“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –”
Ephesians 3:1 NIVUK
Paul is in prison. Not a pleasant experience in those days. A dirty, rat-infested and cold cell of misery. No sanitary arrangements worthy of the name. So why is he there when he needn’t be? Paul was probably arrested and imprisoned several times and we have accounts, brief glimpses of his penitentiary experiences, in Acts 16 and again in Acts 21. And all because Paul was an active and effective preacher of God’s Word, the Gospel of Good News. He refused to keep a low profile and ended up arrested, imprisoned and beaten. His life story is recorded in the Bible and through scraps of history from other sources.
So Paul was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. The problem is because the Gospel, the message of Good News about the Kingdom of God, confronts the status quo. It encourages people to face the fact that “all have sinned” and points out the consequences continuing to live in sin, in the darkness of the devil’s ways. This counter-cultural view upset the Jews of Paul’s day – they thought that the only way to God was through them and their religious culture and customs – and because the Gospel also reached and included the non-Jews, the Gentiles, who the Jews despised. But Paul wasn’t fazed by any of this and continued to preach the Gospel regardless, to the detriment of his freedom. But we should be clear – Jesus Himself, the Son of God, lost His life for the same cause. And He warned His followers that they would be treated in a similar way. In Matthew 10 we read His words, “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you….”
What about preaching the Gospel in a public place in 21st Century Western societies? “Free speech” is a hot topic in the UK in these days, with people and lobby groups constantly wanting to “cancel” any messages they disagree with. And Christians are increasingly being attacked for their faith. There is even legislation before the UK parliaments that would seek to make preaching the Christian message illegal.
Would we be prepared to go to prison, to be persecuted, for our faith? Many Christians throughout the world are facing into the consequences of openly being a Christian, especially in places like North Korea and Afghanistan. Pushing back the frontiers of the enemy, the devil, will invoke a violent reaction. At the present time in our Western societies, we are free to hold church meetings and bring our message of hope to our streets. But it may not always be that way. We must pray for our communities, our nations, our families, that God will have mercy on us and graciously and lovingly support us in His mission of reaching the lost. While we still have time. But one day we might just have to choose between freedom and imprisonment, between keeping quiet or denying the Gospel, or preaching it regardless, to whoever will listen. Hmmm…