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Paul And His Prison Companions

Paul's appreciation of companions in travel

Paul was an ardent lover of the Lord's people, and in his itinerant years an outstanding leader of men and women in the service of God. He clearly put a high value on teamwork. When he was spearheading the extension of the kingdom of God he seemed always to have around him dedicated men of high or potentially high spiritual calibre.

When he was first separated by the Holy Spirit to the work of the Lord, it was in fellowship with Barnabas. Maybe this initial yoking gave him the vision. Right away they chose young John Mark as their attendant, to look after the more mundane matters. In due course Barnabas and Mark left the working party, so Paul chose Silas, and shortly afterwards the young man Timothy. Then he encouraged Aquila and Priscilla to accompany them, until in due course they agreed on a specific assignment for that remarkable pair (Acts 18:19). When he left Macedonia for Asia (Acts 20:4-6), he was actually accompanied by seven named brethren. So it is evident that in his travels Paul loved the company of men of a like mind, men committed to the cause, under the determined, demanding leadership of a man whose motto could have been, "My utmost for the Highest".

Paul's imprisonments

After some 15 years (it is impossible to be accurate on the point) of exhaustive, itinerant ministry in spreading the gospel and the knowledge of the whole counsel of God, Paul was called upon to endure three terms of imprisonment. The first of these was spent in bonds in Caesarea and covered a period of at least two years (Acts 24:27). He was awaiting trial, the outcome of which was that he was sent to Rome to be tried by Caesar.

The second was in "his own hired dwelling" in Rome (Acts 28:30), possibly in the Roman Camp of the praetorian guard (Phil. 1:13). There he was "in chains" for another two year period, still awaiting the same trial before Caesar. Certain references in his personal letters, such as Titus 3:12 and 2 Tim. 4:13 support the general understanding that he secured release from this imprisonment and for a time was free once again to cross over to Asia Minor, still in active furtherance of the gospel and advance of the truth.

Again he was arrested, some think in Ephesus because of the reference to Alexander the coppersmith (compare Acts 19:33 and 2 Tim. 4:14); but in any event he was brought via Troas (2 Tim. 4:13) back again to Rome for his third and final imprisonment, not this time in his hired room, but in the cold common

dungeon. Most will find it an absorbing and rewarding study to trace these events in Acts, supplemented by several references in Paul's epistles, and students can have further recourse to several useful books of reference which deal with the life and work of Paul.

It is interesting to see how that in two of his prison experiences Paul still had companions around him, either voluntarily drawn to him or assigned to his company by the prison governors. We review briefly the three prison experiences and some of the companions to whom he refers.

The two year prison period in Caesarea

These may have been among the loneliest years in Paul's Christian life. He enjoyed an early opportunity for testimony before Felix, the governor in Herod's palace, and shortly afterwards before Felix and Drusilla, his Jewess wife. From time to time Felix had private talks with him, but he was after money rather than the spiritual riches Paul had to offer. The wretched man was basically trying to curry the favour of the Jews, so he kept Paul in bonds during his two year assignment as governor, and then left Paul in bonds for Festus his successor to deal with.

Again Paul had the opportunity of giving his personal testimony, this time before Festus and Agrippa the king and his wife Bernice. The finding of the court was that since Paul had appealed to Caesar, he should be sent to Rome for trial. They had probably been lonely years for the veteran preacher, for although Felix authorized visits by any of his friends, there is no recorded reference to any Christians of a like mind spending any time with him. How he must have missed his former companions in travel! Yet how mighty before God must have been the prayers of the lonely man of God!

The first imprisonment in Rome

It is generally accepted that it was during his first imprisonment in Rome, rather than in Caesarea, that Paul wrote his prison letters, that is Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. It is evident from Eph. 6:21, 22, Col. 4:7-9, and Philemon that these three letters were sent by Paul at the same time. Opinions vary as to whether Philippians was written before or after them.

