The Price of an Open Door
IN PRISON FOR THE MYSTERY
1. Paul was in prison for preaching the mystery: that Christ died for the whole world and that Jew and Gentile are accepted by God on equal footing in Christ. (Eph. 3:6)
a. Last week we mentioned that there were elements of the gospel message which were NOT a mystery. (Death, burial, and resurrection of Christ).
b. The aspect of the mystery that relates to the gospel is the introduction of gentiles into the mix… as equals in Christ… and that the message is to be proclaimed to EVERY nation.
c. Paul was in prison for preaching the mystery of Christ.
d. He was NOT in prison for preaching that Messiah would die or be raised again. Isaiah preached the same thing!
e. Although it was not fully understood or appreciated by Jews in the Old Testament, it was revealed. Many Jews did believe in resurrection.
f. But there was one element to the mystery of the gospel that the Jews were united in hating.
2. Acts 22:1-2 – Paul defends himself against accusations by the Jews in the Temple in Jerusalem.
a. The crowd was silent and listened to every word he said.
b. He was given the floor to say whatever he wanted.
• They listened to him as he told of his educational background at the feet of Gamaliel. (vs. 3)
• They listened as he told them of his heavenly vision. (vs. 6)
• They listened as he told them of his healing from blindness (vs. 13)
c. Acts 22:21-22 – But as soon as he mentioned gentiles, they would listen no longer and began to shout for his death!
d. He told this Jewish crowd that God sent him to preach Christ (Messiah) to the Gentiles and that they too could be saved.
• That was more than that bigoted crowd could handle.
• They went into a frenzy! (vs. 23)
• Paul was bound and led off to be beaten,
e. And from there, Paul ended up in a Roman prison.
f. He was in bonds for preaching the mystery.
3. Paul was in prison for preaching the mystery: Jews and Gentiles accepted on equal footing in one body.
PRAYING FOR OPEN DOORS
A. Praying Not for the Prison Doors
1. In Acts 5:18-19a: The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had the apostles cast into prison for preaching Christ. God sent an angel to open the prison doors that the apostles might escape.
2. In Acts 12:7-10 – Peter was imprisoned for preaching Christ and God sent another angel to open the prison doors that Peter might escape.
3. In Acts 16:19-26 – Paul and Silas were cast into prison at Philippi for preaching Christ. God sent an earthquake to open the prison doors to allow Paul and Silas to escape.
4. As Paul writes the epistle to the Colossians, he writes from yet another prison cell in Rome.
a. He asks the believers to pray for doors to be opened.
b. But he is not thinking of himself or his own comfort and ease.
c. There was a definite precedent set for such a prayer. He COULD have prayed for God to send another angel or an earthquake… but that was not his request.
d. He wasn’t praying for the prison doors to be opened.
B. Prayer For Open Doors for the Gospel
1. Paul is in prison (again!)
a. But his prayer was not for the prison doors to be opened…
b. The request is for doors of opportunity to be opened SO THAT he might preach the mystery of Christ!
2. This was a completely selfless prayer…
a. He prayed not for comfort and ease, but that God would enable him to preach the mystery of Christ.
b. He was not requesting better living conditions; more visitors; or week ends off.
c. It wasn’t for medical attention or health care.
d. He had no thought for himself, but only for the lost… and for the glory of Christ.
e. In this he demonstrated the mind of Christ.
3. This was a fearless prayer.
a. This was a request is for an opportunity to repeat the very activity that that landed him in the slammer in the first place!
b. Not only was he not thinking about his own comfort. He was courageously ready to face even more discomfort!
c. Paul was suffering for preaching the mystery of Christ and as soon as he was given the opportunity, he was ready to do it again… and suffer the consequences for it.
d. Paul was NOT going to change the message.
• With a few minor adjustments to the message, he could make it palatable to the Jews and the Gentiles and thus remove all cause for imprisonment… but he refused to compromise!
• There IS an offence to the cross. Today men make adjustments to the message to make it more palatable to the masses… less offensive… less confrontational… and thus avoid the disdain the world has for the REAL gospel message.
• When the world gives accolades to a preacher of the gospel today—you KNOW he has compromised the message. (Billy Graham – Rome did not give him an honorary degree from a Catholic university because he preached the same message as Martin Luther!)
• Gal. 5:11 – Paul COULD have easily avoided certain issues (circumcision – Law) and thus there would not have been such an offence in preaching Christ… and he would have won the praise of Jews…
• But Paul was fearless. He refused to compromise his message in order to please the masses. He preached the MYSTERY aspect of the gospel: Gentiles are saved by faith WITHOUT having to become proselytes to Judaism!
