We could spend all our time bemoaning our circumstances, thinking, we are better than this or that; thinking we deserve more, better. We sometimes compare ourselves to others. We ask God why “those people“ have all the good fortune.
Paul, writing from prison no less, for simply preaching the Good News, doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He doesn’t spend his time criticizing and judging “those people.“ Those preachers, whose egos are bigger than life, who are free to go where and when they want. No. Paul sees the bigger picture. He trusts God completely to care for, guide and use him. Lord, I surrender my circumstances to you. May I not complain, but stand in faith and rejoice in knowing that you are always at work for my good and your glory.
This is my free translation of Paul’s message in these few verses. “I’m in prison but everything that has happened to me here is helping to spread the Gospel. Everyone here in prison knows my mission to spread the Gospel…even the prison guards. Believers here with me in prison are emboldened to share the Gospel message – WERE WINNING! NO FEAR!“
Never underestimate the power of your influence for Christ. Your voice, your countenance, your message, your encouragement, your passion for sharing Jesus can help others to face their troubles and fears. What great opportunities to share the Gospel await me every day. Lord, may I face every situation, not with fear but, with fearless faith.
This may be Paul’s most tender greeting of all his epistles. His affection for the Philippians leaps off the page. “God will most certainly finish his work in you at Christ’s return.” Paul appeals to God himself as a witness of the deep and abiding love he has for these believers. Why? Because they have drunk deeply together at the well of faithful ministry (good times and hard times).
It has been my honor to serve with some of God’s choicest servants. We have in common great ministry opportunities to defend the gospel and to introduce others to Christ. That also includes men and women who have generously donated such ministry. Our love for each other was forged in the crucible of ministry. Our affection for each other can only be described as an encounter with the compassion of Jesus. Thank you Father for the extraordinary bond we share.
Paul greets his Philippian readers with the words, “grace and peace.” The New Living Translation Bible study notes say, “Inside the tiny package marked ‘grace and peace,’ we find an inexhaustible treasure of God’s daily presence in our lives.” Grace and peace are at the source of all joy.
Everything I read as an introduction to the epistle of Philippians leads me to reflect on the subject of “joy.“ Yet, it is not joy that I seek as an end in itself. No. But it is the Giver of joy unspeakable whom I seek. Joy is the by-product. First Peter 1:8 underscores this appellation as descriptive of the experience of knowing Christ. I do not strive for joy. It it is a surprise gift that comes naturally as I strive to know Christ in all of his fullness. Father, may I know first hand the depths of grace and peace in relationship with you.
*Title of a book by CS Lewis; the story of his conversion to Christianity
In the closing lines of Paul’s letter to the Colossians he speaks kindly of eight men who are standing with him in the call to preach the Gospel. Some are in prison with him in Rome. Some are ministering to him in his incarceration for the Gospel. But prison for Paul, rather than a place of doom, gloom and defeat, has become a busy center for flourishing ministry. (“What [men] meant as evil against me, God meant for good, that many people should be kept alive – Gen 50:20)
From prison Paul plans ministry and prays for many. He teaches, disciples, exhorts, sends others out and serves Christ from prison. No matter his circumstances he is “content” (Phi 4:11 – written from prison). For Paul the place is here and the time is now. He finds ways to continue to spread the Gospel message. Prison holds no bars for the man or woman of God. Lord, though limited in my elder years, this duty sentry is determined to be as engaged as ever doing what he can to pray, share the Gospel and to encourage the people of God.
Aside from the general need to be devoted in prayer, alert to any specific circumstances requiring prayer – pray with a humble and grateful heart. Paul also makes a request for prayer for his own efforts, even as he is in prison.
Paul requests prayer for open doors to share the gospel; that he might speak clearly for Christ and the Gospel message. How mindful am I of many ministries, mission efforts and church planting teams? It should be my goal to spend time praying for these organizations, the men and women who lead these efforts. Lord, give this sentry open doors to share the Gospel and be clear in the message.
Paul must have felt tremendous responsibility for the church in Colosse and Laodicea. He did not found these two churches. Others who had come to Christ through Paul’s ministry (Acts 19:10) found these churches (Epaphras in Colosse – v7). Paul may have thought, “I hope I have adequately discipled these converts and that they may stand strong in the face of adversity and false teaching.”
