I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains. – Acts 26:29
Paul’s beliefs were forged in the furnace of life. When his legs were virtually cut out from underneath him, he learned all the more that God is in control.
It was during Paul’s two-year imprisonment in Rome that he wrote letters to the Ephesian, Philippian, and Colossian churches and to his friend Philemon. It was during this season of suffering that God encouraged him to write of Jesus, “In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). When he wrote to the Ephesians, he urged them to see that God, who is sovereign over all, has put all things under Jesus’ feet (Ephesians 1:22). These truths were not just theoretical. Paul relied upon them during the most difficult seasons of his life.
Paul’s experiences doubtless helped him to understand more deeply that he needed the gospel not just for salvation but for all of life. We, too, need the gospel daily—the good news that Jesus died in the place of sinners, that He was raised for our justification, and that He sent the Spirit to sanctify us and to fill us. The gospel creates within us a confident anticipation of the return of Jesus. It causes us to view the world from a heavenly perspective.
John Stott, who was unparalleled in his ability to synthesize and succinctly condense vast amounts of material, summarized the impact of Paul’s imprisonment upon his theology in this way: “Paul’s perspective was adjusted, his horizon extended, his vision clarified and his witness enriched.” His chains did not become an occasion for disappointment or regret. Rather, his trials, which kept him in a state of weakness and dependency upon God, altered his perspective and shed light on the horizon. He was able to stand before a Roman governor, a king, and a queen, and say, What you have you cannot keep. What I have I cannot lose. I wish you could become like me—a sinner saved by grace, an heir to eternal life. I would not like for you to share my chains, but I would love for you to share my faith.
Paul experienced the very truth that he had written to the Romans years earlier: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This was so not only for Paul but is also true for all who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Are you facing a discouraging trial? Take courage! You have all you truly need, and you cannot lose it. All the riches and comfort that this world can offer do not compare to what you have in the gospel—“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Christian theology is not for an ivory tower but for the prison cell, for the trials. Let the truths of the gospel strengthen your soul and shape your perspective as you cling to the hope that Christ has purchased for you.