Symptoms, side effects, diagnosis, prognosis and the like. These are words we have become even more familiar with, since the global pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China swept across the world. Yet, these are words that are somewhat known and experienced prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. Perhaps, the word that has been most update in our modern vernacular is that of “quarantine”
The word, “quarantine” has it’s etymology in the French for “forty” indicating a forty day period. Ironically, it was first used as a sailors term for the period a vessel must sit at anchor before landing during the Middle Ages. Thankfully, as we use this term in our modern vernacular, we are not issuing forty days of isolation, because to be quite honest, seven, ten or fourteen days (depending on the doctor and situation) is plenty!
Recently, my family was instructed to “quarantine” for seven days because our daughter exhibited symptoms of Covid-19. All plans for the next several days came to a screeching halt. Meetings with staff and committees moved to an online platform and the routine of life was disrupted. So, what are we to do in a situation such as this?
I must admit, that I was, at first disappointed. I had many plans and meetings scheduled. I needed to meet with staff and we were in the middle of planning a community-wide event, that would have been much easier to sit down and plan in person. I felt somewhat claustrophobic for a moment, especially thinking that as Sunday approached, I would not be able to stand and proclaim the Word. I almost felt caged in like a bird, not to mention, being very concerned and hoping that my daughter would not have a severe case of the virus. Also, that the rest of my family would stay healthy. Somewhat at a loss, I began to think, what am I going to do. It was in this moment that an account in Scripture struck me. Examine the two verses below…
Acts 28:16 When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
Acts 28:30 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him,
The context for these two verses of Scripture is Paul’s Roman imprisonment. After completing his third missionary journey, Paul arrived in Jerusalem where he was arrested and later sent to Caesarea Maritima. From here, he was sent to appeal to Caesar in Rome, where he was on house arrest for two years.
I pondered this event in the life of the Apostle Paul. I imagined I was in his place, quarantined in a way, in his own rented quarters. I imagined, as some theologians have presented, that he was chained to a Roman soldier twenty four hours a day. He was confined to the four walls that surrounded him. Yet, as my imagination ran rampant, my memory could not recall a single verse of Scripture in which Paul complained, gave up or stopped ministering.
I am confident that if he had his rathers, he would have rathered continuing on to the local synagogue to preach or to turn to the Gentiles where he would plant a church and disciple new believers. The truth, however, is he was confined to his geographical point with out negotiation. Yet, there is not a word of complaint, discouragement or defeat.
What the Holy Spirit vividly painted across the canvas of my mind is the scenes of four books found in the pages of the New Testament, namely, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. These four books rest among an elite class of Scripture commonly called The Prison Epistles. Can you guess why they are given such a name? That’s right, they were written while Paul was in prison in Rome.
If you read through the pages of these prolific books you would never get even a hint that Paul wrote these in prison, chained to a Roman solider, confined to the four walls that surrounded him. Just let the verses below wash over you, as they did me…
Philippians 1:3-7 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.
Philippians 1:12-14 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
How amazing are these submissions by Paul the Apostle? He was able to find ways to minister, proclaim the Gospel and be used by God even while he was “quarantined” as a prisoner of Rome! Is your fire lit like mine is as you ponder this thought? Transparency pushes me to confess that I was a little weary of what I would be able to accomplish for the Gospel and the church while I am on lockdown. The reality, however, is that I have made greater progress these past several days that ever before. Planning, preparing, meeting, studying, reading, praying, worshipping and seeking the Lord has all been a part of my day.
I have been able to reach out to people, pray with them, check on them and minister to them, even though I am confined to the walls of my home. I have been able to succeed at being a husband, dad, pastor and friend. If I had my rathers, much like Paul I would rather be out and about, but for this moment I am making the choice to rejoice and to press on.
We could end the story here and it would be encouraging, but there is more. You see, Paul, as he stated to the Philippians in 4:11b …learned to be content in whatever circumstances… Yet, while he was confined, he was not truly alone. Spiritually speaking, we know he had the presence of the Holy Spirit residing with him and within him as he penned the sacred writ of Scripture. Yet, he also had a vast company of people that ministered to him. Examine these as just a few…
Philippians 4:18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.
1 Timothy 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, 2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Acts 27:1-2 When it was decided that we (Luke) would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica.
All of the bold faced names above are those who served alongside Paul as a team for the sake of the Gospel. In some way, whether being in Rome in person, or by correspondence, these dear people were co-laborers with Paul. These are but a few. You could add to this list the names Tychicus, Onesimus, Philemon, Mark, Epaphras and more. All of these were connected to Paul in ministry and while he could not continue on journeys, he was still able to make an impact.
In fact, if you want to know what kind of impact he made in the area around him, meditate on the following passage.
Philippians 1:13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else,
Philippians 4:22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
Paul became so impactful that he was able to win many in the praetorian guard to Christ and even some of those within Caesar’s household. Talk about being bold for the Gospel! Paul did not allow confinement to stop him. He was willing to make the most of what he had around him. He did not do that alone however. I also know that I have not been successful on my own . I am so thankful for the team of staff God has surrounded me with at First Baptist Church Richmond. Also, the team leaders of committees, members and friends who have pushed care back my way.
It is with this conviction that my thoughts in quarantine have developed. Thankfully, my daughter’s conditions are improving, and prayerfully she will be back to 100% in a couple of more days, but I have learned some valuable lessons of being content in whatever circumstances I am in. Let us press on together!