"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,” – Ephesians 4:1
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul referred to himself as “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” The phrase, “the prisoner of Jesus Christ,” caught my attention. Wondering why someone would refer to himself as a prisoner, albeit of Jesus Christ? Considering that the term carries a negative connotation. This got me thinking…Why would one of the greatest Apostles refer to himself as a prisoner of Christ? What did he mean by that? Why did he see himself as that?
Why did Paul see himself as the prisoner of Christ? Perhaps, the most obvious reason would be the various arrests and imprisonments he suffered for preaching the Gospel.
But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. – Acts 16:37
Therefore, when Paul referred to himself as the prisoner of Christ, he didn’t mean that he was forced against his will to serve Christ; and was thus a prisoner as a result. One reason Paul might have considered himself “a prisoner of Christ,” could be his way of seeing his imprisonments, as being a prisoner of Christ, rather than a prisoner of the locality or people that jailed him. He saw his imprisonment as not a punishment for a crime he committed personally, but an imprisonment for the Gospel’s sake.
Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. – 2 Timothy 2:9
Another reason, perhaps the main reason, Paul considered himself as a prisoner of Christ might have been how he perceived himself. He might have had the mindset that to fulfill his purpose to the utmost, he had to take on the mindset or attitude of a prisoner. He might have believed that having that mindset would constrain him to live for Christ with all his might and ability.
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! – 1 Cor. 9:16
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 2 Cor. 5:14-15
Also, Apostle Paul might have had the mindset of a prisoner, because of some of the characteristics of prison or a prisoner. Following are some of the characteristics of a prisoner or prison:
Ø Booked – A prisoner is booked (processed) as soon as he gets into prison. And he carries that record for life, unless when his record is expunged.
Also, as Christians we have a record too! We are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of life! And nobody, and nothing can delete that name from the Book of Life.
He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. - Revelation. 3:5
Ø Loses Identity – Once booked, an inmate loses his identity! He’s no longer referred to by his given name. But he’s given a prison number, which he goes by.
Likewise, our identity is hidden in Christ. We are no longer our own. We’ve been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). That’s why Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:3: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. - 2 Corinthians 5:17
Ø Stripped of worldly clothes and possessions – One of the first things a prisoner loses is his worldly clothes. He’s stripped of his worldly clothes for prison clothes. While he’s in prison, he is no longer his own man. He belongs to the state. The state is responsible for his clothing, feeding and personal care or needs.
Likewise, as Christians, we ought to strip ourselves of worldly lusts, desires, attitudes, ways, etc. We are to rid ourselves of worldly conducts and language. Therefore, Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:22-23 implores, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
So, just like in prison where an inmate takes off worldly clothes to put on prison uniform, we too ought to take off our old lifestyle; and put on Christ! Amen!
Ø Limited possessions – A prisoner has very few possessions. Besides his civilian clothes, which has been replaced with prison uniforms and a few possessions. So, he's not bogged down with worldly possessions.
Likewise, we ought not be bogged down with worldly possessions. Worldly possessions tend to make us more earthly-focused, than heavenly-focused. That’s why Apostle Paul 1 Timothy 6 teaches us about contentment. Saying…
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 1 Timothy 6:6-9 (highlight mine)
Ø Regimented Life: One of the characteristics of a prisoner is that a prisoner lives a regimented life. His life is no longer his. He no longer has control of managing his time. Someone else oversees that. Someone else tells him when to rise and when to go to bed. When to eat, shower and exercise. Someone else determines where he sleeps or how he sleeps.
Paul says that he no longer lives for himself. That the life he lives, he now lives for Christ. That way, as a “prisoner,” he’s told what to do, when to do it, where to do it, etc.
And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. – 2 Cor. 5:15
As Christians our lives should be regimented too. Someone (the Holy Spirit) should be managing our life and time…. Telling us when to rise and when to go to bed. Where we go and when we go. Perhaps one of the issues we have as Christians is because we don’t see ourselves as prisoners for Christ. And as such believe that we can manage our own lives the way we see fit. Do what we want and when we want. Paul, in Galatians warns us not to see liberty as a reason to just do whatever we want or sin.
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. – Galatians 5:13
Ø Confined Life – A prisoner is confined within the cell blocks and prison – confined to only the areas of the prison that he’s allowed to stay or go. A prisoner has limited movements – can only go to certain parts of the prison, where he’s been confined to go. He’s “boxed” in. He’s not “free to move about the country,” as the old Southwest Airlines TV commercial says.
As Christians we ought to live within the confines of God’s Word. That is, we should not think outside the “box.” That is, not think outside the box of God’s Word, (the Bible). Rather we should think inside the “box.” Apostle Paul admonishes us in Phil. 4:8 saying:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (highlight mine)
Translation? Think inside the “box!”
Likewise, if we think inside the box, we should also live inside the “box,” – the box called the Body of Christ. That is, we restrict ourselves to live within the confines of the Body of Christ. All that we need is in the Body of Christ. Just as all that the human body needs to sustain itself is within itself. A fully functional human body is complete in itself; and needs nothing from another human to be complete or sustain itself. We really do not need anything from the world; if we are fully functional as the Body of Christ.
That’s why Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 6:14 that we should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.
When we think within the confines of the Word of God, and live within the Body of Christ, we have time to study and meditate on God’s Word; and edify the Body of Christ[BA2] .
Now, living a confined life does not mean staying to ourselves and not fulfilling the Great Commission; or not loving or associating with unbelievers or people outside of the Body of Christ. Living a confined life just means, thinking and living within the confines of God’s Word, His Will and Ways!
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. – Matthew 7:14
Ø Constrained Life: A prisoner’s life is constrained – can’t do what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. He can’t eat what he wants to eat when he wants to. He’s constrained to what he’s told to do; not what he wants to do. He’s constrained to eat only what’s placed before him or starve! For instance, he may have limited or no access to social amenities or entertainment; like not having TV, telephone or cell phone in his cell.
Likewise, as Christians we ought to live constrained lives. Not everything our eyes see should we want. Paul said that, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” – 1 Cor. 6:12
We are admonished in the Bible to have temperance (self-control). We ought to have self-control over the flesh and our lusts. There should be some restraint or modesty in our lives. One of the areas where we need constraint is in our sexual lives. We are admonished to mortify the deeds of the flesh. That was one area where some great men of the Bible failed - to control their flesh. Men like David, Solomon, Samson, etc., which eventually led to their downfall.
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: - 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (highlight mine)
So, in a nutshell, these are some of the characteristics of a prisoner. The question then is, who’s prisoner, are you? A prisoner of Christ or a prisoner of sin? After all, we are all prisoners of something or someone.
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? – Romans 6:16