I am a Prisoner of Jesus Christ
By: Deji Yesufu
In a number of scriptures in the New Testament, Paul the Apostle referred to himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; Philemon 1:1,9,23; Hebrew 13:3). The natural question that should proceed from this is: why did he call himself a prisoner of Christ? Did Jesus Christ imprison Paul? Was Paul not put in a jail by the Romans? Was the root of Paul’s conflict with the authorities of those days not the fact of his preaching a theology that was diametrically opposed to the message that the Jews of his day espoused? So, what is this whole “prisoner of Jesus Christ” all about? In this essay, I want to suggest a few reasons why Paul referred to himself as one incarcerated by the Lord himself.
While I was undergoing my seminary training, one of my professors shared a very intriguing story about Christians and suicide. A missionary friend of his had spent many years as a missionary in East Africa. Finally, he and his wife returned to the United States of America. My professor said that his friend did not return home his normal self. He appeared constantly under attack. This missionary attempted suicide once and finally succeeded on the second try. My professor said that he was convinced what led to it was the pressure of the mission field. Today, I am marking one year in Christian ministry, trying to plant a local church in the city of Ibadan. It appears to me that the whole of the demons in Ibadan have opposed my work in this city and I confess to you that I have contemplated thoughts of suicide too. Christian ministry is tough. When Paul will describe it at one point he said: “…to the present hour we hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the whole world, the offscouring of all things until now…” (1 Corinthians 4:12-13). There is however one reason why I am convinced that Paul and other faithful ministers of Jesus Christ do not end it all: they consider themselves prisoners of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, what does this phrase mean?
First. I think the phrase “prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ” implies that a Christian is submitted to God’s harsh providences even as he endeavors to walk in obedience to God’s commands. Sometimes when preacher preach, you get the notion that following every act of obedience to God, a Christian will almost always enter into a period of blessings, riches and promotion. This is not true. Fact is that following many acts of obedience to God is sometimes more troubles and more heart aches. When the Christian has submitted to God’s commands and is endeavoring to follow the path that Christ has marked out for him in life, if such an individual encounters trouble along the way, it is safe for him to conclude that Jesus Christ authored that trouble and thus he is a victim of the Lord’s harsh providence: he is a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second. The story of Joseph in the Bible is probably one of the best depiction of this scenario. Joseph was a faithful servant in his master’s house. Then comes the master’s wife who wants the young man to sleep with her. In obedience to God, Joseph resists the temptation and flee the scene. Eventually he is roped into allegations of rape and ends up in prison. While obeying God, he becomes a prisoner of the Egyptians – a prisoner of Jesus Christ. But the story of Joseph did not end there. Rather, we see the providence of God working out miraculous preservation for the whole posterity of God’s people – and even the whole world. For if Joseph had not been in prison, the whole of the ancient world may have perished from that famine. Therefore, while we endure the harsh realities of the prison terms of Christ Jesus, we realize that God is working out a greater good for us, the church and nations of the earth. Only eternity will reveal how much good the sufferings of God’s people bring to our earth.
Lastly, the concept of the “Prisoner of the Lord” is one that the living God will have embedded in our spirit. While we may not have much, we cannot lose hope. It was Jeremiah that wrote in his lamentations:
“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seek him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust – there may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strike him, and be full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever…” (Lamentation 3:25-31).
In this scripture, we find the counsel of Jesus to us to give our cheeks to be smitten and then to turn the other cheek also. Obviously, the Christian life can appear to be a life of foolishness; a life of continual loss; a life of patient suffering and endurance. But it is good to know that God is not outside the prison; he is within the prison walls with us.
When a young Christian lady has been faithful to Jesus Christ with her body and the time to be married comes, and she cannot seem to find a spouse, she is a prisoner of the Lord and the Lord knows. When another one of our sisters has not known sex outside marriage and now is married but is unable to have children, she is a prisoner of the Lord and our Lord knows. When a minister faithfully preaches the gospel, avoids popular gimmicks and submits to all the counsel of faithful ministry in scripture, yet he still appears not to have that façade of a successful ministry, he is a prisoner of Jesus Christ. Some parents have labored over children, bringing them up in the admonition of Christ, and yet the children choose the path of rebellion against God and his word. Those parents are prisoners of the Lord. The list is endless: there is a path of Christian obedience that leads to greater trouble. We are simply prisoners of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When God told David that he should choose one of three punishments, David said that it will be better to fall into the hands of the Lord than into the hands of men. The greatest hope that we should take out of all these is this: we are not prisoners of men; we are not victims of life circumstance; we are prisoners of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in the hands of the Lord and whether our troubles end in this life or in the life to come, we are safe in the embrace of our Beloved.