No. I don’t think I’m ready for that, but I have been studying the prison epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon), looking for ideas and what I have learned is this…
When the end is near, we think about family; parents, spouse, children, brothers, sisters, friends, those we love. Paul wasn’t any different. He wanted to be with his fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord but imprisonment prevented this. So He did the next best thing… God inspired him to write and send his Last Will and Testament.
Let’s look at Ephesians 4: 1-6 as an example. In this passage Paul is giving instructions about what to do with his body, who gets his stuff and how to conduct his funeral, right? Many use their Last Will and Testament for this purpose. No, Paul is different.
What is Paul asking his brothers and sisters to do?
Paul says, live up to your profession, your calling; walk worthily, agreeably, suitably, and congruent to those happy circumstances into which the grace of God has brought you. He calls for unity and love and purity and holiness and lowliness and long suffering.
I read once that pride and passion break the peace, and make mischief. Humility and meekness restore the peace, and keep it. Only by pride comes contention; only by humility comes love.
The nature of that unity is the unity of the Spirit, Ephesians 4:3. The seat of Christian unity is in the spirit: it is the Spirit of God in us; it is wrought by Him, manifested by Him and is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
“Peace is a bond that unites people. A peaceable disposition binds Christians together, whereas discord and quarreling disband and disunite hearts and affections. Many slender twigs, bound together, become strong. The bond of peace is the strength of society. Not that it can be imagined that all good people, and all the members of societies, should be of the same length, and the same sentiments, and the same judgment. As in a bundle of rods, they may be of different lengths and different strength; but, when they are tied together by one bond, they are stronger than any, even than the thickest and strongest was of its self (Barnes)”.
Why was Paul different?
Salvation changes everything. Paul was a man radically transformed by his salvation. When Paul saw Jesus, the living incarnate God, he was forever transformed. Like Paul, each believer in Christ receives a transformed purpose in life at the moment of salvation. Gone are worldly ambitions, pride and harshness, unforgiveness, and strife, and in their place, the Spirit begins to work peace, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and unity as a Body of Christ.
If we ask God to help us, He will. We have to remember that unity and the other fruit of the spirit are not a naturally part of our human nature. Only by reliance on the Spirit of God can we deny our selfishness. Apart from Him, we can do nothing and true unity cannot exist (John 15: 5).
This is especially important when discussing peace and unity for need necessitates that one caveat be mentioned. Believers must obediently rely on God’s Holy Spirit to guide in all situations. God knows which battles to engage. Some battles must be fought in order for real peace to reign and Gods kingdom to grow and flourish.
If we look back at the passage in Ephesians we can see another secret to help us in radical living. In verse 2, Paul urges believers to be humble and gentle. Without humility and gentleness, unity will be impossible. By esteeming others more highly than ourselves and willingly serving others with a joyful heart, believers will look different to the world. This service-driven attitude is counter-culture. As believers when we choose to be patient with others instead of complaining or showing intolerance, the Spirit does a mighty work in and through us—He creates unity through a bond of peace so that others may see our God of love.
This is our goal isn’t it?
Don’t we want others to know and experience our graciously tender and lovely God? Paul seemed to think so. He felt this faith was worth dying for. He said:
Ephesians 6:19-20 Also pray that God will give me the right words to say. Then I will speak boldly when I reveal the mystery of the Good News. Because I have already been doing this as Christ’s representative, I am in prison. So pray that I speak about this Good News as boldly as I have to.
In many areas of our world, persecution because of the cause of Christ is a norm. So often when we hear of those who are imprisoned for their faith we pray and pray for their release. This is not the best thing. Mature believers don’t pray this way. Those who live persecution beg, “Please pray that we will be obedient through our suffering and don’t bring dishonor on the name of Christ.” The only way to end persecution is to stop speaking, teaching and living Jesus Christ.
I read a very inspiring book recently called The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. And there was one statement that I can’t get out of my head. There was this Russian Believer who was suffering for his faith in prison for some 10 years or so and when he got out he said, “Don’t give up in your freedom what we wouldn’t give up in our persecution”. Take a moment and just let those words settle. If I were to have a Last Will and Testament, even though I have not faithfully owned these words and it is scandalous for me a coward to use them, I would still encourage them because it is right and true…
So, today as I face a possible end, before heart surgery in the morning; I say to you, my dearly beloved, as my Last Will and Testament, Don’t give up in your freedom what many wouldn’t give up in persecution.