It is noticeable that Paul does not ask his readers to pray for his release. This does not mean that Paul did not expect to be freed. We see his attitude in Philippians 1:20-23, a letter that was also written during this same imprisonment. He says: ‘it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.’
Paul’s priority was not release but the fulfilment of his calling. It is the case that in the letter to the Philippians he expresses optimism that he will be released in order to continue to build up God’s people: ‘I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance…. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again’ (Phil. 1:19, 23-26).
Similarly, in a letter to Philemon in Colosse, which was probably taken on this journey by Tychicus, Paul anticipated being freed: ‘At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you’ (Phil. 22).
Paul’s concern was that he would be tempted to take things easy and not continue the role that Christ had given to him, which was to declare a message. His response is a reminder that difficult circumstances are not obstacles to fulfilling one’s calling, rather they are opportunities.