Summary: He was not Rome’s prisoner, he was Christ’s! (#1 in The Unfathomable Love of Christ series on Eph 3 & 4) See the "Every Spiritual Blessing" series on Ephesians 1 & 2.
As we enter this third chapter of Ephesians, I want to remind you that when Paul wrote his letters, they were simply that. Personal letters to the churches, establishing doctrine, settling disputes, giving assurance, offering encouragement, requesting prayer, but over all else, exalting the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
There were no chapter and verse divisions when he wrote, and we have to keep that in mind as we study, so we do not subconsciously leave all thought of one chapter behind as we go on to the next, and miss the connections between the two.
Another thing we will see as we go on, is one of the instances of Paul’s tendency to stop what he’s saying, go to great length to explain some phrase he has used, or statement he has made, and then come back to his main point down the line.
When you read verse one you will see that he begins to say something;
“For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles -”
Then he breaks off, creating what I’ve called one of his literary cliff-hangers, and doesn’t come back to what he was about to say until verse 14.
So I propose to you that we handle this chapter accordingly. We will talk about verse one today, and then we will move on to verse 14 and the rest of the chapter, or close to it, then come back and spend a few weeks talking about verses 2 through 13.
So I’m warning you in advance, don’t let yourself be encouraged that I’m finally picking up the pace, just because in a relatively short time you see us nearing the end of chapter 3. Remember that we’ve skipped half the chapter, and are going to have to back track and study these other verses.
For today though, I want to stay right here in verse one of chapter three, and take care that we do not miss the significance of this reference he makes to himself.
“I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus...”
The man we know as the Apostle Paul, began as Saul.
Now I am not prepared to give you an in-depth account of the life of Saul here, and a history of the ancient world at the time he lived. But I would like to draw a sketch of him for the purpose of comparison to what he eventually became.
First of all, we know that he was born in the city of Tarsus. If you find a map in the back of your Bible that shows the journeys of Paul and therefore, depicts the entire Mediterranean Sea and surrounding territories, here is how you can find Tarsus. Look at Israel, there on the eastern border of the Mediterranean, and let your eyes follow the coastline north. You will come to Antioch. Then, if you continue up that coast and turn west with it, you will see Tarsus.
Tarsus was a large, bustling city and positioned along the main trade routes of the surrounding regions. During Saul’s time the study of the liberal arts and philosophy and just learning in general, were of primary focus in Tarsus. In fact, in his book on the life of Paul, F. F. Bruce called Tarsus a ‘University City’, and he indicated that Tarsus surpassed even Athens and Alexandria in these educational pursuits.
So this is the background Saul comes from, and the early influence of his life.
He was a Roman citizen, although a Jew, his citizenship apparently purchased by his parents, as he makes the claim in Acts 22 that he was born a citizen of Rome.
On the other side of the coin, he was a Hebrew. Reading Philippians 3:5,
“circumcised on the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee...”
So it was a matter of pride to Saul, to be not only a Hebrew, but in his own estimation, a Hebrew of Hebrews. Another way of saying, “If anyone can claim to be Hebrew, it is I”
Notice his boast is not in being simply an Israelite, or even Jewish, but a Hebrew. An educated man. He commanded the respect and attention of a crowd near riot in Jerusalem when he began speaking to them in the Hebrew dialect, as by then it had become a language of the learned, and not as commonly spoken as Greek or Aramaic, and was used primarily in Temple worship and ceremonies.
We know Paul studied at the feet of Gamaliel , a leading Pharisee of his day, and himself became a Pharisee. In fact, let’s just go to Acts 21 & 22 for a moment and then to Philippians 3, and read Saul’s very impressive resume.