• Humanly speaking, had he made a tiny adjustment to his message, he could have avoided the beatings and imprisonments.
• However, these so called “small adjustments” to the message were HUGE in God’s sight. They would have changed the gospel of God’s GRACE into a gospel of LAW.
e. Paul feared God, not man.
• Matt. 10:28 – Perhaps the words of the Lord Jesus came to Paul’s mind as he made this prayer request.
• These are words the Lord Jesus gave to His disciples as He sent them out to a hostile environment to preach.
• Matt. 10:16-18 – Men would NOT appreciate or tolerate their message.
• Vs. 22 – they would be hated of all men because they represented Christ…
• Vs. 28 – thus, they were NOT to fear men who could only harm the body. Instead, they were to FEAR GOD… who has power over both body and soul!
• Preaching the gospel in a world that hates Christ requires courage… a fear of God that overcomes any fear of man.
f. Paul was fearless as he preached Christ.
• This does not mean that fear of man never entered his mind!
• I Cor. 2:3 – When Paul preached Christ in city after city… (knowing the danger) he did so TREMBLING.
• He preached Christ sometimes with knees knocking…
• Of course as a human being he was afraid of being beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and tortured for his faith.
• But he never allowed that kind of earthly fear to overpower his fear of God.
• The fear of God enables us to OBEY GOD regardless of our human emotions and feelings.
• Of course a human being would fear what men might to do them on one level (taken hostage by Al Qaeda).
• But a God fearing man will be MOVED to action by his fear of God… not man. GOD is the driving force in his life…
• Paul refused to be CONTROLLED by the fear of man. He was controlled by the fear of God.
• An ignorant man might be fearless of men.
• But Paul was not ignorant. He KNEW the price. He KNEW the cost. He had experienced the suffering involved in preaching Christ…
• That made his courage all the more remarkable!
• It takes supernatural courage to stand up before a hostile crowd and preach a message you KNOW they will hate… and you know YOU will be tortured for preaching… and preach it anyway! That’s the good old-fashioned courage of the Holy Ghost.
• It doesn’t take a lot of courage if you don’t FEEL afraid.
• But when you KNOW the possible results… and you do FEEL afraid… and your knees are knocking… and you preach truth anyway—that’s the strength and courage of the Lord working IN and THROUGH you for His glory.
g. Paul asked prayer for open doors to preach Christ… knowing full well what the consequences might be. He was fearless… he refused to be controlled by the fear of man.
4. This was a Christ centered prayer. (Col. 1:18)
a. This is the prayer of one who though separated from His Risen Savior, is abiding in His love… and focused on things above.
b. Phil. 1:20 – This prayer request comes from the heart of a man who loved the Lord with all his heart and wanted nothing more than to magnify Him and make Him known… whatever the cost.
c. This is the prayer of one whose concern was for Christ… a prayer from one who saw the Risen Christ and was never the same again.
d. He was thrilled by the Person of Christ and was forever motivated to preach Him to others.
e. Christ had preeminence in Paul’s heart. His main desire was to lift up and magnify the Lord Jesus before others… to make Him known…
f. Hence the request: “Lord, give me opportunity again to lift up the Lord Jesus and manifest Him to the whole world!”
5. This was a prayer of faithfulness. (I Cor. 4:1-2)
a. He had been appointed as a preacher of the mystery.
b. He was made a steward of the mysteries of God and it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.
c. Paul had no intention of giving up his commission just because it involved suffering.
d. He had no intention of giving up his ministry or of changing his message in order to avoid prison, whippings, or beatings.
e. He was faithful to the Lord and to the message… and would not retreat… or compromise.
f. If being faithful to his commission meant prison, then so be it! If it meant another beating, then so be it.
g. Paul was NOT going to cease from preaching the message because of personal cost involved.
h. As soon as a door to preach opened, he was going to walk through it… knowing full well that on the other side may be yet another beating… another whipping… another prison.
i. Paul was more concerned about being FAITHFUL than free.
• It’s more important to be faithful than to be comfortable.
• It’s more important to be faithful than to be rich.
• It’s more important to be faithful than to be popular.
• It’s more important to be faithful than to have opportunity to preach to great masses of people.
• It’s more important to be faithful than successful.
• It’s more important to be faithful than to be healthy.
• It’s more important to be faithful than to be alive! “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” (Rev. 12:11)
• Paul was faithful… even unto death.
• That is Christlikeness… He was obedient and faithful unto death… even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:8)
j. Consider the example of John Bunyan – imprisoned in England for preaching Christ.
• John Bunyan was a Non-conformist. (That’s what independent believers were called in those days—like us—he refused to bow to the errors of the Church of England.
• He was imprisoned for preaching the truth.
• In those days, jails were filled with Non-conformists.