Paul agonizes for their steadfastness in faith. He encourages them and reminds them of the truth they believed in Christ. He does all he can to continue pointing them to that truth. Lord, I have felt the responsibility of mentoring others in ministry. I have agonized over ministry plants in places near and far. To train and disciple is a joy. It is also a weighty responsibility. Father, may I always take such work seriously.
For this I came, to suffer any hardship for the cause of the Gospel. Paul clearly understands his call from God. That is, to proclaim the message of Christ – it is now no mystery. Christ came in human form. He died a real death, that all men might know the riches of the glory of God.
“Christ lives in you.“ Paul and every Christian are called to tell others of Christ’s love and forgiveness. It is up to me to use every resource God gives me in life to carry out this call. Lord my call is clear, “Do the work of an evangelist – influence men for Christ.“ Lord, with your strength, I will strive to fulfill my call, all the way to the end.
We see here that Paul’s faithful friend and co-laborer, Epaphras has joined him in a Roman prison (Phe 1:23). Incarceration has not diminished in anyway the enthusiasm or sense of mission that Epaphras (or Paul) have for the gospel.
Epaphras is pleased to report to Paul the good progress of the Colossian church (vv4,5); their faith and their love for others given by the Holy Spirit. Men and women called of God may suffer shame and dishonor, but the cause of Christ will always move them forward. Father, may the greater good of the Gospel be ever before me today.
To the people of Colossae Paul writes, “You learned about the Good News from Epaphras.” All we know of Epaphras is found here and in Philemon 1:23. Paul calls him a “beloved worker…faithful servant”; Paul leaned on him to lead the day-to-day ministry founded in Colossae. He was a kindred spirit to Paul, same as Philemon, in whose house the Colossian Church met (Phe 1:1,2).
We also learn from Philemon 1:23 that Epaphras may also have been in prison with Paul in Rome for preaching the Gospel. The bond between Paul and Epaphras was deep and profound. I have been blessed through the years to know such men and women in ministry. Lord, my heart is moved even now with joy unspeakable to have forged new local church ministries with such dear friends. They always encourage the heart of this old prayer sentry.
Your faith is affirmed by God’s word and the testimony of others (Col 1:3–6). #GodsGraceForAll
MORNING WATCH NOTES:
The Apostle Paul opens his letter to the Colossians with an affirming tone. Paul is genuinely prayerful and thankful for these believers. Why? Because of their faith in Christ and their love for all God’s people. He affirmed the root of that faith and love: a confident hope in the coming kingdom of Heaven; a certain assurance that comes with the Good News (the gospel of Christ).
These are the truths in which they believed and by which their lives were changed. This Good News was spreading to everyone everywhere, even to this very day. It was then, and is now, bearing the same fruit in the lives of many. It changed my life too. God’s grace is for everyone. These words affirm my faith in Christ too. Lord, may I use every opportunity to affirm the faith of others.
Every faithful follower of Christ would be familiar with this promise of redemption, when God‘s glory is revealed (vv1,2). The good news of Christ will strengthen weary hands, encourage weak knees and bolster fearful heart. For the Lord has come. He will save and deliver his faithful ones from the enemy.
This promise has been fulfilled in Christ – the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk and the mute will speak (Luke 7:22). The once arid land of Israel is in full bloom and water satisfies a thirsty land. May my lips of the faithful sentry be full with praises to the Lord God. He has fulfilled his promise of the coming deliverer/redeemer in Christ.
The land taken captive by Assyria was God’s land, the land of Israel, the land of promise to God’s people, his “covenant” people. Genesis Chapters 12-15 tells the story of Abraham‘s covenant encounter with God. God chose Abraham through whom to deliver his messianic redemption. God chose Abraham, not because Abraham was so special. God chose him because he needed an instrument through which to reveal his grace.
The covenant spoken of here is a reminder of God‘s unilateral, unconditional love and grace. This covenant bound God alone to his plan of redemption. Men could never nullify God‘s plan of redemption by their lack of commitment. God seeks for men and women to come to him of their own free will and worship him. Lord, I come freely to offer you my love and devotion, imperfect as it is. I give you thanks for the blood you spilled at Calvary for my sin.
