Franklin Graham recently announced, “It’s been two years since Pastor Saeed Abedini was thrown into a filthy Iranian jail cell for his unwavering faith in Jesus Christ.” The Apostle Paul also spent over two years in prison in Caesarea for his faithful witness, and various other Christians, too many to list and many more whose names have been lost to history, were and continue to this day, to be imprisoned for their witness. If we believe God is omnipotent–that He can do whatever He chooses–and that He is good, why is this? Why does He allow so many of His faithful to be imprisoned for their faith?
“For which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:20)
One of the reasons God allows His people to be imprisoned for their faith is because it brings an incontrovertible witness of Him to the darkest of spiritual places. In her famous book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom relates a conversation she had–while they were both wrongly imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War–with her sister, Betsie:
[Referring to when they would be released] “Betsie!” I wailed, “how long will it take?”
“Perhaps a long, long time. Perhaps many years. But what better way could there be to spend our lives?”
I turned to stare at her. “Whatever are you talking about?”
“These young women [the guards]. That girl back at the bunkers. Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love! We must find the way, you and I, no matter how long it takes…”
She went on, almost forgetting in her excitement to keep her voice to a whisper, while I slowly took in the fact that she was talking about our guards. I saw a gray uniform and a visored hat; Betsie saw a wounded human being,
And I wondered, not for the first time, what sort of a person she was, this sister of mine…what kind of road she followed while I trudged beside her on the all-too-solid earth.”
Did you know that the letter to the Philippians in the Bible was actually written by the Apostle Paul while in prison for the Gospel?
“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest [to his captors and guards] that my chains are in Christ [that he is in prison simply because of his faith] and most of the brethren in the Lord [other Christians], having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word [to witness of Christ] without fear.
For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition [their damnation] but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:12-14, 19-20, 27-29)
Furthermore, in many places Paul refers to himself as “the bondservant of Christ.” The meaning of this term is one who is so identified with the goals of his Master that they have become his own–and this is a very good definition of Christianity itself.
Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34b) Our job, as the people of God, is to be used of Him where ever and however He chooses. We do not typically pick the opportunities; He places us where He wants to use us, and it is our job to see the need around us and respond in obedience. Betsie had it right–rather than hating where she had found herself, she recognized that her mission field was where ever she found herself, and she continued to serve until her Lord and ours freed her–not physically, as Corrie ultimately was, but spiritually as He welcomed her home to Himself at the end of her faithful service there.
That is the enigma that many Western Christians cannot get past–the fact that all of our existence is service to the One who paid for our sins and bought us out of death. He–not we–gets to determine where I go and what I will have to go through as I live out my life in service to Him.
John recorded for us a conversation Peter had with Jesus before His ascension:
“Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’ Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?’ This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:20-24)
Jesus was telling Peter here that we shouldn’t worry about where He will send us–that different people get sent into different situation–yet that’s okay. As long as we realize we are in His service and continue to do what we’re supposed to do where ever He has us, it’s okay.
So, why does God allow some of His people to not only be ambassadors for Him, but “ambassadors in chains?” It is that we may continue to serve Him and bring a witness of Him where ever He places us–“that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Help us serve You and be a true witness of You where ever You place us. Help us be faithful to “…do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34b) Amen.