Summary: Like some of Paul’s companions in prison, we may be held back by tasks too small, by shame, or even by our own prejudices. But once we accept our limitations as part of God’s will, they become ways to help others and fulfill our life callings.
If you suffer severe limitations, what do you wish for? What is your prayer, if you are bound by something that keeps you from doing what you really want to do? Do you wish you could be free from it? Likely you do. Do you even pray that you might have that limitation removed? I expect that I would. And yet the witness of the ages is that those who accept their limitations as the will of God are able to find fulfillment anyway. Most of all, they are able to witness to God’s love from within those limitations. They help others because in their being limited they exhibit what the human spirit can do when we live in faith.
Some of us suffer physical limitations. Our hearing is not good, or our eyesight is poor. We are too weak, too heavy, too uncoordinated, too clumsy. Here we are watching the Olympics, and all I can do as I watch these incredibly fast, graceful young people is to remember how I would always balk at the hurdles or stumble at the jump bar. Too clumsy by far! And now too elderly even to think about it. Physical limitations hold us back, and we are imprisoned in a body that doesn’t work right. Chained to clumsiness.
Others of us deal with financial limitations. We have debts, our job is not secure, our pay is too low, the prices are too high. There is always more month than money, and when they start talking about savings and IRA’s and investments, forget about it! We are just trying to pay the rent and the utilities and fill up the thirsty gasoline tank. Financial limitations hold us chained to our checkbooks.
Physical, financial, emotional – all sorts of things imprison us, and we would love to be rid of them. We would love to be free. And yet again the witness of the ages is that those who accept their limitations as the will of God are able to find fulfillment anyway. Most of all, they are able to witness to God’s love from within those limitations. They help others because in their being limited they exhibit what the human spirit can do when we live in faith. Not despite the chains, but because of the chains.
Paul is writing the Colossian letter from prison. Exactly where is unclear, but most Bible scholars think it was in Rome, where we know that he was under house arrest, chained to a soldier at all times. Free to come and go only if the guard will allow him, free to move only so far as the chain will stretch, scarcely free at all. And yet Paul’s spirit is free, Paul’s heart is not chained, Paul’s mind is not shackled, Paul’s purposes are not held back, because Paul sees his imprisonment as part of the mysterious plan of God. Paul uses his chains as a witness to his companions. Surrounded and visited by others, to each of them Paul provides a witness about the things that bind.
I invite you to eavesdrop with me today, to listen in at that little chamber. There are some conversations going on that we need to hear.
One of Paul’s companions is Tychicus. Tychicus was from Ephesus, and had traveled with Paul on one of his missionary journeys. Now Tychicus, whose name, by the way, is derived from the Greek word meaning “luck”, is to be the carrier of this letter to Colossae. We think he also carried the letters to Philemon and to the Ephesians. Tychicus was one of those people who labor in the background, doing work behind the scenes, making things happen, but never a superstar. They do not get their names on book covers, they do not get retirement banquets, they do not receive praise for all that they do. Tychicus is one of those on whom others depend for the detail work, but their jobs never expand. Their roles never become public. They are always behind the scenes, and one could imagine a conversation like this:
Says Tychicus to Paul: “Another letter, Paul? Another message to be carried? Is there nothing more for me? Am I stuck forever in this dead-end job? Paul, some day I would like to be the fellow who writes the letter instead of just the one who carries it. Or, if that’s not possible, I would like to be at least the one who stands up and reads the letter. But no, I never get another thing to do. We travel, you write, I trudge many a mile to hand your letter to someone, and wait for them to write a reply. Back I come, and we travel, you write, I trudge. Is there nothing greater for me to do, Paul?”