When pagan, godless Assyrian settlers took over the land of God (Israel) they dishonored him by worshipping other gods. God sent a judgment of wild animals on them. It was recognized as such. When the Assyrian king heard about it, he sent one of the captive priests of God back to Israel to teach the new settlers how to worship the God of the land, Israel.
This would not qualify as full on repentance to God. But it does qualify as a step toward God. It shows that the temporal, remedial judgments of God can get the attention of even a pagan King. But, unlike the nation of Israel, he sought to find peace with God. Reconciliation with God is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus (Rom 5:1,2). Father, give me a heart to know that any temporal, remedial judgment in my life is your loving call, you talking to me, to repent.
The Book of Acts does NOT conclude with the words, “Paul welcomed all and boldly proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught them about the Lord Jesus Christ.“ It moves forward on these words from the first century to the 21st-century and beyond. The Book of Acts does not end as abruptly as it seems. It is just the beginning of the faith story still being written today.
My life as a witness for Christ is “Chapter 29” in the spread of the Gospel. There are new chapters to the Book of Acts being written every day. There are chapters yet to be written. It is as the Apostle John said of Jesus: Jesus did many more unwritten works. [He continues his mighty works among men today and] “the whole world could not contain the books [the chapters] that would be written.” (Jhn 21:25).
Thank you Lord for including my story in your Gospel story. It is my story to share, that others may also be included. “Believe on the lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved [included]” (Acts 16:31).
When Paul’s Jewish countrymen refused to accept the Gospel he was compelled by God to move on to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15;Rom 1:16; 11:13,14; Gal 1:15, 16). The Jewish leaders left Paul’s company greatly disturbed by his words. The Gentiles were far more receptive to the Gospel. They were far less infected by religious formalism.
For the two years Paul stayed in Rome under house arrest (presumably awaiting trial). He welcomed all who came to him. He boldly proclaimed to them the Kingdom of God. He taught and explained to them about Jesus, the Messiah, who came to offer forgiveness and salvation to the world. “No one tried to stop him.” Lord, lead me daily to those who are open to the Gospel. Give me boldness to proclaim the “Good News.”
The Scriptures predicted the response of the Jewish community to the Gospel (“Hearts would be hard, ears would be deaf, and eyes would be closed” – Isaiah 6:9-10). A late friend of mine, mentor and elder in the faith had a saying, “There are none so blind as those who won’t see and none so deaf as those who won’t hear.”
I can’t imagine the sorrow in Paul’s heart for his own disbelieving countrymen. After teaching and pleading with them over the Gospel from morning through evening, only a few listened. Many refused to listen and receive. Paul’s example to me is that it is not about how successful I am that moves me to share the “Good News.” It is about my obedience to share it. Lord, may I never stop pleading and praying the Gospel over my friends, neighbors, community and the world.
A time was set for Paul to explain this “movement“ of Christ followers to Jewish leaders in Rome. A large number of them showed up at Paul’s lodging place. Paul spoke to them from the Old Testament Scriptures explaining the gospel, that the expected Messiah, Jesus, had come. He spoke from morning until evening. Many argued and reasoned among themselves regarding all that Paul said. Some were persuaded, but others not.
Many there are who will hear the gospel and not believe. They may reason within themselves, or among themselves, over one point or another. They want to reason their way out of believing. Until, at last, they can reason no more. It is the Spirit upon whom we must rely to bring people to faith in Christ. Reason alone will not convince. Lord, use this aged sentry in taking every opportunity to share a careful and thoughtful witness of how Jesus has changed my life.
Following a ship wreck and three months delay, Paul and Luke, along with fellow prisoners, travelers and soldiers, left the welcoming island upon which they were stranded. Fairwinds delivered them to Sicily. Then up the coast of Italy to Puteoli. There they stayed a week, hosted by believers of “The Way.” Later, other believers met Paul in route to Rome – Paul was encouraged by them. When he arrived in Rome he was allowed his own private lodging – though guarded by a soldier. One would hardly guess that Paul was a prisoner, save the guard assigned to him.
Paul – falsely accused, incarcerated, shipwrecked and snake bit – so what hinders me? Whatever shackles appear to bind me will never impede the forward progress of God’s work. My circumstances do not dictate the forward movement of God. I can trust God to lead me on his mission for my life. Lord, I trust you to overcome the shackles, any hindrances in my life, to the progress of the gospel, the ministry of the word and the encouragement of others.
