With this post we begin a lengthy study of the Prison Epistles of the apostle Paul. What we see in these epistles (as in the rest of Scripture), is that the content of these letters are:

  • God centered
  • Christ exalting
  • Spirit filled

These documents are given to us by God Himself with the purpose of producing. God centered, Christ exalting, Spirit filled churches, marriages, families, saints and children.

The ultimate practical purpose for these letters is to reveal what God has done for us in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ, and by believing in Him, be filled with The Spirit to live lives that bring glory and honor to God.

  • 1Co 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

What are the Prison Epistles?

Let me give them to you in the order that we will be studying them.

Colossians, Philippians, Philemon and lastly, the letter to the Ephesians. Each of these letters was written by Paul from Rome.

It has been said, tongue in cheek, that we need to be careful what we pray for. Paul had a deep desire to go to Rome. Not as a tourist to snap photos, but as a witness for Jesus Christ. Paul was a man who was constrained by the love of Christ who desired to see people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ by the preaching of the gospel, as well as see the body of Christ grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.

God in His providence answered Paul’s prayer to go to Rome in a most remarkable way. After being apprehended by Roman authorities because he caused a riot preaching about Jesus Christ and taught that through him, there would be the resurrection from the dead, we read in Acts 25.9-11 that Paul made an appeal to stand before Caesar Augustus. To stand before Caesar, God would either bring Caesar to wherever Paul was, or God would bring Paul to Rome. God chose to bring Paul to Rome, and you can read about all of the ministry that took place on this amazing boat ride and stop on the island of Melita enroute to Rome in Acts 27 & 28.pastorraywatchwhite

Thus, the human reason for Paul being sent to Rome was the crime of preaching that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, Who was foretold by the OT prophets, Who dies for our sins according to the Scripture, was buried, but rose again from the dead on the third day.

The divine reason for Paul going to Rome was that it was the sovereign, providential will of God for the purpose of the furtherance of the gospel in Europe.

Brief background about Roman Society

Rome was the world power at the time of the writing of these epistles. There are some very striking similarities between ancient Rome and USA.

  • They prided themselves on their military might.
  • They prided themselves in their athletic abilities to the point where the star athletes were nearly worshipped as gods incarnate.
  • They prided themselves in theatre and drama, and many of the actors and actresses were looked up to by society as being “special people.”
  • They took pride in their educational institutions and universities.
  • They were extremely liberal in their religious beliefs. Spiritually speaking, they were a polytheistic society that embraced the philosophy that all religions are basically the same and all roads of spirituality lead to God.
  • They were very liberal morally. Any and every type of sexual expression was accepted as long as it was between consenting adults.
  • Their global goal was to colonize the then known world with their form of government, religious beliefs etc.
  • Later on in the first century, a custom developed where any Roman citizen was required to burn a pinch of incense and proclaim that Caesar is Lord…..the implications for a Christian is obvious.
  • The message of Paul to the Christian man or woman was that in response to the grace, mercy and love of Christ, they were to walk in newness of life, not being conformed to the philosophies and mores of Roman culture, but to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ by the power of the Indwelling Holy Spirit.

When were these epistles written?

The majority of manuscript scholars tell us that these epistles were written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, between the years 61-65 A.D.

In Acts 28.16-29, we learn that this imprisonment was more like a house arrest, where Paul was able to conduct a limited amount of ministry.

It has been estimated that Paul was saved around 3 years after Jesus ascended up into heaven around the year of 37 A.D., which would mean that Paul wrote these letters around 25-30 years after his conversion to Christ.

For those of you who may be new to the faith, you can read about the conversion of the apostle Paul (formerly Saul the Pharisee) in Acts 9, 22 & 26.

In these 3 accounts of Paul being apprehended by the risen Lord Jesus, he was told by Jesus that he would be:

  • A chosen vessel. We too are chosen by God.
  • He would receive revelation knowledge of God’s will and purposes. We too have been given that revelation in The Bible.
  • He would see The Just One, Jesus Christ. We too are able by faith to see Him Who is invisible, and one day, we will see our glorious King face to face.
  • He would be His witness of Christ before kings, Israel and the Gentiles. We too are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ wherever we live, wherever we work, wherever we go to school.

It is recorded in Acts 9 that Paul was told that he would suffer many things for His Name’s sake. As we open up these epistles, we learn that Paul was very much aware of God’s divine purpose for those sufferings, and the blessings that the church would receive as a result of the revelations that he was given during this time.

Paul’s perspective while in prison (compare to  Joseph from Genesis 39, 40)

It will be noted in Acts 23.18, 25.27 & 28.17, that Paul is identified as “the prisoner”, “a prisoner” and “the prisoner from Jerusalem.”

But did Paul see himself as being a prisoner on Rome?

  • Eph 3:1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
  • Eph 4:1 ¶ I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, {of the Lord: or, in the Lord}
  • Phm 1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer,
  • Phm 1:9 Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

Remember the 3 points that I gave to you about the content of these epistles? They are all God centered, Christ exalting and Spirit filled theology.

Beloved, your theology (what you believe about God) will affect your perspective in life. It will affect how to respond to situations in your life.

While it is true that Paul requests prayer for deliverance from prison if it is God’s will, he is completely convinced that as long as he is in that prison cell, he is there according to the good, perfect and acceptable will of God.