• John Bunyan spent twelve years in prison, from 1660–1672. (12 years—his kids would grow up without him!)
• It’s one thing to sit in prison and do without for yourself… but he (and many others!) had to deal with the suffering involved in watching his wife and kids go hungry… become sickly… and unable to help.
• John Bunyan’s oldest daughter was blind… and he wanted SO to be home and do all the things that the home needed…
• And all he had to do was to cease from preaching and they would let him out… but he refused to bow.
• “The parting with my wife and poor children hath oft been to me in prison as the pulling the flesh from my bones… especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides; O the thoughts of the hardships I thought my blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces.”
• Here was a man for whom faithfulness meant more than freedom…
k. So too, the prayer request of the apostle Paul came from the heart of a man for whom faithfulness meant more than freedom… it meant more than life or anything!
6. This was a prayer of sincerity.
a. Paul was not asking this request to make him sound spiritual.
b. He was trying to impress men with his level of dedication. He MEANT it.
c. He was completely sincere when he asked that God would give him opportunity to preach Christ again.
d. He was READY and WILLING to preach Christ again… whatever the price.
e. Acts 16:27-31 – in fact, at Philippi, Paul had already PROVEN his sincerity.
• God DID open the prison doors and allowed Paul to escape.
• The natural inclination would be to RUN for your life… get away as far and as fast as you can!
• Paul COULD have run away quickly… but instead he lingered.
• As the physical doors of the prison were opened, doors of opportunity to preach Christ also opened… before he ever left the prison compound!
• And he preached Christ to the very man charged with keeping him in jail!
• Paul PROVED the sincerity of this prayer request at Philippi. God knew that he meant it!
• Now, Paul is in jail again, and his request is for more opportunity to preach Christ!
f. The other apostles demonstrated the very same sincerity and willingness to preach Christ… when released from prison.
• Acts 5:17-21a – they were arrested and imprisoned for preaching Christ. Then they were rescued from prison by an angel—who told them to go right back to preaching Christ… and they DID!
• Acts 5:27-29 – they were re-arrested for preaching the same message and again, refused to bow the knee.
• Acts 5:40 – they were beaten… and rejoiced to be counted WORTHY to suffer shame for His name!
• Acts 5:42 – they ceased not from preaching Christ.
• They could ask a prayer request like Paul with sincerity! They proved themselves sincere.
• Door after door was opened to these men… and regardless of the price, they kept on walking right through those open doors… to preach Christ.
GOD’S VIEW ON AN OPEN DOOR
1. Paul wrote Philippians from a prison cell.
a. Most men would consider being locked in jail an extremely closed door.
• Paul had been traveling around the known world preaching Christ. Opportunities abounded in city after city!
• In the midst of a busy schedule… in the midst of a spiritually prosperous ministry… everything suddenly came to a screeching halt… and Paul was chained and imprisoned.
• It sure seemed like the doors of opportunity to preach the mystery of Christ were closed on him!
• But God is not man. His ways are higher than our ways… His way is perfect.
b. What we consider terrible tragedy and trouble in our lives; what appears to us as doors slammed shut… may in fact be doors of opportunity to manifest Christ in ways we never would have imagined… to people we never would have come in contact with…
• That which seems like the worst possible set of circumstances may well be unique opportunities to serve God and be a witness for Him.
• Hospital beds… nursing homes… laid off from your job… department closing down and moving to another building with a longer commute… flood… fire… a disease… an accident… could all be God’s painful but perfect door for us to bring the glorious gospel of Christ to someone we might never have had opportunity to meet otherwise.
c. There is a wise, sovereign, master plan behind all that transpires in our lives.
• God uses absolutely EVERYTHING in our lives as part of His own purpose and plan.
• And behind it all is God’s desire to magnify His Son… to make Him known…
d. So even if Paul was cast into prison and the prison doors close upon him… that did not mean that doors of opportunity to preach Christ were closed shut.
e. Of his imprisonment Paul wrote: “Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.” (II Tim. 2:9)
2. Phil. 1:12-18 – Paul’s view of his imprisonment.
a. We would do well to transpose Paul’s situation over our lives… and make application…
b. Vs.12 – “the things which happened to unto me”
• These things refer to all the recent events in his life: conspiracy against him; the shipwreck; the beatings; and finally his imprisonment.
• Notice that Paul did not dwell on all the bad things he had to deal with. He just said, “the things which happened to me…”
• Paul said these things did not just “happen.”
• Things never just happen in our lives either.
• They were Providentially designed by God… and with a purpose!
• The purpose was for the furtherance of the gospel.
• This is opposite of how things appeared!
