Paul was in prison probably because of Alexander the metalworker (vv.14–15). It is possible that Alexander was once serving with Paul, but now had become an apostate and an enemy of Paul. He could have been a spy for the state who betrayed Paul. This betrayal must have hurt Paul in many ways.
Paul had an initial trial at which he felt abandoned by friends. The words “no one” and “everyone” (v.16) express his sadness and pain. But he was not angry or resentful. Like Jesus who prayed on the cross for his tormentors (Luke 23:34), Paul prayed for his friends who had fled when he needed them most (v.16).
Though abandoned by earthly friends, Paul had a heavenly Friend who stood at his side and strengthened him (v.17). Paul states some wonderful truths about Jesus, deeply experienced at this final stage of his life.
The Presence of Christ. “The Lord stood at my side” (v.17). God has promised to be with His people (Exodus 3:12; Joshua 1:5; Matthew 28:20), and Paul had already written that there is nothing anywhere that can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38–39). He testified that the Lord had helped him all the way (Acts 26:22). Christ, our Immanuel (“God with us”), is always present with His servants, even in the darkest prison.
The Purpose of Christ. Though Paul may have had many questions regarding his imprisonment, he knew that there was divine purpose. He considered himself to be Christ’s (not Caesar’s) prisoner (2 Timothy 1:8). At his first trial, as Paul defended his message and actions, he had the unique opportunity to share the gospel to some of the most powerful people in Rome (Acts 9:15; 25:25). Even in his painful isolation, Paul could rejoice that through him the gospel was “fully proclaimed” (v.17). He was still useful to his Lord in a uniquely strategic way.
The Promise of Christ. Reflecting on his first trial, Paul testifies that the Lord delivered him “from the lion’s mouth” (v.17; cf. Daniel 6:15–23). He was confident that the Lord would rescue him “from every evil attack” and bring him “safely to his heavenly kingdom” (v.18). Paul may be martyred, but he knew that he was safe in his Lord’s hands (John 10:28). The Lord would keep His promise (Matthew 10:28–32).
Have you experienced the Lord standing near you (v.17; Acts 23:11)? What comfort did it bring you? Why is it important to develop an awareness of the Lord’s presence in our lives? How can you do it?
Paul was an evangelist even as a prisoner. What does it say about his loyalty to Christ and his passion for the gospel? How does trusting Christ’s promises help us to do His work in all situations?