“As a prisoner”…I find myself intrigued, convicted, humbled, and moved by this phrase.
Paul, in many of the letters he wrote that can be found in the Bible, started with this phrase in some variation. Last night as I read through the letter [book] of Ephesians, my heart was so deeply moved. He was a prisoner. He was a religious prisoner because of his belief in who Jesus really was: not a story, not a man, but a savior that changes everything.
Paul’s life was completely changed in one encounter with Jesus- the resurrected Jesus- on the road to Damascus. At the time, he was called Saul, he was a Pharisee [Jewish leader], part of the Sanhedrin [Jewish elite], and on his way to imprison and even kill Christians, people that were of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds, that decided that they believed in the man Jesus, as their savior. His life was changed when he met Jesus and he was the never same. Never.
In his letter to the church found in Ephesus, he urged for the unity of their church. He urged them to keep in focus what was truly important. Not legalism. Not opinion. Not self. But Jesus and how he had changed their lives, individually and collectively. He first reminded them they were redeemed. If they followed and believed in Jesus they were redeemed, forgiven, and new. They were made alive-new- in Jesus. It was for that reason that he challenged their church to be bold and embrace a deeper love for Jesus, one that could not have been questioned or doubted. It could not and would not be something that only ended with loving Jesus; actions had to follow.
This was the challenge.
“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the called to which you have been called, will all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us….put on a new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness…walk in love….for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of Light…we are members of His body.” [sections of the book of Ephesians]
Paul completely understood the challenge of turning one’s life around. He understood the sacrifice, the difficulty, the cost, and also the joy. He understood that Jesus was worth it. But he also understood that with loving Jesus, his life could no longer look like it did before he had met Jesus- before he committed his life to Him. He knew the church in Ephesus, among the others he wrote to, struggled with this for one simple fact: we are human and completely fallible.
But it is in our humanity that we have a choice. If we have been given the option of something better and greater, why would we miss out on that? Why would we choose anything but that which is better and greater? I continue the challenge that Paul set forth 2,000 years ago, one that I know full well that I need to work on personally. I need to live my life in such a way that it shows the love that Jesus has for me, a love that has changed me, and a love that has freed me. I need to be humble, admit my own wrongdoings, be patient and gentle, especially with those that lack a love of Jesus. I need to work on keeping unity with other believers in Jesus, but also show deep, sincere love for those outside the faith, not because of trying to convert anyone, but because I want the love of Jesus to overflow, so that others, if they choose, might choose His love. Everything I do is for Him because He gave everything for me. He is why I am different. He is why I am no longer bound to my own shame, guilt, fears, sin, and selfishness. He is the very One who forgives me when I mess up, despite trying to love him. I was once living in darkness. My darkness looks different than yours. But I can guarantee, we all have darkness…and we are all offered a chance to be removed from that darkness and brought to life into the Light. Paul understood the concept of darkness to light. Persecutor, possible murderer, a man full of hatred, full redeemed and forgiven brought to restoration through Jesus Christ. He is the One. He is the Only One.
He is Jesus.