A Hole In Rome

A Hole in Rome
By Al Pirozzoli
Travel back with me to AD 68. We find ourselves in a place in Rome which is now the Church of San Giuseppe and close to the old Roman forum. There you’ll find a metal grate in the street that opens to a hole leading down to two small dungeon rooms, one above another. Prisoners were held there awaiting trial or execution in the roman courts. Not surprisingly, Christians were held in the lower dungeon. The lower dungeon was a smaller space.  This prison was literally a hole—notorious and to some degree served as a deterrent to would-be law breakers.
In the words of an historian
Here’s how Gaius Sallustius Crispus, an ancient Roman historian described the hole prison.678\
Disgusting and vile by reason of the filth and darkness and stench. It was positioned next to the sewer and where dead bodies of executed prisoners were often dropped. The place itself was horrendous. Claustrophobic, virtually no light, rats, insects, human and related odors, hideous and terrifying in appearance. There was no medical aid given, barely any food or water, many died of starvation or thirst awaiting trial or execution. Most prisoners were thrown down through the hole in the street.
The Apostle Paul was held in the lower dungeon of the Hole in Rome-- in that very prison he wrote a second letter to Timothy, an absolutely astounding letter. But before we look at that letter let’s do a survey of what Paul achieved as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, fueled by his loyalty. Let us take a look at Paul’s life of loyalty in some of the Bible verses regarding his ministry.
This post will deal with a word of tremendous value: Loyalty! Paul will be our example. Have you ever been hurt or disappointed by someone you felt held great loyalty to you? What about you? Did you ever find yourself being disloyal to a friend or someone close to you? Loyalty is a major feature of life. Paul understood loyalty at its very depth.
The Apostle Paul was being held in the lower dungeon of the Hole in Rome, awaiting trial. In that very prison he wrote that second letter to Timothy which is nothing short of absolutely astounding and sobering. 
Let us take a look at Paul’s life of loyalty in some of the Bible verses regarding his ministry.
This one thing I do:
Phil 3:10-14
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the upward call to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
This goal of Paul’s requires powerful loyalty to see through.
1 Cor 9:16-23
For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am compelled to preach the Gospel; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
We see that in Paul there is a compelling force, a total sense of importance and loyalty to bring the message of Good News. How loyalty do you have to be to become all things to all men as he has done!
Philippians 2:17
But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.
He is joyful of himself being poured out as a sacrificial offering. Loyalty drives his own willingness to be a sacrifice for Christ.
Gal 4:11 Are you so quickly turning to another gospel which is no gospel at all. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
His loyalty seemingly deterred from these people brings grave concern to Paul that all he poured into them may have been unfruitful labor. It’s not his investment in question so much as the notion that they may be forfeiting the salvation message he brought to them.
Phil 1:21-24 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
Again, Paul’s loyalty to people and to Christ holds him back from his own desire and remains continued labor for the Gospel. His sense of loyalty is unsurpassed.
Phil 3:8 More than that (he refers to verses1-6), I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.
Here we see the Value-Trade, so to speak, as Paul makes a comparison to what holds the greater value. Counting former things as useless he stands on his commitment of loyalty. 
in summary, here is Paul’s Loyalty List:
  • I labored more than anyone
  • I was unwelcomed by the Apostles for a time
  • In prison more often
  • Faced death more often
  • Received 40 lashes from the Jews
  • Three times beaten with rods
  • Stoned, Abandoned. Betrayed. Left for dead
  • Shipwrecked three times
  • Bit by a poisonous viper
  • Spent a night and a day in the open sea
  • Dealt with traders
  • Corrected Peter to his face
  • Abandoned by my own countrymen
  • Very little sleep    
  • Naked and poor
  • Danger from robbers
  • Lived by making tents and leather goods not to be a burden
Now Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:28 with regard to the above list of sufferings:
Apart from such external things (listed above), there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
He has endured unimaginable hardships and yet his concern is for who? Himself? No, the Churches! Consider all his hardships and difficulties done to him and yet—the churches are in his concern, not himself. We see this unique loyalty throughout his ministry.
1 Cor 11:1 It’s no wonder he could say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
Now, back to the Hole in Rome and the letter he sent to Timothy.
2 Timothy 4:5-18
As you read this portion of Paul’ letter observe the topic of loyalty and it’s result. 
But you, Timothy, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future 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.
In these words, Paul speaks no complaint of his past or current hurts, and remember where he is, imprisoned in this hole in Rome. He tells Timothy to deal with the hardship to come, he does not soft-soap anything. Paul is not at all being arrogant in his statement of having been poured out of finishing his course or having kept the faith or the crown he expects, since he goes on to say that the Lord awards this and more; for Paul’s extraordinary loyalty. He then mentions that all who believe in Christ may also receive these granted and wonderful rewards. Loyalty brings confidence!
Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me for service.  But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.
Here we read the sadness and disappointment in the loss of loyalty by those he endeared. He mentions them by name to Timothy. Yet, Luke is there as a visitor and confidant. Then he says to bring Mark as he would be useful for service. Again, we see no concern for his terrible situation, but his concern is with a continuity of loyalty in service to the Gospel. 
When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.
Paul asks for two things; one is his cloak which might offer some small bit of warmth in this hole. The key request however is his request “especially the parchments.” This is the greater value to Paul; likely scrolls of notes and writings of other biblical issues which again demonstrates his sense of loyalty. He does not request extra blankets, food or water but “especially the parchments.” There is no mistaking the absolute loyalty to his work for Christ.”
Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.
In this note Paul speaks of the false teaching and opposition he faced from the coppersmith. Many deserted him. Note once more, not a complaint about his past or current difficulties, but only in regard to the Gospel and the ministry.
But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. 
Here we find Paul’s thoughts speaking of the power that has allowed him to endure all things as he preached the Gospel of Good News. He encourages Timothy that he is not alone. As to his mention of being saved from the Lion’s mouth; there may be one of two explanations. The lion could be a reference the Emperor Nero who was insane and perhaps the very cruelest and sickest in mind of all the Roman leaders. Or the reference could be his possible end in the Colosseum facing actual lions.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 
Paul’s confidence in the Lord remains evident and confident and deserving of glory forever!
We will glean many lessons to bolster our own loyalty to the Gospel and to others from this letter, if we invest prayerful time studying Paul’s words and life.
Loyalty Create Effectiveness
Paul’s loyalty is an amazing example to follow and should encourage and inspire us to rise to the high calling of loyalty to Christ and to share the Gospel with others.
2 Cor 13:5
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.
Paul offers sound spiritual advice here. We must look in the mirror and ask ourselves, are we bringing total and dedicated loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ? It is a tough and likely uncomfortable self-assessment. As I write these notes and as I have preached this message in September, I am making that very assessment and I admit that I have fallen short. However, this afternoon and tomorrow offer another opportunity to correct that and with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can imitate Paul as he did Christ.
So, remember the Hole in Rome and Paul’s attitude next time you grumble or complain or put something first before Jesus and the work to which you are called in expanding the Kingdom of God. And in so doing there is nothing improper about seeking one of the 5 crowns as Paul did, that the scriptures offer us to gain.
The incorruptible crown:
“And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”
– 1 Corinthians 9:25.
The crown of rejoicing:
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.”
– 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20.
 The crown of righteousness:
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 
– 2 Timothy 4:8.
The crown of life:
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
 – James 1:12.
The crown of glory:
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
– 1 Peter 5:4.
Each of these astounding crown rewards require “loyalty,” to endure.
May God’s compassion and mercy and blessings overtake all of you.

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