Last Sunday, Pastor Connie began a preaching series in which we will study the Apostle Paul’s wonderful Letter to the Philippians, which is part of the New Testament in our Bible. There are so many encouraging gems in this short message sent by Paul to the believers who were part of that church that it’s hard to believe he wrote them during an extended time of imprisonment where he spent some hopeless, frustrating years. Here is the account of the first half of his time in custody from the Book of Acts:

The Roman Procurator, Antonius Felix, came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.” At the same time, he hoped that money would be given him by Paul, and for that reason he used to send for him very often and converse with him.

After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. (Acts 24:24-27)

Antonius Felix served about eight chaotic years as the Roman administrator over Judea (modern Israel). He was not fit for the job and made a mess of things. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote about him: “In the practice of all kinds of lust and cruelty he exercised the power of a king with the temperament of a slave.” For his audience with Paul, he brought along his nineteen-year-old trophy-wife Drusilla, whom he had just stolen away by tricking her former husband. Paul’s discussion with him was about “justice, self-control and the coming judgment”; no wonder Felix “became frightened.” However, he still kept meeting with Paul in hopes of getting a bribe from him for preferential treatment. How trivial he was!

Paul’s destiny was to be the organizer and builder of the first-century church out of the raw material of the gospel legacy left by Jesus Christ, and here he was, living at the whim of this tiny excuse for a man who had power over him and played with him like a puppet. Two lost years – what a waste!

After Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus, some order was restored. Paul asserted his Roman citizenship and was transferred to house arrest in Rome, where he spent two more years awaiting an appeal trial. And it was during this time of less restrictive imprisonment that Paul wrote some of his most human, encouraging, helpful words of advice for the believing community. Four of his letters – Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians – are known as his Prison Epistles. They are full of the grace, patience, wisdom and optimism that could only be cultivated by taking time out from his active, evangelistic, zealous, electrified life. Four wasted years. Four precious years. Two were spent subject to the mercurial notions of Felix, an empty and self-centered man, who had no sense of perspective or values. The next two were spent in the quietness of Roman protective custody, where he could write his inspired letters of faith and hope.

Paul, the activist, would not have chosen either of these disciplines, but God had something special in mind for him.

Your “wasted years” may be part of God’s strategy too.

— Pastor George Van Alstine