I started preaching and teaching half-century ago during my high school years. I preached my first evangelistic message at the mission in downtown Los Angeles. During my high school senior year, my most effective sermon was while I was President of our youth group. Youth group officers served for a term of 6 months. It was one week before the next election. My term was coming to an end, and I decided to run again. No one had signed up to run against me. I preached a message to encourage more participation in the leadership of our group. That evening my friend Fred signed up to run against me. The following Sunday, I lost the election to Fred.
Even in self-quarantine, messages continue to come to my mind and my spirit. They come as words of personal encouragement, edification, and comfort. Over the years, my practice is to let these messages percolate in my soul before releasing them publicly through teaching, a sermon, or writing.
It has been one of my joys in ministry to release apostolic grace, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit through face to face exchanges with members of the Body of Christ throughout the globe. When I examine Paul’s apostolic ministry, I note that he could not regularly have that kind of in-person exchanges with the churches he was nurturing. Paul relied on the written word, and sometimes his apostolic disciples to further his ministry. He would dispatch them to have facetime with the churches.
When the local governing authorities in Israel were closing in on Paul, He, a Roman citizen, appealed his case to Caesar. After a harrowing journey, Paul finds himself in Rome under house arrest. I think that Paul, a self-professed apostle to the Gentiles, from his early days of ministry, had his sights set on sharing the gospel amid the Roman seat of power. In his letter from house arrest, Paul writes, “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.” (Philippians 4:22) I can imagine Paul, the aging apostle, limited by house arrest, savoring this fruit. Members of Caesar’s household had become followers of Jesus Christ during his imprisonment.
The word reflected in this prose’s title came as a personal word of encouragement, edification, and comfort. At the same moment, I am self-quarantining and facing the reality of increasing physical limitations. My body is becoming less amiable to the physical challenges of travel and mobility. I had suspected this season would come with age and had steeled myself as best I could for this eventuality. Over the years, I had engaged in physical disciplines to try and push this reality as far into the future as possible. As always, I hold onto the possibility of miraculous healing and restoration. We all live in the tension between the natural and the supernatural.
This word from the Spirit was succinct as it usually is, “Paul’s quarantine.” Paul’s quarantine was not due to a pandemic. He was under a legal quarantine, a period of imposed isolation required by the Roman legal system. Having received this word, I began to remind myself how Paul continued to release apostolic grace despite his new restrictive environment.
There are some clues to this season in Paul’s life and ministry in his epistles. It was not all good news. In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes,
“Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments. Alexander, the coppersmith, did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words. At my first defense, no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” (2 Timothy 4:9–16)
I can relate to Paul as I read this portion of his letter to his spiritual son Timothy, an apostle in training.
This season must have been very emotional for the aging Apostle. Paul did maintain apostolic grace for reaching the Gentiles and building up the Body of Christ as he aged. Paul highlighted this understanding in Romans 11:29, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” The methodology of his ministry had to change under house arrest. No longer was he traveling. He was geographically limited to his house in Rome. Close friends and colleagues had let him down, hurt him, resisted him, and even abandoned him. The typical response of the human soul to these types of challenges is grief. Letting go of a ministry methodology and experiencing this kind of loss must have resulted in a season of sorrow for Paul.
By his own admission, Paul cared deeply for his churches. He shared this sentiment in the last part of 2 Corinthians 11. There he details the sufferings and challenges he has experienced during his apostolic ministry. “besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:28) I cannot imagine that this deep concern left him while he is sitting in his house in Rome. No doubt, Paul kept up his intercession for the local churches under his watch. Early on in my ministry, I sifted out Paul’s apostolic prayers from his epistles. I put them together in a notebook. I often recited them as I prayed for the local churches and leaders with which we were networked.
I can also relate to Paul’s request for Timothy to bring him his cloak. Aging bodies do not tolerate the cold as well as young bodies. Paul’s house in Rome lacked our modern amenity of HVAC. A little bodily comfort can assuage the suffering of the soul.
Paul’s request that his books and parchments be brought to him hint at his continuing apostolic writing ministry. He would continue to articulate his theology in writing and father his contemporary churches and the Body of Christ throughout church history.
In his “golden years” of ministry, Paul would need to rely more on those younger than himself, those he had mentored. Mentioned in his letter to his spiritual son Timothy are men like Luke, Titus, and Mark. In Romans 16, Paul lists many other colleagues in ministry, like Phoebe, Priscilla, and Aquila.
The Prophetic Word received, “Paul’s Quarantine.”
The legacy of ministry can last for generations.
Edification: Methodologies of ministry may change, but the graces remain.
Comfort: Seasons of grief are just that, seasons:
“Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.” (Psalm 126:5)
In seasons of grief, tears come effortlessly. Those tears heal the soul. Those tears are precious.
“You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56:8)