These unusual days in which we find ourselves homebound reflect, in a way, Paul’s days under house arrest in Rome. Our home isolation amounts to a couple of months. But Paul’s incarceration lasted two years.
(Photo: Insula in Rome by Lalupa/Public domain)
In Rome today stands an apartment from the 1st-2nd century, roughly the time of Paul’s first imprisonment in the city. These types of quarters, called insula, were literally everywhere in Rome. This insula offers an example of the “rented quarters” Paul would have lived in during his two years of house arrest.
The book of Acts refers to Paul’s time under house arrest as amazingly productive.
His time also offers us a example of our own unprecedented opportunity during these unusual days of home seclusion.
Insula Apartments in Rome
The ruins of the Roman insula apartments, called the Insula of the Ara Coeli, stand at the western end of the Forum at the bottom of the stairs leading to the Basilica di Santa Maria. In the 1930s, demolition workers around the Capitoline Hill spared these insula, because they offer such a great example of the typical apartment of imperial Rome.
(Photo: Insula below the Basilica di Santa Maria by SmurfQueen / CC BY-SA)
This insula still preserves between five and seven floors. The lowest level featured a tabernae, or shop, where goods were sold to those who passed. Above that on the mezzanine floor, lived the manager of the shop. Other floors continue above, all connected by an internal staircase. Tours of the insula are available today by reservation only.
Paul’s Productivity in Spite of Captivity
Because these insula were everywhere in Rome, we can better understand why it seems Onesiphorus struggled to find Paul in the city (2 Tim. 1:17) and also how easy it would be for a runaway slave like Onesimus to vanish (Philemon 12).
Regardless, God’s providence led both of these men to Paul.
For a man like Paul who had traveled far and wide to share the gospel, the limitations of Paul’s mobility would also seem to limit his productivity. But it was actually the opposite. The book of Acts says:
And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered. (Acts 28:30–31)
Notice that last word? “Unhindered” is the final word of the book of Acts, and it reflects not only Paul’s passion but the Holy Spirit’s power to enable His servant Paul to have productivity that knew no bounds.
The Lord used Paul’s time under house a number of ways:
Paul wrote Scripture—the “prison epistles” to the churches at Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and to Philemon, the master of the runaway slave Onesimus.
Paul led Onesimus to faith in Christ (Philemon 10).
God used Paul’s imprisonment “for the greater progress of the gospel . . . 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.” (Philippians 1:12–14)
God Working in Our Own Sequestered Days
Of course, we aren’t under house arrest like Paul was. (But some days, it has felt like it!) Still, our own limitations provide us with opportunities we may have never considered before. A friend of mine often asks with each unexpected turn of event:
What does this make possible?
With some creativity—and a faith in God’s providence like Paul had in Rome—we can use these days in productive ways. A few examples:
Phone calls to encourage others.
Writing letters (remember those?), cards, or emails that affirm someone in their walk with Christ.
Extended times of personal Bible study or reading.
Zoom calls connecting to others in ways we never considered before.