Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. Acts 28:30-31
In South Africa, our phase of stage 5 lockdown was completed yesterday. This morning we entered into stage 4 of lockdown and it feels as if a dark cloud has lifted. After five weeks of being in quarantine, we had our first ‘legal outdoor activity’. We are approaching Winter here, but the atmosphere was that of Summer when we went for our first walk this morning. We made full use of our 06.00 - 09.00 time slot and enjoyed the buzzing and chatty atmosphere of all our happy and awe-stricken neighbors. We felt a whole new sense of appreciation towards community as we soaked up the social interactions. Although the lockdown regulations have not been lifted completely, the sense of isolation has.
It made me think about Paul who were ‘quarantined’ for two years in Rome. I believe he arrived tired and exhausted in Rome after many mission trips to various parts of the world. Both he and Luke, his ‘beloved doctor’ (Colossians 4:14), were not getting any younger. So, it might have been a relief that he received a sentence of quarantine as his form of punishment. He kept ‘open house’ and received anybody who wanted to discuss the things of the kingdom of God. He was chained to a guard who was switched every six hours. Those guards were forced to do life with Paul. They had to listen as Paul preached, taught and prayed. No wonder some of them got saved! (Phil 1:12-14; 4:22). He was locked up from the world but locked in with God.
Here are some of the meetings Paul had during this time:
• Paul’s friends, 26 of them met with him on their way to Rome, to visit and encourage him during that time (Acts 28:14-15; Rom 16).
• He also had Timothy (Phil. 1:23-27; 2:19; Col.1:1) with him, as well as John, Mark, Luke, Aristarchus, Epaphras, Justus and Demas (Col. 4:10-14; Phile.10-21). Epaphroditus brought a gift from the Church in Philippi (Phil. 2:25-30; 4:18). Tychicus was his ‘mailman’ who delivered the letters; Ephesians (Eph. 6:21), Colossians, and Philemon (Col 4:7-9).
• He met with some of the leaders in Rome (Acts 28: 17-22).
• He arranged and spoke at a conference (Acts 28:23-29).
• He wrote the books of Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, also called the Prison Epistles.
• He also met Philemon’s runaway slave Onesimus and let him to faith in Jesus.
The Covid-19 pandemic worldwide have certainly caused difficult days and brought changes in our lives and ministries. However, every day with our Lord is a wonderful day and far outweighs anything we face during this time. Most ministries have adapted their ministering styles to suit these times and are still working towards their main purpose; to share Jesus with the lost. Although, we live in different times than Paul, it seems that we have similarly adjusted ourselves to our circumstances. We are preaching, teaching and mentoring with live streaming and recordings through websites and social media. Likewise, we have meetings and conference calls via Zoom and other programs. Not only have we incorporated these new ways of ministering, but we also enjoy time at home with loved ones. We get time to rest and clean our houses, garages and gardens from all the things that clutter and occupy our minds. We get time to stop, reflect and reconnect with God as we clean out our lives with all the things that corrupt us. We get time to rearrange our schedules, agendas and cancel all appointments that keep us away from our main priority; our calling. We get time to rethink our spending habits, set new budgets and financial goals for the next few years. We get time to read and write. We are able to connect with friends and family via voice notes, video clips, email and face time. We are locked up but at the same time locked in with God.
Paul’s hired house in Rome became the headquarters for world evangelism. He could not go, but mobilized others so that they could go. People flocked to him as he continued to preach, teach and mentor his disciples. The churches he founded, the converts he made, the letters he wrote, and the life and example he left behind became the driving force of the Christian faith. I personally have a deep appreciation for Paul. His story inspires me. His writings have shaped my life more than any other but the Gospels and the life of Jesus Christ. There were times that he felt isolated, alone and deserted (2 Tim. 1:15; 4:9, 21) but he kept the faith and finished his journey well. He was locked in with God and it became another way for him to connect with others.
I invite you to ask, “How does this part of Paul’s life and story speak to your life today?”
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon