There are 27 books in the New Testament. Thirteen (almost half) of those books are believed to be written by the Apostle Paul. Out of those 13 books, four were written while he was incarcerated. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon are some of the most powerful books in the New Testament, and they were written by a man who was in prison – we might even refer to him as wrongfully imprisoned. Let that sink in for a moment.
Paul worked tirelessly to plant churches and encourage them in their work of proclaiming the gospel. Yet, getting mixed up with the criminal justice system seems to have impacted some of his relationships.
“You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus” (2 Timothy 1:15-18 NIV).
When Paul was most in need of encouragement and support, people deserted him – because they were ashamed to be associated with someone who was in prison. I guess maybe they missed church the day Matthew 25 was covered. In that passage (v. 36), Jesus clearly communicates that believers will be recognized by specific actions such as visiting the prisoner. Paul was well known among early Christian communities (he started many of them!); so if he wasn’t getting visitors while he was locked up, I’m guessing there wasn’t much hope for the average person who fell victim to the Empire.
Fast forward almost two thousand years, and you’ll see that believers are still struggling to live out Christ’s expectation. Not only are we not visiting the prisoner, we’re also ignoring their families who are often dealing with financial and emotional struggles. These families often avoid church altogether or leave churches where they were once members because they are ostracized. I can’t imagine that God is pleased with something like this.
Friends, the Church has to do better. Very often, people are unable to hear our proclamation of the gospel because our actions (and non-actions) speak louder than our words. We often do a pretty good job of feeding and clothing those in need, but we’re failing the stranger (immigrant) and the prisoner – and their families.
Below are some resources – including upcoming events – that are created to resource the Church in some areas of biblical justice. I encourage you to set aside some time to read through them – and if you are able, attend the events!
CCDA Biblical Justice