The ship in which Paul sailed was driven aground on a shoreline shoal. It was being smashed to pieces by furious breakers. Soldiers, fearing the consequence of losing their own lives if any prisoners escaped, wanted to kill them. Julius, the Roman soldier in charge, stopped them. Julius trusted Paul and wanted to spare him. Ultimately every prisoner swam safely to shore (as did the entire ship’s company).
God had a plan. He can and will bring deliverance from the most unlikely of sources. When God’s plan and mission is at stake he will use any and all resources at his disposal. Lord, it has been my experience of almost 75 years of life (whether family, parenting, ministry, relationships), you have seen me through every mission to which you have called me.
Paul’s last words to the high court hearing his case for bogus charges: “I pray to God everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am [free], except for these chains.” Paul came to this court a prisoner in chains, but totally free in Christ.
All those in the hearing came into the court free of any physical chains, but wrapped up in the chains of a spiritual kind, in bondage to sin and Satan. King Agrippa and all those in attendance could have been set free (as Paul was), if only they would make their appeal to Jesus. Enable me Lord, to make the gospel clear through my life and witness.
At the conclusion of Paul’s defense, Governor Festus blurts out, “Too much study has made you crazy [Paul].” Paul says, “Not really. It’s just the truth.” Paul then turns to King Agrippa and presses him for a decision, “Do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Agrippa says, “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” Paul says, “Yes, I really wish I could.” The two sarcastic remarks (Festus, v24 and Agrippa, v28) are designed to cover how they really felt. Paul was getting through.
Sarcasm can reveal a whole range of emotions (interesting field of study*). Sarcasm is usually a cover for how someone really feels. The best response to sarcasm however, is to focus on the content of a sarcastic statement and not on the tone. Paul’s response to their sarcasm is neither mean-spirited nor defensive. Paul is genuine, self-confident and understanding (vv25,29). Lord, may I possess such sincerity and compassion in my witness for Christ.
Paul’s example and appeal is clear. When faced with an opportunity to share the gospel be respectful, tell the truth and share your personal story. These will be your best defense of the gospel. Explain that Jesus came to save those who would turned to him. He died and resurrected that men may have forgiveness of sin and eternal life.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are irrefutable facts in history. A personal testimony is an irrefutable fact in history. Simple truth and reason will bring men and women to a point of decision. The rest is up to them to accept or reject. Lord, lead this sentry to speak the message you give, when you give it. The rest is up to you.
(Ezk 3:27) But when I give you a message, I will loosen your tongue and let you speak. Then you will say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Those who choose to listen will listen, but those who refuse will refuse, for they are rebels.
In Paul’s defense before Herod Agrippa, he admits to being a “cancel culture“ practitioner. Like the media, big tech, divisive politicians and oligarchs of our day, Paul lead out in silencing the Christians of his day.
BUT GOD – God arrested Paul, quite literally, in his tracks. He was on his way to Damascus to hunt down and punish those Christ followers. Those who did not tow the party line. Paul saw Jesus. He was changed. He became the compassionate Christian preacher/pastor for the ages.
God can turn any “cancel culture“ on its ear. He can save completely the worst of all oppressors in any society. Lord, it is incumbent upon me, and my honor, that I should pray for oppressors in my culture. I must pray for flashes of God’s light and glory to shine stunningly on their Damascus road to salvation. This is my sentinel duty.
Two years after Paul had been accused of trumped up charges by Jewish leaders he had not been convicted. He was still in custody. A new governor, Festus, had been installed. He met with the same Jewish leaders that had accused Paul originally. They were still bent on killing Paul.
For two years Jewish leaders carried on in their vindictive murderous spirit against Paul and the “Way“ (23:12-14). A demonic spirit of religion* had consumed these religious leaders. They were desperate to save their “sacred traditions” from the freedoms of grace in Christ; that liberty in Christ which Paul preached. Lord, may we be free of any legalistic form of religion.
* A “spirit of religion” might be defined as any evil spirit that inspires a degree of commitment to religious traditions, works and practices in such a way as to oppose and perhaps even counterfeit the true work of the Holy Spirit. This is a work of Satan to turn people away from the freedom and liberty of grace in Christ.