Joy in a Jail Cell
2 Timothy 3:10—4:22
Dr. Jim Denison, Senior Pastor
The following came from an anonymous mother in Austin, Texas. She titles the list, “Things I’ve learned from my children (honest and no kidding):”
A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 sq. ft. house four inches deep.
You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way. The glass in windows (even double-pane) does not stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.
When you hear the toilet flush and the words “uh oh,” it’s already too late.
Super glue is forever.
The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy. It will, however, make cats dizzy. Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.
Always look in the oven before you turn it on. Plastic toys do not like ovens. The fire department in Austin, Texas has a five-minute response time.
We’re talking today about being happy in hard places. The subject is relevant.
Psychologist Martin Seligman says that depression in the year 2000 was about ten times as likely as in 1900. More than 14 million adults in our country have suffered a major depressive episode in the past year; more than 35 million have had one at some point in their lives.
In 2002, Americans spent $7.7 billion on 6.9 million cosmetic procedures, including 1.7 million Botox injections.
We are time-crunched. “Zipcar” is an hourly rental-car service now making money. “P. J. Squares” are on the market; peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches pre-made for those who don’t have the thirty seconds it takes to make their own.
Paul learned to be joyous in jail, happy on death row. He knew somehow that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (4:18). Perhaps he can help us say the same. Where do you need to be happy in a hard place? Where is your jail cell today?
Remember where you’ve been (3:10-11)
Paul writes his son in the faith, “You, however, know all about” me; the phrase means to follow someone closely, to know them intimately. Timothy knew all about Paul’s life, his godly character, his “persecutions” and “sufferings” when he was run out of town and stoned and left for dead. He knew that Paul’s problems were real.
Despite all the apostle has faced, “the Lord rescued me from all of them” (v. 11b). “Rescued” means to pluck from danger, to pull from the fire. He didn’t keep Paul from suffering, but he rescued him in the midst of the pain. Now Paul believes that what God did once, he will do again.
When you’re in jail, remember where you’ve been. Look back at all that God has done for you, and you can look forward to what he will do next.
Look at your existence. To spell “collagen,” the name of a common type of protein, you need to arrange all eight letters in the right order. To make the protein itself, you need to arrange 1,055 amino acids in precisely the right sequence. This happens spontaneously in nature. Yet the odds are one in 10×260, a number larger than all the atoms in the universe (Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, 288). And that’s just one protein in your genetic makeup.
Look at your country and its freedoms and prosperity. Take note of the health you enjoy today. Think about the salvation you have received through Christ. Realize that you already have eternal life, and will, eternally.
Think of the last thing God did for you. Realize that he didn’t bring you this far to leave you. Remember what he has done for you, and you’ll be empowered to trust him for what he will do for you. And you’ll find joy in a jail cell.
Don’t blame God (3:12-13)
If the greatest apostle in Christian history sits on death row, we will suffer as well. “Everyone” (with no exceptions) who “wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus” (to please God and be loyal to him) “will be persecuted.” The word means to bear a heavy load, to be under pressure or attack. It is inevitable. You’ve joined the battle, and now the enemy knows about you and will find you.
So don’t blame God when the enemy attacks. Our Lord warned us that he would:
“Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues” (Matthew 10:17).
“You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9).
“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20).
Why do we face persecutions and problems? How could a good God create such a world as this? Why not blame him when you’re in prison?
Because this is a fallen world. Before the fall in Eden, there was no cancer, heart disease, AIDS, SARS, hurricanes or tornadoes. All of creation was affected by the Fall (Romans 8:19-22).
And because we are fallen people. We face “evil men and imposters” who deceive and are deceived (v. 13). Thus Daniel is in the lion’s den and Paul in the Mamertine dungeon.
So expect to be persecuted for your faith, expect to face temptations, tests, and problems. Don’t blame God—seek him. Ask for his help. When we have the flu we don’t blame our doctor—we call him.
