An Open Door for the Word
In Colossians 4:3 Paul asked the brethren to pray "that God would open to us a door for the word." It should not surprise us that Paul would ask for such opportunities. What may surprise us, however, are Paul's circumstances when writing this request. He is in prison in Rome (Col.4:3, 18). What open doors would be available to Paul while he is in prison?
At the end of his third journey, Paul returned to Jerusalem knowing that trouble would find him (Acts 21:10-14). As prophesied, Paul was arrested in the Temple. This arrest leads to the imprisonment during which he writes Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. It would seem that Paul's opportunities for spreading the gospel are limited. Actually, he is about to be given several opportunities.
1. Paul is allowed to address the Jerusalem mob (Acts 22:1-21).
2. He was allowed to speak to the Jewish council (Acts 22:30-23:10).
3. He spoke with Felix, Festus, and Agrippa (Acts 24-26).
4. While travelling to Rome, he spoke with about 270 men on the ship (Acts 27:13-38).
5. He healed many of the sick on the island of Malta (Acts 28:7-10).
6. In Rome, he spoke to the Jewish leaders and many others who came to him (Acts 28:17-30).
7. Onesimus, a runaway slave from Colossae, somehow comes into contact with Paul and is converted. Paul sends him back to his master Philemon with a letter (Col.4:9, Phi.10).
8. Paul had considerable influence on the soldiers who were guarding him (Phil.1:12-14) and those in the house of Caesar (Phil.4:22).
9. Finally, the epistles that Paul wrote while in prison would also be effective.
Paul would be released from this imprisonment, but would later be arrested again. The details of his second imprisonment are largely unknown to us because the scriptures do not reveal them. We do know that at the writing of 2 Timothy, Paul is near death and has no expectation of being released. Once again, even in prison, Paul sees opportunities for the word.
"Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned." (2 Tim.2:8-9)
Despite Paul's imprisonment, the gospel of Jesus Christ continued to be effective. There are some lessons for us from these moments in the life of Paul.
1. God can open doors when doors seem to be shut. How many of us would have thought that imprisonment would lead to effective ministry? Most likely we would have wallowed in self-pity, lamented our deplorable circumstances, and made the assumption that the gospel could not be effective under such conditions. God can (and does) create opportunities for the word when opportunities seem unlikely.
2. We must pray in faith, asking God to give us opportunities. Paul asked the saints in Colossae to pray for open doors. Paul prayed for the same. We too must ask God to grant us open doors for the word. But we must ask in faith, without doubting (Jam.1:6). How easy it would have been to pray "God, please give me opportunities" but at the same time doubt that God could produce them due to his present circumstances. Paul knew better than to doubt the Lord. It was in prison in Philippi that Paul experienced an earthquake which led to the conversion of a pagan jailer. In Corinth Paul was resisted and threatened by the Jews, but the Lord spoke to him, comforted him, and Paul remained in the city for 18 months effectively teaching the word. When you pray for opportunities, pray in faith knowing that God can bring them to you.
3. "To everyone who has, more shall be given." In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus said these words (Matt. 25:29). The one-talent man did nothing with his opportunity, so the master took his talent from him and gave it to the man who had ten talents. Those who are faithful in what the Lord has given them will be given more. Paul was faithful in his mission, so the Lord gave him more opportunities. So it is with us. If we are faithful in the opportunities we have, more will come. This does not mean we must have success in every opportunity - Paul had many people refuse his message - but it means we are faithful in our attempt to spread the gospel.
Brethren, we must open our eyes and see the open doors God has placed before us!