It has been over two weeks since Americans have been called to stay at home in attempt to contain the spread of a new virus that is taking the world by storm. This has not only shifted the way we do day-to-day life, it has also altered the way we express and practice our faith. This may be something new for the modern Church, but this experience may not be entirely foreign to those that we read of in the Scriptures. Pause for a moment and think about how many heroes of the faith were quarantined for various reasons. Noah in the ark, David in caves, Joseph in prison, Jonah in the belly of a great fish, John the Beloved on the island Patmos, and arguably others. But if there is one that first comes to mind in relation to this subject, surely it is the Apostle Paul.
The hope we can draw from the Apostle Paul’s life is that fruitfulness is still possible during a season of physical restriction or circumstances outside of our control that seem to limit us. This was certainly true when he was under house arrest in Rome for two years (Acts 28:16,30). In the natural, some would see this incarceration as an unfortunate waste to the man’s ministry. He could not directly plant any churches, he was not able to travel and preach from synagogue to synagogue, and perhaps he felt the natural aches of being away from face-to-face interactions with the brethren (though visitors had access to him). Yet in God’s view, this period served a purpose. This arrest was not outside of the Master’s will for his servant’s life, and nothing is outside of God’s purpose for anyone else who is rightly devoted to Him.
In fact, many believe that four New Testament books were written during Paul’s arrest (known as the Prison Epistles). Those letters are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. This already proves that God foresaw the everlasting fruit that would come from this apparent setback in Paul’s life. As you are reading this blog in quarantine, I pray that you would be encouraged and inspired by the Apostle’s attitude as seen in the letters that he wrote while locked away from normal life.
#1 Unceasing worship and prayer is still possible
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers… – Ephesians 1:16
No matter what was taken from Paul, no one could ever hinder his worship and his ability to meet God in prayer. In fact, we see the same reflex when he was in another prison with his friend Silas. Read closely and you will notice that “other prisoners were listening to them” as they were singing and praising God (Acts 16:25). The Church is in the same predicament as the world, but we must respond differently. Who knows who might be watching us, leaning over to hear how the Christian community is reacting to this pandemic. May we be found glorifying God.
#2 Supernatural joy is still possible
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. – Philippians 4:4
While in prison, Paul was telling outsiders to rejoice. You would think that the outsiders would send a letter to Paul and tell him to rejoice instead. How was he able to do this? It’s because he had a perspective that saw beyond the chains. He was able to perceive the blessings beyond his situation and it caused him to experience a genuine joy (Philippians 1:14-18). Look closely enough and see how the Church will be stretched and used during this time.
#3 Unity is still possible
For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit… – Colossians 2:5
Paul could not see the Colossians face-to-face, like many of us in this time. But he still strived to maintain a connection with the body of Christ. How? One way was by attempting to encourage their hearts by sending Tychicus (Colossians 4:7-8). The principle is the same for us. We must keep each other in mind and find ways to comfort fellow believers. Consider those who are alone, those who have sick family members and even some who might be affected financially.
#4 Ministry is still possible
I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. – Philemon 1:10
What makes this book unique is that Paul wrote it to an individual, not to a church. The purpose of this letter is to reconcile two individuals, Philemon and Onesimus. Many thoughts can be drawn from this beautiful letter, but here’s one: Paul was still willing to serve as an agent of Christ, even if it was just for two people and even if he was stuck in prison. You may not be a pastor, a well-known blogger or a famous worship singer – but you can, like Paul, help even one. Seek the Lord for this and He will guide you.
We do not know how much longer this quarantine will last, but we can trust that God is able to use it for fruit beyond our understanding. Who knows what books will be written, what songs will be composed, what prayers will be answered, how many souls online will be impacted and what will become of the Church when the doors open again.
Until then, may we maximize this quarantine for the glory of God.
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