• It seemed like these events HINDERED the gospel… yet Paul said they ADVANCED God’s purpose to further the gospel.
• Sometimes events in our lives that seem to hinder us from serving God may be just the opposite!
c. Vs. 13 – in fact, news of Paul’s imprisonment and WHY he was arrested were manifest in ALL the palace—territory the disciples would never have had access to! And in all other places!
• His arrest caused people all over the place to start talking about this new message about Christ!
• The fact that Paul was chained was not a hindrance to the gospel. It furthered the gospel!
d. In fact rather than hinder Paul from preaching Christ, it gave him a captive audience!
• There was a soldier chained to him 24-7! And they kept rotating in six-hour shifts.
• Every six hours a new door opened for Paul to preach Christ!
• Imagine being one of the soldiers chained to Paul. I’m sure they got an earful! I doubt if any soldier was ever chained to Paul for a six hour shift and never heard the gospel! I wonder how many we will meet in heaven?
• The Roman government paid men to listen to Paul preach the mystery of Christ!
e. Not only did the Roman government pay the soldiers to stand by and listen to him preach, but the government also paid court officials to study the charges against him: which was tantamount to having to study the doctrines of the Christian faith—the death and resurrection of Christ!
f. Vs. 14 – Paul’s imprisonment also emboldened other believers to stand up and speak up for Christ fearlessly!
• If God can give him the grace and strength to preach, God can do it for me too!
• Paul’s chain stirred up believers all over the empire to be more zealous in their witnessing.
• We might think that his chain would cause other believers to fear and tremble. It had just the opposite effect.
• His chain was no hindrance to the furtherance of the gospel.
g. His captors may have thought that by imprisoning Paul, they would silence the message he preached.
• That did not happen! In fact, it furthered the gospel!
• The gospel was able to penetrate into places it never would have gone otherwise: the elite Praetorian Guard and Caesar’s household!
h. Paul had a godly view of his chain.
i. He saw it as part of God’s purpose for his life.
• He did not complain or murmur.
• He didn’t resign himself to bitterness and solitude.
• He didn’t even ask prayer for the prison doors to open and for his chains to be removed.
• Rather, he saw his chain as opportunity to serve God in a unique way.
i. We too should see our chains as opportunities to manifest Christ and make Him known—in ways and places that would not otherwise be possible.
• Maybe you feel chained in by a debilitating disease… loss of vision… loss of mobility… loss of strength…
• Perhaps you are chained down with financial problems…
• Maybe someone else is chained up with family responsibilities… aging parents… kids in college… sibling in trouble… wayward child…
• Perhaps some housewives feel chained to their homes… and you never seem to get out of your neighborhood…
• It might be some men feel chained to their jobs… no time to do anything else…
• Rather than griping and complaining about how awful things are—why not see those chains as opportunities to be a witness for Christ and to minister to people no one else may have contact with!
• Chains do NOT MEAN that a purposeful, useful life is over.
• When confined, restricted, and shut in or shut out… do NOT sink passively into despair or self centered discouragement. (poor me!)
• Your life’s work is not over. Chains are but a new phase of God’s purpose for your life.
• Paul’s life’s work was not OVER while he was imprisoned. Not only was he able to witness to soldiers and bring the gospel into places never before reached — but during that time he also wrote Colossians, Philippians, Philemon, and Ephesians… which have blessed the hearts of believers for centuries…
• God turned Satan’s apparent victory against the gospel into defeat.
• Ask God for the grace, wisdom, and clarity of spiritual vision and discernment to exchange the murmuring for a “thank you Lord for this chain! Thank you for this unique opportunity to manifest Christ who lives in me to others.”
• Wherever we find ourselves in life… the things that happened to us didn’t just happen! They were designed for the furtherance of the gospel… that the mystery of gospel might be made known!
• And even if you don’t seem to have many opportunities to preach the gospel—we all have SOME.
• And your faithfulness to Christ in your chain might embolden others to be more vocal in witnessing for Christ.
• Faithfulness to Christ is more important than our freedom. It’s more important than our health. It’s more important than our wealth. It’s more important than family. It’s more important than our career. It’s more important to our comfort. It’s more important than life itself.
• God open our eyes to see and BELIEVE… and to trust in you in the midst of our chains… for your glory.
• Prayer is able to open doors…
» It can open prison doors. It can remove chains.
» It can open doors of opportunity to preach Christ.
» It can open the doors of a sinner’s heart.
» It can open doors of opportunity to serve God.
» Prayer can also enable us to preach and minister while still chained!
» AND, perhaps more importantly, prayer is able to open our eyes to see doors opened of the Lord… where we never saw them before.
» Be not discouraged by chains… the Word of God is not bound… neither is the God of the Word.