Some today still suffer physical persecutions of this sort for their faith, though many of the items on the list are unheard of in America. However, even though we have not experienced the level of physical suffering that Paul did, we can appreciate what he went through and learn from his example. Specifically, I want us to focus on Paul as a prisoner and how he turned his struggles into stepping stones. He did not allow the time he spent in prison to rob him of what was important. Paul was confined by men, but not controlled; he was physically restrained, but not restricted; he was incarcerated, but not incapacitated. Paul always made the most of his circumstances and opportunities.
Let us consider six specific things that prison did not rob Paul of:
1. PRISON DID NOT ROB PAUL OF HIS PEN.
It is believed that Paul wrote a great deal while he was in prison (e.g., Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, etc.).
2. PRISON DID NOT ROB PAUL OF HIS PURPOSE.
Paul's purpose was to live for Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:21). He could do that whether he was free or in bondage.
3. PRISON DID NOT ROB PAUL OF HIS PULPIT.
It is possible that Paul was chained to a Roman soldier continuously while in prison. If so, it meant that Paul could preach to at least four men a day since the shifts changed every six hours. Also, it is clear that the apostle had visitation privileges, and many came to see him "to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning until evening" (Acts 28:23ff). Paul wasn't preaching publicly, but he was still preaching.
4. PRISON DID NOT ROB PAUL OF HIS PRAYER.
While in prison, Paul prayed sincerely for the brethren and the church (e.g., Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-12; etc.).
5. PRISON DID NOT ROB PAUL OF HIS PRAISE.
In Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas sang praises to God at midnight while in prison. Although he was confined, he chose to be joyful.
6. PRISON DID NOT ROB PAUL OF HIS PEACE.
He wrote in Philippians 1:12-14 - "But I want you to know brethren, that the things which have 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, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." Paul understood that even though he was being held as a prisoner, his life was still accomplishing great things for the spread of the gospel. Certainly this brought great peace to him.
Dear friends, Paul is a great encouragement to all Christians. He was triumphant in trials, and he did not allow prison to rob him. He could do this because he had long before made himself a "prisoner" (i.e., a willing servant) of the Most High God! When one is a humble "prisoner" to the Lord's will, the blessings he enjoys from deity far outweigh anything that a man-made prison can take away. May we all endeavor to imitate the apostle from Tarsus (I Cor. 11:1), realizing that trials cannot rob us without our permission.