What I Learned from Visiting Paul's Prison Cell

As I walked down the stairs, I was chilled by the dampness of the cell. This was a place of darkness, hopelessness, and death. A place where men who were going to be killed were chained to a wall, sitting in their own filth, waiting for the executioner to come and end their life.

It was in this unlikely place that Paul wrote a book to his beloved Timothy—a book filled with vast amounts of wisdom; a message of light, hope, and eternal life to all who would believe.

I’ve read 2 Timothy many times, but after visiting the prison where Paul penned this letter, the words now seem to jump off the pages. The letter carries a weight I had never before noticed.

In it, Paul sheds light on suffering and how we must view our trials as believers in Christ. We are guaranteed to have suffering on this side of eternity, but many people struggle to understand their trials in relation to a just and loving God.

Paul’s words in his second letter to Timothy offer seven lessons that point us to a hope in suffering that is grounded in the truth of the gospel.

THE POWER OF ETERNAL LIFE

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,” (2 Tim. 1:1).

The promise of life. A simple statement, but one that carries power to someone who is suffering. Paul knew a promise from God was absolute. As believers, we too should rest in God’s promises because we know God is true to his word and character.

For Paul, the promise of eternal life was a certainty. He was confident that no amount of suffering in the present age could deter him from the eternal joy he would have in Christ.

As believers, we too must set our hearts and minds on the eternal. 2 Corinthians states that all momentary afflictions are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison. This should empower us and help us to not lose heart.

The same power that brought Jesus back from the dead now lives within us, and one day we will rise again and have eternal life with him. This truth can allow us to suffer well, knowing no power of hell or man can separate us from God.

WE HAVE A SUFFERING GOD

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8).

We don’t just have a God who wants to eliminate suffering; we have a God who experienced suffering to the highest degree when he took on our sins and died on the cross. He can personally relate to the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering we face. He is not indifferent to our pain.

He truly understands our agony like no one else ever could. The holes in Jesus’ hands and feet will be an eternal testament to that.

The fact that we have a God who suffered gives us peace and confidence in his future grace towards us. Jesus asked that the cup pass from him (Matt. 26:39), and yet it did not. He bore immense suffering on the cross so that we could be saved from eternal damnation. This suffering was necessary for our salvation.

Similarly, we may need to endure suffering on this side of eternity so God’s glory and the gospel can go out into the world.

We can rest confidently in the fact that our crown of salvation is forever secure because we have a God who cares for us during our suffering and promises to be with us.

REFINED AND STRENGTHENED

“But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Tim. 4:17).

Tim Keller says suffering is like fire. Fire is dangerous, and can even kill us. Yet it can also be used to forge great things.

We are told in Isaiah 48 that we are refined through the furnace of suffering. When we endure suffering, a rather remarkable thing happens. The very source of our pain is used not only to strengthen our character as we rely more on God, but also to make others inquire about the hope that is in us.

Sin and Satan are out to destroy us, but the tool of their proposed destruction—suffering—is actually used by the Lord to save people from eternal damnation.

Suffering either draws people closer to God or pushes them away. It forces people to address their reality and choose what they want to do with Jesus. Paul makes this clear in 2 Timothy 2:9, where he says he is personally bound by suffering, but the word of God is not bound. Paul knows that suffering may defeat his flesh, but the glory of God cannot be stopped.  

A POWERFUL TESTIMONY

“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10).

Suffering makes a powerful testimony. It serves as a way to show people that the hope we have is not of this earth. The greater the suffering, the more powerful the testimony.

Paul endured suffering so that others would see the glory of God. As believers, we too must keep an eternal mindset and trust in the goodness of God. If we do this, people will ask us where our hope comes from (1 Pet. 3:15), and we will have the opportunity to share the gospel.

The very thing that is causing pain and destruction can be used by God to usher in eternal life to those who are lost in darkness.

JUSTICE WILL BE DONE

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead,” (2 Tim. 4:1).

God is a judge, and he will bring justice upon his return. Suffering is the result of a sinful and fallen world, and we are right to hope for justice. However, we must also recognize the undeserved patience and mercy of God in response to a sinful and wicked humanity.

In God’s mercy he has been patient with us. He sent his son to die on the cross and to take on the wrath we deserved. We have the opportunity to accept this free gift of grace and to obtain eternal life.

God’s patience means this world will experience temporary suffering now, so that many can avoid eternal suffering later. This is why Paul implores Timothy and us to go out and preach the word. The Lord will come back one day and right every wrong. God’s wrath on sin will either be paid by us, or through the blood of Jesus.

This future justice should empower us both to endure present suffering and to proclaim the gospel so others can avoid eternal suffering.

WE ARE IN A SPIRITUAL WAR

“Correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will,” (2 Tim. 2:25-26).

We are in a spiritual war, whether we acknowledge it or not. The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). It his desire to destroy and kill. As believers, we are soldiers in God’s army on a rescue mission to save people from the present darkness.

Those who are in darkness endure suffering without hope. It is our job to bring the message of Jesus so they may be saved from eternal suffering in hell. In addition to the current suffering we all face, followers of Christ face particular trials as a result of being soldiers in this eternal battle.

As we spread the gospel, we directly oppose Satan and encroach upon his territory. As with any earthly battle, we should expect opposition.

But the good news is that the war is won. We have the ability to endure evil because of Jesus. Paul acknowledges that he is suffering because of his work of spreading the gospel (2 Tim. 1:12). Yet he was fully convinced that God would guard him until the day he completed his God-given task.

As we endure suffering for the gospel, we too must remember that Satan is on God’s leash, and that the Lord will guard us and be with us as we carry out our mission.

REWARDED BY GOD

“Henceforth there is laid up for me 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 loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

As believers, we are assured that our suffering is not in vain. Our reward in heaven is so great that our present sufferings won’t just be forgotten, but we will also be restored and reconciled (1 Pet. 5:10).

This heavenly reward was so precious to Paul that he was willing to endure all types of suffering for the sake of the gospel.

We too can find the strength to endure, fighting the good fight and pressing on towards the greatest reward: eternal fellowship with God.


Joseph Lasslett is a Certified Financial Advisor CFP® and has been assisting clients with retirement planning, investments, and estate planning since 2014. He has been serving as a content writer for The Collective, a ministry of Woodside Bible Church, in Troy Michigan since 2018, and currently lives in Auburn Hills, Michigan.