"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for the sake of you Gentiles . . ."
Ephesians 3:1-13 constitutes a great parenthesis in the argument of the book, which skips from 2:22 to 3:14, where it continues the topic of the growth of the Church. What could have been important enough to make a logical and systematic mind like Paul's lose its train of thought? The Stewardship of God's Grace, i.e., the ministry of the Gospel and the privilege of having a part in it. How great is that privilege? It is great enough to transform your view of your circumstances, to turn a prison into a place of praise and bonds of iron into a badge of honor, when one is a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
The Prisoner's Problem
Paul was at this point in his career "an ambassador in chains" (6:20), seemingly a contradiction in terms. He was, in other words, a missionary without mobility. How could he plant or care for churches when he was under house arrest in Rome? He kept getting reports of problems — strife, false teaching (Phil. 4:2, Col. 2:4, 8, etc.) — and all he could do was write letters. It must have seemed very inadequate. Besides, how now was he going to get to Spain?
His experience was one God's people have often had, of seeming to have their hands tied in respect to the very thing they feel called to do. How many missionaries feel called to raise money? Yet the average time it takes them to do enough deputation get to the field is now over two years. Family illness, grinding poverty — all sorts of circumstances can seem to be against us, and God does not automatically remove them, at least not immediately. Doesn't He want His work to prosper? The worst part is the identity crisis you can have at such times, doubting the very calling that you thought gave purpose to your life.
So how do you survive the Prisoner's Problem? By remembering . . .
The Prisoner's Principles
Paul's theology was what sustained him in this trial. And the first principle he was able to call upon was the Sovereignty of God. Had not Jesus said a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without the Father's concern? And, more to the point, the God who had manifested the power to raise Christ from the dead could not possibly be conceived of as being thwarted by some puny little Roman Empire! All this had been proved already in Paul's own experience in the Philippian Jail, much as it had been proved earlier when Peter was imprisoned.