In Ephesians, Paul associates no brother with him in writing the letter, and refers to no brother as being with him in prison when writing it. He mentions Tychicus only as the bearer of the letter, and the terms in which he refers to him are repeated almost word for word in Col. 4:7-9. Tychicus obviously carried the letters to both churches and the one to Philemon also. Paul regarded Tychicus as a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord. Choice and merited description indeed. But in Colossians Paul makes some very appreciative references to several brethren who appear to have been imprisoned for the gospel's sake and with him in the same quarters.

There was Aristarchus the Macedonian, who had been with Paul in the tumult at Ephesus (Acts 19); on the journey from Greece through Macedonia and on into Asia (Acts 20); and finally on the fateful shipwreck journey to Rome (Acts 27). Paul now describes him as his follow-prisoner, and in the letter to Philemon as his fellow-worker. He was in a special group of three who were in the prison in Rome together. The group included also Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. Paul's confidence in him in earlier years had been shaken; but now he is a restored John Mark, commended by Paul in Colossians, and described in Philemon as a fellow-worker. To be regarded by tireless Paul as a fellow in the Lord's work was praise indeed. Then the third was Jesus, known as Justus. To these three brethren Paul pays the choicest tribute. Of the Jewish brethren, only these three had been fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God with him in the prison, men that had been a comfort to him. Moses said of Reuben, as he contemplated an unreliable tribe, "Let his men be few". But in the Community in Paul's day, and, be it observed, in our day even more so, there can never be too many men and women who will be fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, who are at all times a source of comfort and strength to the people of God.

Another brother whose conduct in the prison deeply affected Paul was Epaphras. He had been used of God in the early days of the church in Colossae (Col. 1:7, 8), and now in prison alongside him Paul could hear him calling on the Lord, indeed striving with Him continually for the saints in Colossae. His burden was that they would stand firm in complete assurance of every aspect of the whole counsel of God. Paul describes him, and no wonder, as a beloved fellow-servant, a faithful minister of Christ, a servant of Christ Jesus, a fellow-prisoner.

Then there was Luke, the beloved physician, a brief but deeply affectionate reference to the medical man who was appointed by the Lord in Acts 16:10, II to accompany the beloved apostle in the subsequent hazardous years of his itinerant ministry. How much Paul was indebted to the tender skill of this medical companion, and how much God's children have ever since been indebted to the careful observations of this accurate historian!

The final reference was to Demas, described in Philemon as a fellow-worker, but strangely no comment whatever is made in Colossians as to the nature of his service. How greatly Paul must have appreciated the thoughtfulness of the Lord in providing for him companions such as these, in bonds together with him, during the years of his first imprisonment in Rome.

The second and final imprisonment in Rome

Paul wrote 2 Timothy during this period. He sensed that the time of his

departure had come. He had no regrets. In his letter to the Colossians he had included the most unusual personal message to Archippus - "Take heed to the ministry which thou has received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it". Paul realized that he had now fulfilled his own - fought, finished, kept. Strangely none of his companions had stood by him at his trial before the Emperor. But the Lord had been with him and had delivered him. Now he knew the end could not be long delayed. Yet his longing for the growth and preservation of the kingdom of God which he loved, for which he had lived and for which he was now ready to die, was unabated; and versatile as ever, he was still observing carefully, prayerfully the movements of former companions in travel. Various brethren had gone to several places in the pursuit of the noblest of all service. He longed for Timothy to come and see him.

But news of Demas had reached and saddened him, for Demas had forsaken him for the love of this present world. It may be the going had proved too tough for him, the comforts of this present world too appealing. So he had left the active, itinerant service in which he had once been linked with Paul, and gone back to Thessalonica. A sense of loneliness may well have come over the old warrior, an almost irresistible desire for the freedom, the vigour, the thrust of earlier years.

But he was not alone, and we sense the deep pathos in the words - "Only Luke is with me". Indefatigable Luke, appointed for the care of this great servant of the Lord as he bore His Name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. Still they were together, now all alone. Maybe they talked about their writings and wondered how the recipients fared and to what extent the writings had circulated. But of this we are sure - they had shared so much in common that they would have no lack of subjects for conversation, no shortage of matters for prayer.