The Apostle Paul was coming to the last years of a fruitful, but difficult ministry. He was in prison – again – for faithfully preaching the Gospel of the Grace of God. This time Paul found himself in the granddaddy of all prisons – in the city of Rome. The year was about A.D. 60. The journey had started a few years earlier and had been a difficult one. Jews from Jerusalem saw Paul as a turncoat and a great threat to their religion and way of life. They wanted Paul dead and some even took an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed him. Paul spent a lot of time in prisons between Jerusalem and Rome. He had faithfully testified about Christ to everyone who would listen to him – from angry mobs to soldiers to governors and a king. And now he was on his way to appeal his case to the emperor. Paul had been shipwrecked and bitten by a deadly snake, but nothing kept him from getting to Rome.
Paul didn’t know when his last day on earth would be, but God knew. The Holy Spirit placed on Paul’s mind and heart a powerful message that he wrote in letters to Christians he knew personally, and some he had never met. Three of those letters later became part of the Holy Scripture we love to this day: Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. The message God gave to Paul to share with the Church of that day is one we need to hear loud and clear today: Your life has been changed, so change your life!
Each of Paul’s three prison letters from Rome are specific to the needs of those churches, yet there is a common thread you can hear throughout.
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
“Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” Philippians 3:15-17
“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15
As complex as Paul’s letters can be, the message is clear about the importance of God’s people being filled with love. It is a “bond” of perfection. We were called to be “one body” – not two bodies, not ten bodies, not a thousand bodies, not thirty thousand bodies – one Body of believers. We lost sight of that “oneness” a long time ago and as hard as it is for me to admit it, we will likely not experience the fulness of that oneness until we are all together with Christ in Heaven. God has the power to take all of the divisions that exist among Christians today, and make us one.
The way Christians treat each other is central to the theme of the Gospel of the Grace of God. The Gospel message we preach today is based on that oneness, but we don’t actually have it. When I was an atheist, pointing my angry finger at the people of God, I used the many divisions in the Church as one of my major “proofs” that there was no God. I pointed another finger at the hypocrisy I saw in the church. Atheists often look to Christians to give them the best ammunition against Christianity. They see us as hypocrites, divisive, unloving, and no better than anyone else – certainly not proof that there is a living God in Heaven above. I had seen first-hand what divisions in churches can do to people and wanted no part of it, but God saw it differently. He saved me and made me a part of His Church. God also gave me a special love for His people and called me to teach them as He taught me.
What have I learned after almost 40 years as a Christian? “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” May this be our high calling – our ultimate goal – in 2011. Let’s do everything we can do make a difference in the life of the Church by walking like a brother.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”