Have you ever noticed how often prison is part of the growth of the kingdom in the New Testament? It seems like nearly everyone was in jail at some point. Peter and John were in prison early in the history of the church (Acts 4). Stephen was captured and then martyred. Peter spent more time in prison and was miraculously released by an angel (Acts 12). Paul and his companions spent their share of time in prisons.
Even today, in many places opposed to the gospel, kingdom workers spend time in prison, and worse. What things might we learn from this confusing relationship between prison time and kingdom work?
First, we must remember that God’s kingdom is a spiritual one. When we have an effect in the spiritual world we also engage in spiritual warfare. Some of that warfare is directly from our spiritual enemy, but some of it comes from the brokenness of the world, the evil present in it from selfishness, pride and the lust for power.
Second, some of the apostle’s prison time may be related to a need to slow down and write. This may be true for some of the current apostles’ stay in prisons today. Much of the New Testament was written from jail. Paul was the most prolific (at least to our knowledge from the letters chosen to be included in the NT). We know much of what we do about how to live this life of faith because Paul was slowed down enough to have time to write. In fact, it was the only way at that point to get his messages out to the people he was mentoring.
Third, suffering of many kinds develops our spiritual character. Yes, none of us wants to suffer. If we are parents, we don’t want our children to deal with it; but, without suffering our growth is limited and parts of our character are not developed. Suffering and hardship help build our faith as well. When we are weak, God’s real strength is shown.
Finally, prison time and other sufferings for the kingdom leads to glory for God. We have no idea how this happens, but that message is clear in scripture. The man born blind, whom Jesus healed, came into his condition so that God would be glorified through him. When the apostles were beaten because of their teaching they counted it a joy to suffer for the name of Jesus. Jesus tells Peter how he will glorify God in his death in John 21.
We might end here by saying that no one desires to be in prison or to suffer. That shouldn’t be a goal we have in our five-year plan. Our aim should be to obey, whatever the consequences. If loving others as Jesus told us to do results in suffering for us, then we suffer and praise God for it, using it for the advancement of the kingdom. Our life plan should be to follow the shepherd wherever he leads.
“Where he leads me, I will follow.”
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