Prison Letter: It’s time at last to tackle the grandest question of all
Ephesians 2:22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Some of the world’s most famous literature originated in, of all places, a prison cell. John Bunyan wrote his Pilgrim’s Progress there. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s vast output had its conception behind barbed wire, as did Dostoyevsky’s. Parts of the Bible were written in prison as well, including Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.
Perhaps surprisingly, these books represent some of the brightest, most hopeful books of the Bible. There’s a good reason: Prison offers Paul the precious commodity of time. He is no longer journeying from town to town, stamping out fires set by his enemies. He can devote attention to lofty thoughts about the meaning of life.
A prisoner who survived 14 years in a Cuban jail tells how he kept his spirits up: “The worst part was the monotony. I had no window in my cell, and so I mentally constructed one on the door. I ‘saw’ in my mind a beautiful scene from the mountains, with water tumbling down a ravine over rocks. It became so real to me that I would visualize it without effort every time I looked at the cell door.”
The letter to the Ephesians gives a hint as to what the apostle Paul “sees” when he lets his mind wander beyond the monotony of his place of confinement. First, he visualizes the spiritual growth in the churches he has left behind. Most of his prison letters begin with a burst of thanksgiving for the vitality of the church he is addressing. Then, as he spells out in Ephesians, he seeks to open the eyes of their hearts (see Ephesians 1:18) to even more exalted sights.
Ephesians is full of sensational good news. Unlike Paul’s other letters, Ephesians does not address any urgent problems. With a sigh of relief, the apostle turns to the grandest question of all: What is God’s overall purpose for this world? Paul answers the question this way: “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). He raises the sights far above his own circumstances to bigger issues, cosmic issues.
Ironically, it takes a stint in prison to free Paul up for this happy endeavor. The book of Ephesians can hardly introduce a new thought without bursting into a song or a prayer. It is no wonder the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge would later call the book “the divinest composition of man.”
What do you find most encouraging about Paul’s joyous message?