Works of St. John Chrysostom: Homilies on Ephesians
(Ver. 4:1) “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness.”
It is the virtue of teachers to aim not at praise, nor at esteem from those under their authority, but at their salvation, and to do every thing with this object; since the man who should make the other end his aim, would not be a teacher but a tyrant. Surely it is not for this that God set thee over them, that thou shouldest enjoy the greater court and service, but that thine own interests should he disregarded, and every one of theirs built up. This is a teacher’s duty: such an one was the blessed Paul, a man who was free from all manner of vanity, and was contended to be one of the many, nay more, to be the very least even of them. Hence he even calls himself their servant, and so generally speaks in a tone of supplication. Observe him then even now writing nothing dictatorial, nothing imperious, but all chastened and subdued.
“I therefore,” saith he, “the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called.” What is it, tell me, thou art beseeching? Is it that thou mayest gain any end for thyself? No, saith he, in no wise; it is that I may save others. And yet surely they who beseech, do so for things which are of importance to themselves. True; and this, saith he, is of importance to myself, according to what he says also elsewhere in his writings, “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord;” (I Thess. iii: 8.) for he ever earnestly desired the salvation of those whom he was instructing.
“I, the prisoner in the Lord.” Great and mighty dignity! Greater than that of king or of consul, or of any other. Hence it is the very title he uses in writing to Philemon, “As Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Jesus Christ.” (Philemon 9.) For nothing is so glorious as a bond for Christ’s sake, as the chains that were bound around those holy hands; more glorious is it to be a prisoner for Christ’s sake than to be an Apostle, than to be a Teacher, than to be an Evangelist. Is there any that loveth Christ, he will understand what I am saying. Is any transported and fired with devotion for the Lord, he knows the power of these bonds. Such an one would rather choose to be a prisoner for Christ’s sake, than to have the Heavens for his dwelling. More glorious than any gold were the hands he was showing to them, yea, than any royal diadem. Yes, no jewelled tiara bound around the head invests it with such glory, as an iron chain for Christ’s sake. Then was the prison more glorious than palaces, yea, than heaven itself. Why say I than palaces? Because it contained a prisoner of Christ. Is there any that loveth Christ, he knows the dignity of this title, he knows what a virtue is this, he knows how great a boon he bestowed upon mankind, even this, to be bound for His sake. More glorious this, perhaps to be bound for His sake, than “to sit at His right hand,” (Matt. xx: 21.) more august this, than to “sit upon the twelve thrones.” (Matt. xix: 28.)
And why speak I of human glories? I am ashamed to compare earthly riches and golden attire to these bonds. But forbearing to speak of those great and heavenly glories, even were the thing attended with no reward at all, this alone were a great reward, this an ample recompense, to suffer these hardships for the sake of the Beloved. They that love, even though it be not God, but man, they know what I am saying, since they are more delighted to suffer for, than to be honored by those they love. But to fully understand these things belongs to the holy company, the Apostles, I mean, and them alone. For hearken to what the blessed Luke saith, (Act V:II.) “that they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name.” To all others indeed it seems to be foolishness, that to suffer dishonor is to be counted worthy, that to suffer dishonor is to rejoice. But to them that understand the love of Christ, this is esteemed of all things the most blessed. Were any to offer me my choice, the whole Heaven or that chain, that chain I would prefer. Were any to ask whether he should place me on high with the Angels, or with Paul in his bonds, the prison I would choose. Were any about to change me into one of those powers, that are in Heaven, that are round about the throne, or into such a prisoner as this, such a prisoner I would choose to be. Nothing is more blessed than that chain. Would that I could be at this moment in that very spot, (for the bonds are said to be still in existence,) to behold and admire those men, for their love of Christ. Would that I could behold the chains, at which the devils fear and tremble, but which Angels reverence. Nothing is more noble than to suffer any evil for Christ’s sake. I count not Paul so happy, because he was “caught up into Paradise,” (2 Cor. xii: 4.) as because he was cast into the dungeon; I count him not so happy, because he heard “unspeakable words,” as because he endured those bonds. I count him not so happy, because he was “caught up into the third Heaven,” (2 Cor. xii: 2.) as I count him happy for those bonds’ sake. For that these are greater than those, hear how even he himself knew this; for he saith not, I who “heard unspeakable words,” beseech you: but what? “I, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you.” Nor yet are we to wonder, though he inscribes not this in all his Epistles, for he was not always in prison, but only at certain times.
I deem it more desirable to suffer evil for Christ’s sake, than to receive honor at Christ’s hands. This is transcendent honor, this is glory that surpasseth all things. If He Himself who became a servant for my sake, and “emptied” (Phil. ii: 7.) His glory, yet thought not Himself so truly in glory, as when He was crucified for my sake, what ought not I to endure?