Paul ends his letter to the Colossian churches with the words, remember my chains (4:18). He was accustomed to the isolation of imprisonment. In another letter he could claim ‘far more imprisonments’ than most (2 Corinthians 11:23).
He knew only too well the realities of seclusion that we’re learning to cope with, albeit for different reasons. Social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine - all amount to the same peculiar sense of detachment from our brothers and sisters.
But the lack of physical proximity did not stop Paul and his colleagues from staying connected. He contended, struggled and laboured for Christians he had never met. He yearned for others he hadn’t seen for years.
If Paul's letters remind us of the theological riches of the gospel, his chains remind us of the mutual opportunities to advance the gospel, despite confinement. Here are five brief examples.
More than anything else, prayer was Paul’s way of expressing his remote commitment to fellow Christians:
The same word describing the Holy Spirit – Counsellor – also described how Paul came alongside his brothers and sisters remotely, urging them on in the faith:
Even though Paul was chained, he was confident that the message of the gospel would not be chained:
Paul was able to stand with his brothers and sisters in solidarity because of the unifying bonds of the gospel. Physical separation did not have the last word:
Paul felt the separation keenly and not only when he was in prison. His longing to be with his brothers and sisters is nothing short of ‘gut-wrenching’:
Though absent in the body, Paul was very much present in spirit. As he longed for, prayed for and encouraged the churches, so he urged them, and us, to do likewise. Social distancing need not weaken our gospel unity, friendship and partnership.
With one third of the world’s population in lockdown, we are experiencing an unprecedented global solidarity usually reserved for sporting occasions. But our ability to connect is developing as quickly as the news from the airwaves. In a matter of weeks, we will be experts in connecting with those we cannot see, touch or embrace.
What we’re learning to do is what thousands of mission partners around the world have had to get used to as they seek to connect with friends, family and partners in home countries.
Consider all the ways you are staying in touch. Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc. The options are endless. We punch in a code, add a contact, click a link and enjoy virtual a bible study, a church service, praise and even the Lord’s Supper!
As one mission partner in Naples reported: 'Physical proximity doesn’t matter… we are united in Christ through prayer, song, communion, and the word proclaimed. We can enjoy a spiritual reality that transcends physical barriers.'
What an expression of unity, friendship and partnership! Now to make the most of it – locally and globally!
The opportunities for connecting with mission partners beyond our shores are suddenly endless. Even Paul, when writing from Rome, connected across international borders and time-zones.
In the coming weeks, why not take one of Paul’s prison letters1 and use it to help you stand with and pray for God’s global work and God’s global workers. Or why not invite your mission partners to join you via one of the online platforms and invite them to join a virtual church service? You could use the extra time you now have to send you mission partner an email – or several! Linking up like this in the coming months will prove to be more poignant than ever and pay off in the years to come.
As you think about connecting with mission partners, consider these three key questions:
We’ve asked these questions to some of our ‘locked-down’ mission partners – read what they said.
1 Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and 2 Timothy.
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