and then seeing the pen and ink, Timothy asks what he is writing. Paul explains that he wants to communicate with his friends at Philippi, but is hindered by his chain. “Why don’t you dictate to me, and I’ll write it down for you”, suggests Timothy.
Paul brightens immediately, and in a loud voice begins to dictate. “Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Philippi: grace and peace to you.” Making sure that the guards can hear clearly, he assures the Christians at Philippi of his love and prayers for them.
He pauses and Timothy waits expectantly. Paul knows that the Philippian church will want news of him too. How much should he say? It is some years now since he saw them and much has happened . However, he doesn’t want to dwell too much on that. After all, he has only been at the centre of a couple of riots, escaped at night from a murderous conspiracy, preached before 2 governors and a king, been flogged, abandoned in a dungeon, shipwrecked… and now is under house arrest in Rome. Not worth mentioning.So he says nothing about all that, eager to get to the exciting stuff!
He turns to Timothy. “Next sentence: “I want you to know, brothers, that what happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel”. Ah! This is the real drama! “ The whole Praetorian Guard knows why I am here, because I preach Christ.” Conscious of a tremor in the muscular arm next to him, he turns and grins at the soldier, who looks embarrassed. Paul knows he is one of the few left who have not yet responded to the Gospel, but it wont be long.
Paul is an apostle, and he knows that his commission has not been revoked by finding himself in jail. It is a change of location and, being no longer mobile, will involve a change in tactics; but the message is the same, and he must now bring it to the Praetorian guard. Paul doesn’t moan that this strange new restriction makes it impossible for him to carry out his ministry. He adapts and finds new ways to do it. He calls himself a servant of Christ Jesus. He didn’t stop being His servant when the handcuffs were clapped on him; he just became a servant in chains, preaching the Gospel in prison, and now he is overjoyed that the Gospel is bearing fruit throughout the whole palace guard! God’s plans, far from being stifled are being wonderfully fulfilled.
This inspired the local church, and they stepped up to the plate and became bolder and more courageous too. But even more remarkable is that the letters he wrote in his confinement not only instructed and encouraged the churches of his day, but have continued to bless the church throughout the succeeding centuries!
Whatever strange and surprising circumstances we find ourselves in, the church is still the church with a message to preach. We must not dwell on the awkwardness of these restricted times, but adapt, and find new avenues to be the servants of the Lord. Who knows what things you are inspired to do which will have far-reaching consequences!
Many creative and innovative ways are already being displayed, voices are being raised in worship, and thousands of people are tuning in online who never normally come to church. God has his ways! Lets pray for an abundant harvest: even more than the whole Praetorian guard!