If we’ll expect problems, we’ll stay reliant on our Father. We’ll know that the next battle is just over the next hill, that we need to stay connected with his power. We’ll not fall so easily into discouragement when problems attack.
When you’re in jail, don’t blame God. Instead, seek his help and his grace.
Read your mail (3.14-17)
Now, “as for you, continue in what you have learned and become convinced of” (v. 14). “Continue” means to make this a constant and continual habit.
What have we “learned and become convinced of?” “The Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 15).
Why should we trust the Bible in hard places? Because “All Scripture is God-breathed” (v. 16a). God breathed these words into the hearts and minds of those who wrote them. Peter adds, “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
These words are “useful,” profitable, that which bears results. For what? Teaching—guiding our next step, showing us what to do. Rebuking—showing us our mistakes and sins. Correcting—setting us on the right path. Training in righteousness—instructing us in right living.
With this result: “the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 17). “Thoroughly equipped” means to be completely prepared; the word was used for fitting a rescue boat. For “every” good work—Monday as well as Sunday, business as well as church.
So when you’re in jail, read your mail. J. I. Packer calls the Bible “God preaching.” Augustine described it as “love letters from home.” Prisoners in jail covet mail above everything else. They keep letters when they throw everything else away.
Stay in the word, even in the hard places. Especially in the hard places. Meet God there tomorrow. Ask him to teach, rebuke, correct, and train you. He will. And you’ll find joy in a jail cell.
Expect your parole (4.1-9)
To continue the metaphor, you’re imprisoned in a jail cell, but the judge is coming to hear your case. He is the one “who will judge the living and the dead” (v. 1). Be sure that he finds you faithful to your calling, that you “discharge all the duties of your ministry” (v. 5).
And know that one day you will be paroled from this prison and rewarded on the other side. Your “departure” will come—the word pictures a prisoner set free from his chains, an animal unyoked from its plow, or a tent which is packed for the next march. Paul has traveled across the known world; now he will make his last and greatest journey, the road which leads to God. So will we.
When we’re out of this prison, there is in store for us “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (v. 8). Your faithfulness in this fallen world, this prison house, is noted and will be rewarded for all eternity.
If you were in a federal penitentiary but knew that you would be released at the end of the month, could you face the coming days with renewed hope?
Redeem your sentence (4.9-22)
You and I don’t know when we’ll be paroled from prison to freedom, so we must use well what time remains. How do we redeem our sentence, making jail into joy?
Love your fellow prisoners.
Paul instructs Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (v. 11). Nobody reading the book of Acts would expect to find this. John Mark deserted Paul during his first missionary journey. His uncle Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance, but Paul did not. Mark split the first missionary team in history, and we never find him in Acts again. But now Paul wants him to come to Rome. Paul has forgiven him, and offers him grace.
When the apostle appeared before Nero after being re-imprisoned, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me” (v. 16a). His so-called team members left the team. Is Paul bitter and angry? “May it not be held against them,” he prays (v. 16b).
Walt Disney was right: hard times make some men bitter, and others better. Choose to be gracious to those who have hurt you. Take the high road. Stop the cycle of vengeance. Offer grace while there’s still time.
And love your Father in heaven: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments” (v. 13). These are Paul’s copies of the word of God. He is still studying, still growing, still seeking God. So should we. And we’ll redeem what time remains.
Where is your jail cell today? Where do you feel discouraged and defeated? Perhaps you’ve heard of Satan’s garage sale. He had all his tools on display and priced: anger, murder, hate, lust, gossip, and the rest. At the end of the table lay an unnamed tool more worn than all the others, but priced highest of all. Someone asked him, “What tool is that?” He said, “Discouragement.” “Why is it priced so high?” “Because no one knows it’s mine.
We’re in all in jail together. Know that your Father didn’t bring you this far to leave you, so don’t blame him. Instead, read his mail to your soul. Expect your parole, any day now. Redeem your time by loving others and loving him.
You’ll say with Paul: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever” (v. 18). And you’ll find joy in a jail cell.