Summary: When our base drives are confined by the shackles of God’s love, they are morphed into rockets of exploration. I believe Paul and Timothy invite us to join them in prison and slavery, and, thereby, to become agents of unimaginable liberation.
Boethius had the misfortune of being a well known and well liked Roman Senator, philosopher and teacher at the time a Ostrogothic king came to power in Italy. Boethius was imprisoned probably because of his immense influence on the thinking of the general population. While there, he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy-one of the greatest and most influential writings of the Medieval world. C. S. Lewis said if you want to understand the Medieval mind, you must know Boethius.
John Bunyan was a Baptist preacher at a time the British government didn't approve of Baptist preachers. For preaching he was imprisoned. And there, he wrote one of the great classics of the Christian faith The Pilgrim's Progress. Of the 58 publications he produced in his lifetime, the one for which he is remembered is one he wrote in prison. It resonates in the hearts of many Christians today.
Martin Luther King was imprisoned because he joined with protestors who believed the laws of Alabama, which had separate bus and water and restaurants and many other facilities for whites and blacks. From prison he wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail, explaining why he believed it necessary to disobey unjust laws. That document become a rallying point for the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.
Paul, also, was imprisoned, and from prison he wrote a letter to a gathering of followers of Jesus in a city called Philippi. The song his letter started is still sung by believers today.
Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul and Timothy wrote this together. And together they were bondslaves of Jesus.
A Bond Slave, whether by choice, or under duress, was looked down on by Greco Roman culture. The independence and freedom of the soul was exalted as a cardinal virtue-even independence from obedience to the gods was thought of as essential to the ideals of self-determination and wisdom. No one wanted to become a slave. Even slavery to ones passions was considered immaturity and dissipation of character. And slaves would do everything they could to attain their freedom. The Taoist had a more nuanced concept of freedom-embracing the idea that oneness with fate and the environment-losing one’s self by becoming one with the Tao (the Way) was true freedom, living without restraint. This is nearer to Paul and Timothy’s servanthood. They have chosen to lose themselves in the will of God through Jesus. Their identity is now bound with His. In this kind of slavery is true freedom.
So they write to the saints-the holy ones, as well as the overseers (epi-scopos-which literally is over-seers) and deacons (which is literally servants, or slaves). Today in much of the Church we have it a bit backwards. We venerate certain saints, and think of leaders as rulers. The New Testament paints a very different picture-everyone is a saint (as J. Vernon McGee said, “You’re either a saint, or you're an ain’t”), and the leaders are their servants. I believe all of these concepts-leadership, slavery, and imprisonment are connected.
The Benefits of Imprisonment
Some of the greatest Christian classics, moving billions of people to make the world a better place, have been written from prison. Maybe prison is a liberating place. Each of us is imprisoned by our bodies and passions and drives But when those drives are brought into slavery to God, they become wings and enable us to fly.
I’d like to submit for your consideration an extended quote from C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”. In it a ghost is tormented by a lizard that sits on his shoulder and whispers in his ear. Part of the ghost’s transition from hell to heaven is an obligatory and painful change. First, the lizard must die. And an angel asks the man’s permission to kill it. Permission finally being given and the lizard’s crude life destroyed by the angel’s breaking of its back, a magnificent metamorphosis takes place. The lizard becomes a horse, and the ghost becomes a man.
“In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse's back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every
moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.