READ: Psalm 104, Micah 2, John 8, Ephesians 4
UNIFIED PRISONERS OF THE LORD
We all serve someone. Those who serve sin or the sinful end up in bondage (John 8:34). Those who serve the Son end up free (v. 36). Paul was ridiculously happy to serve the Lord and considered himself the Lord’s prisoner (Eph. 4:1). Imprisoned for, by, with Jesus is not only liberty, it is also a calling. Humans do not send us to prison when we are sent for the gospel’s sake. God calls us to prison, and therefore our primary goal is not escape from prison, nor deliverance from trouble, nor evacuation from countries that are disintegrating. Our primary goal is the glory of Jesus and walking worthy of the calling–the call to be the Lord’s prisoner.
Because followers of Jesus are so reluctant to go to prison, we often fall into sin in order to avoid it. We lie, we compromise, we fear, we betray. Rather than joyfully answering the prison call, we frantically run from it (like Jonah from Nineveh) and inevitably we hurt our brothers and sisters in the process. We tend to focus on the persecution stories that lead to the growth of the Church and the maturity of the martyr, but pressure has made as many Christians falter as it has made them into saints. External pressure and the threat of prison or persecution has turned many believers against each other. We, the body of Christ, have not helped as we consider persecution and prison exceptional; we either laud the one who suffers for her exceptional faith or criticize her for the folly of incurring the authorities’ attention and wrath. The biblical reality is that suffering is not heroic or foolish–it is the normal Christian way. We should neither celebrate it nor recoil from it; it should simply be what we do for Jesus’ sake.
Paul exhorts those who would be faithful prisoners of the Lord to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace (Eph. 4:3) and the unity of the faith (v. 13). Paul knows how crucial unity is when followers of Jesus are under pressure, and the devil also realizes this and works overtime to use pressure to divide believers. When Paul instructs us not to let the sun go down on our wrath, nor to give place to the devil (v. 26), it is in the direct context of being “members of one another” (v. 25) and the immediate context of being the Lord’s prisoner, maintaining unity, and walking in lowliness, gentleness, long suffering, and bearing with one another in love (v. 2). Prison and persecution are the biblical norm; division is the typical human response. God’s glory shines brightest when His prisoners unite in suffering. Unity is precious enough to fight for, precious enough to humble ourselves for, precious enough to give up our opinions for, precious enough to suffer for. Some suffering is expressly intended to bring God’s people together. God is glorified by united children, which is why the devil does all he can to divide us.