THE PASTOR'S LETTER
(W. J. Seaton)
By no stretch of the imagination could the apostle Paul be looked on as a "lower light" in the cause of the gospel. There were times, however, when the providence of God placed him in what could only be described as lower light situations. Places or circumstances which, humanly speaking, might have been more fitted to snuffing-out the gospel rays than promoting them. One such time and place was the "two whole years" when Paul found himself under house-arrest in "his own hired house" in the city of Rome; but, as in so many other similar situations, God proved to Paul and through Paul that His Word is in no way "bound". (Acts 28:30-31)
"And Paul dwelt two whole years in is own hired house," we're told. And those two years of confinement for Paul very much sets before us the great lesson of the Word of God, that God has His own ways of performing His own will. It isn't all that easy to come to a precise time-span with regards to the apostle Paul's life, but it was probably something like 28 years since Paul had been converted at Damascus. He preached for a few days in Damascus itself and then, God took him away down into the Arabian Desert for three whole years where He taught him the depths of the faith into which he had now entered. After those three years, he came back to Damascus for another few days, escaped "over the wall in a basket," and came to Jerusalem for "fifteen days" where he met Simon Peter etc. From Jerusalem he was sent back to his home town of Tarsus, and it was there, eight years later on, that Barnabas found him and brought him to the work at Antioch. There then began his great missionary journeys from the Church at Antioch, until the Jews' opposition rose to such a height that he was eventually imprisoned under Felix and then Festus for three-and-a-half years. It was from this imprisonment that he was brought to Rome at this point, and here he was to remain for this further "two year" in his own hired house, the prisoner of the Lord Jesus.
Now, when we begin to tally-up such an outline of Paul's days in the Christian life, we discover that out of that proposed 28 years or so, Paul spent something like sixteen of them in comparative obscurity or in prison. And now, two more years under close arrest! What can we say? "God's ways are not our ways." And not only is God pleased to employ a good many lower lights in His service, but He even places His "brighter" lights in some very dark corners at times. No matter how dark the corner, however, it need in no way keep a true light - higher or lower - from shining; so with Paul.
When the great apostle was first taken into custody in Jerusalem some three-and-a-half years before this time, the Lord gave this word to him; "Fear not," said the Lord to Paul, "thou must bear witness of me at Rome also." Therefore, although Paul found himself in Rome as a prisoner he still knew that he was there under divine commission and he would act accordingly. He couldn't work "outwith" his hired house, but he could work in it, and he could work from it, and so he did.
Matthew Henry has a lovely word concerning Paul's hired house in Rome; "When we cannot do what we would in the service of God," he says, "we must do what we can." And then he adds, "Those ministers that have but little hired houses should rather preach in them, if they be allowed to do that, than be silent." That's a choice word in its own right; but there is something very tender and very thankful behind it, as well. Matthew henry's father was Philip Henry, one of the ejected Puritans of 1662, and among the strictures that were placed on those men were two Acts of Parliament - the Five Mile Act and the Conventicle Act. The first forbade them to preach anywhere within a five mile radius of their former churches, and the second meant that they couldn't preach to more than eight people at any one time; in fact, something like their immediate family and a few others. But Philip Henry did just that; and for something like twenty years his main congregation was his own family. But one of the fruits of that house ministry was Matthew - a man, surely, whose praise is in the Church even up to this day. "Those ministers who have but little hired houses should rather preach in them, if they be allowed to do that, than be silent." And for those "two whole years" what use the apostle Paul made of his own hired house in Rome.
Paul's pen was busy in his own hired house. Humanly speaking, had there been no two year confinement in Rome at this time, there would have been no Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, or Colossians; or no Philemon either; for it was from this first Roman imprisonment that Paul wrote these epistles. Paul's zeal was busy there, as well. It was there that Onesimus was born again of the Spirit of God - "Whom I have begotten in my bonds," says Paul, as he sends Onesimus back to Philemon with that epistle in his grasp. His hands were busy in that hired house. It was a "hired" house; we might well ask then, how did Paul pay the rent? And, of course, it's what all that activity at the Church at Philippi was all about as they put their heads together and sent off their "gift" to Paul at the hands of that good man Epaphroditus. But remember what happened to Epaphroditus? He took ill - an illness that was "nigh unto death" Paul tells the Philippians in his letter back to them. And the one who had come to willingly "minister" to Paul finds himself being ministered to by Paul until God has "mercy" on them both, as Paul says, and Epaphroditus gets well again.
I don't suppose Paul had a leather-bound Guest Book in his own hired house at Rome; if he had had such a thing, what names would have been recorded in it - lower lights, and higher lights. The local members of the local church at Rome, of course; those who had set out to meet Paul at Appii Forum and the Three Taverns as he was conveyed along the Appian Way be the soldiers of Ceasar's Band. When Paul first saw those brethren and sisters coming to meet him, we're told in Acts 28, "he thanked God and took courage." He would, no doubt, still be thankful and still be encouraged by their visits to him in his own hired house; and what blessings they must have carried away with them from that place! Aquila and Priscilla, who had "laid down their necks" for Paul at one point, would have made their way there more than once; and Andronicus and Junia, who had themselves endured some imprisonment with him. The mother of Rufus; what kind of service did she carry out for Paul during that two year period? "His mother and mine." As Paul calls her, writing back to the Romans. Tychicus, John Mark, Jesus called Justus, Timothy. Just a wee hired house, but, surely, its sound has gone out into all the earth.
The Pastor's Letter (Internet edition 28) "Wicket Gate" Magazine
Magazine of the Reformed Baptist Church, Inverness Scotland
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