Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; 2 Timothy 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:8
There is a very real sense in which the apostle Paul, in his own person and experience, was an embodiment of the history of the Church in this age. Indeed, it would seem to be a principle in the Divine economy that those to whom a Revelation has been entrusted should themselves have it so wrought into their very being and history that they are able to say, "I am your sign." To take the one fragment which is now before us, the end of Paul's life saw a process of narrowing down and limitation working itself through by "a great falling away" on the one hand, and a closing up from the general to the specific in the case of that which (him who) represented the testimony on the other. This is precisely what is foretold as to the conditions at "the end," and it is not a little significant that this is specially referred to in prophetic utterances to Timothy - in the end letter. So that is phrase "The prisoner in the Lord" occurring as it does in the last writings, is prophetic in its meaning, and wonderfully explanatory of the end way of the sovereignty of the Lord.
What we have here, then, is
1. The instrument of the Lord's testimony in a place of limiting by the will of God.
As we read the record of the incidents which led up to Paul's going to Rome as a prisoner, and especially when we read the words o Agrippa: "This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar,' we are not far from feeling that there were mistakes and accidents, but for which there might have been a much more propitious issue, and the ministry of the apostle at large might have extended. There may have been times of stress when Paul himself was tempted to wonder if he had not been impulsive in that appeal to the Emperor. But as he went forward, and when the Lord spoke to him from time to time giving light, it became clear that, however the thing might have been construed humanly, there was the sovereign government of God in it all, and that he was in prison not as the Emperor's prisoner, but as the prisoner of the Lord.
Perhaps Paul did not accept this all at once. Possibly he did not realize just how it would work out. A more or less quick trial and release may have been in his mind. Some hope of further ministry among beloved saints seems not to be absent from his correspondence. (There probably was a short period of release from the first imprisonment.) At length, however, he fully accepted what was becoming increasingly clear as the Lord's way, and it grew upon him that this way was in the greatest interest of the Body of Christ. Thus we see that when the time comes for the Lord's people to be brought face to face with the ultimate and supreme things of the revelation of Jesus Christ: things beyond personal salvation: things which relate to the mind of God from before times eternal as far above being saved: then there has to be a narrowing down, a closing up, a limiting. Much activity that has been, and all quite right for bringing things to certain position and state, now ceases to carry them further, and something more intensive is needed.
That which represents the testimony in its fullest and closest approximation to the ultimate purpose of God, then, has to be shorn of much that has been good, necessary, and of God in a preparatory way, and must be shut up to what is ultimate. The captivity is not to be conceived truth or a superimposed doctrinal acceptance. It is wrought into the very fiber of the being by experience following revelation, and revelation interpreting experience. It is not the championing of some espoused interpretation: it is that it is the very life of the instruments and the instrument is that in its very being. It is not a matter of wanting to be or not wanting to be, but of cannot be other, a prisoner, the sovereignty of God has done it.
2. The importance and value of seeing and accepting things in God's light.
This applied both to Paul and to those who were brought into touch with him. For the apostle the settling into the sovereign ordering of God in his imprisonment issued in increasing illumination leading to spiritual emancipation.
No one can fail to recognize the tremendous enrichment of ministry as contained in what are called "the Prison Epistles." If he had been restive, piqued, rebellious, or bitter, there would have been no open heaven, and a spirit of controversy with the Lord would have closed and bolted the door to the fuller divine unveilings and clarifyings.
(continued with # 2)