Paul sits in prison. Prison was familiar to Paul, and conditions varied from the relative comfort of house arrest to much harsher conditions.
This time is not good. Paul sits in Rome surrounded by soldiers of the elite Praetorian Guard. He expects that he will soon be executed by the government. He has no freedom and no future.
In that context, Paul writes: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8–9).
The sufferings of Jesus relativize our suffering. When you look at Jesus and what he did for us, you begin to realize that it’s an honor to share in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10).
Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10 are astounding. When we suffer for Jesus, we share in Jesus’ sufferings and then experience the power of the resurrection. Sharing in Jesus’ sufferings and resurrection? What a privilege!
I think that’s why Paul can write the words of 2 Timothy 2:8 from prison as he awaits his execution: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.” All they can do is help me enjoy deeper levels of fellowship with Jesus. Resurrection gets the final word. They can kill me, but not even my death is fatal because of the resurrection life that comes on the other side of martyrdom for Jesus.
We don’t go looking for suffering, but if we encounter it, we can suffer with hope. The more we learn to suffer, the more we need to look to Jesus.
The Word Is Not Bound
They can imprison Paul. They can kill Paul. But they can’t imprison or kill God’s Word. “The word of God is not bound.” While Paul sits in prison, the Word of God runs free, and there’s nothing the Praetorian Guard can do to stop it.
I want this confidence in God’s Word. So often I think the Word needs my help. Paul holds the opposite view: set the Word loose and it will do its work. Preachers come and go. Preachers are jailed and killed. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Nothing you do can stop it.
God’s Word is unchained and unstoppable. It will spread no matter what they do to you. Set it loose. Trust in it more than you trust yourself.
“There have been a great many attempts to bind the word of God, but yet it has not been bound,” said Charles Spurgeon. “Persecution is a red hand which scatters the white wheat far and wide … The preacher is bound, but the word of God is not bound: the worker is feeble, but the word of God is not feeble. You are nothing and nobody, but the word of God cannot be said to be nothing and nobody: it is everything and everybody: it is girt about with all power.”
Remember Jesus’ death and resurrection when you suffer. No matter what happens to you, remember that God’s Word is unstoppable. Do this, and you will have so much confidence in ministry that you can face suffering, cranky congregations, and even death with confidence.