When Paul was hauled off to Rome for his final imprisonment, many of his associates abandoned him. Perhaps it was out of fear that association with him might mean their imprisonment. Maybe their confidence in him failed. Maybe they decided the relationship would be too difficult, would take too much effort and too much energy to maintain with the complications of imprisonment. Paul suspected they were ashamed of him. Whatever the reason, they dropped him when he needed them.
This time of year marks an intensified season of prayer for our brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s testimony reminds that we have a responsibility to them.
Paul’s words echo Jesus’s statement of the gospel in action, namely to feed the hungry, to care for those in need and to visit those in prison. According to 2013 statistics over 2 million people were serving time in the United States, or roughly 1 in every 110 people. After the first year of incarceration, they are largely forgotten. Paul prays for the mercy of God to be extended to those who would minister to those in prison.
All of us know someone struggling with a different kind of chain. We know unbelievers who live in the chains of their sins. They can be difficult to engage. They don’t think or behave or react the way we do. Maybe we’re afraid of the association. Maybe we determine it would take too much time or effort or energy to reach out. Maybe we’re ashamed of them. We can’t ignore them because we have the only key.
Finally, unbelievers aren’t the only ones struggling. There are people all around us in the pews on Sunday morning wrestling with depression and other mental illnesses, or family breakups, or financial problems or addictions or any number of issues, and we are called to “refresh” them. The body of Christ is designed to be our safety net and the support network. Think of who you would call in a 3:00 a.m. crisis. If that friend, if that circle, is not part of the body of Christ, then the rest of us are failing you. And if we haven’t made ourselves that available to others in crisis we are not fulfilling our calling.
Investing in the lives of others is often hard and messy and thankless, but it moves the gospel from the theory to practice, from Sunday morning to Saturday nights or Tuesday afternoons. Simply put, it is Christlikeness.