For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
Paul refers to himself not as the prisoner of the Romans, but as the prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paul assumes his readers know that the mystery of the union of Jew and Gentile into one body of believers was revealed to him, that he became a minister/evangelist to the Jews, and that this is what ultimately landed him in enough trouble with the Jewish leaders to have him arrested and eventually appeal his case to Caesar in Rome. It was out of obedience to Jesus that he was a prisoner, and Paul trusted that God had a sovereign purpose for it. He believed that God had a purpose for his chains and that even in prison God could use him to spread the Good News to the Gentiles.
There are many in chains today for their Christian faith, but two believers from recent history come immediately to my mind when I think of ministering the gospel while in chains.
Corrie ten Boom and her family were arrested by the Nazis in Holland after their part in the Jewish Underground Railroad during the Holocaust. She and her sister were sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp where she witnessed many atrocities, the worst being the death of her dear sister Betsie. Her sister had reached out to others in the concentration camp and always tried to look for the best in every situation. The sisters held evening worship services in the barracks, translating the Biblical text aloud from Dutch to German. Other prisoners would pass the life-giving words back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and back into Dutch.
Before she died in the camp, Betsie told Corrie, "There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” She inspired Corrie to establish rehabilitation centers for concentration camp survivors after her release and eventually travel as a missionary, preaching God’s forgiveness. Her belief in reconciliation was tested when after one speaking engagement she recognized a guard from Ravensbruk. He had since become a Christian and asked her forgiveness. She was able to do so with the help of Jesus. (Read the full account here.)
Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs, was a pastor who bravely stood against Romanian communism. The communists had closed Sunday schools and oppressed the church. He held services for youth attending his church in front of the lion’s den at the Bucharest Zoo to prepare them for battle with the world. Pastor Wurmbrand led his little Lutheran congregation, composed of many Jewish converts, to the Bucharest train station to toss Russian Gospels into the windows of passing trains filled with invading Russian soldiers. He and his wife both went to prison. Although he was psychologically and physically tortured for many years, he continued to preach the love of God to his captors and fellow prisoners. Even in solitary confinement he composed sermons and preached them to the walls.
He later wrote,"It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners, as it is in captive nations today. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching; they were happy beating us—so everyone was happy."
My earthly trials pale in comparison to what was experienced by Paul, ten Boom, and Wurmbrand, and my earthly witness pales even more. God, make me more like these saints who have gone before!