For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,…
St. Paul writes from his Roman dungeon, with the galling constraints of his confinement constantly about him. There is a pathos in the situation that must move the sympathy of the reader; and yet there is a dignity and even a glory in it that make us feel the apostle's occasional reference to his bonds chiefly a motive for giving the greater weight and solemnity to his persuasive exhortations.
I. THE FAITHFUL SERVANT OF CHRIST MAY BECOME A PRISONER IN HIS CAUSE. St. Paul was called into the apostleship from a worldly position of great influence and brilliant prospects. He was the most gifted and the most devoted man in the Christian Church. No one labored more assiduously, and no one met with more marked success. Yet it has all come to this, that the great, honored apostle lies chained in a Roman prison, his life at the mercy of the "mad boy" Nero. The end might have been expected in this form. "A disciple is not above his master, nor a servant above his lord." If the Lord was crucified, shall we be surprised that the servant is imprisoned? Still some are perplexed and disappointed, not at suffering these great hardships, but at having to bear any cross for Christ. Christianity is the religion of the cross for the Christian as truly as for Christ.
II. LIBERAL CHRISTIANITY MAY ENDANGER THE LIBERTY OF ITS ADVOCATE. St. Paul was a prisoner "in behalf of you Gentiles." We know, from the history in the Acts, that it was through the enmity of Jews that the apostle was accused before the Roman government, and that this enmity was roused by the jealousy they felt at his preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, and advocating the Gentile right to an equality with the Jew. St. Paul was the preacher of the more liberal Christianity of his day and therefore he was most grievously misunderstood and most bitterly opposed. They who feel called to preach more liberal views than are sanctioned by the prevailing opinions of the age may expect opposition, but may learn the duty of courage and fidelity to truth, and may be cheered by thinking of the lonely sufferers in the same cause in bygone days, when the larger views and the freer doctrines were more vigorously opposed than they can be now. The noble champions of liberal Christianity, from St. Paul to Maurice, have won substantial victories from which we profit.
III. IT IS BETTER TO BE A PRISONER FOR CHRIST AND LIBERAL TRUTH THAN TO BE AT LIBERTY WITHOUT CHRIST AND IN UNCHARITABLE NARROWNESS, After all, the prisoner at Rome is more to be envied than pitied. He was the prisoner of Christ, and Christ was with him in his bondage. His was the real blessedness of those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. St. Paul was the champion of freedom as opposed to the restraints of Judaism, and this real, spiritual freedom could not be destroyed by bolts and bars.
"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage." The immortal dreamer had large liberty in Bedford jail when he traveled to the Beulah heights and almost as far as the gates of the celestial city.
IV. THE PRISONER WHO SUFFERS FOR A GOOD CAUSE LAYS GREAT OBLIGATIONS UPON ALL WHO BENEFIT FROM IT. St. Paul quietly appeals to his imprisonment as a ground for prayer (ver. 14) and exhortation (Ephesians 4:1). The sufferings of the great martyrs of liberty in the past urge us, who have entered into the heritage won by their toil and death, to be faithful to so great a trust, to walk worthy of it by using our liberty as an opportunity for the highest service of love, and to preserve it from all encroachments and hand it down to our children unfettered by new restraints of theological dogma or of official domination. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,