The Profit

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Philippians 1:21.

Paul couldn’t know the outcome of his chains exactly.  God only told him not to worry about standing trial in Rome, so that’s what he did.  But he was conflicted with the whole thing…

To say Paul just rode the wave of human emotions without any strong feelings at all, I think would be a big misreading of this text.  He wasn’t stoic about the false teachers or his detractors rather he knows God can work all things for the good.  It’s kind of like knowing that a disaster won’t be the end of the story instead it becomes a catalyst to better things.

I probably read the key text with a specific filter over my spiritual eyes, for I see these words as a mandate for everyone.  Paul claims somewhere else whether we live or die we are the Lord’s so what happens to us is immaterial as far as the big picture goes, though it might be painful in the short game.  At the same time we don’t simply breeze through the trials with complete calm or no reaction whatsoever.

A good question to ask is:  If we are supposed to be completely calm and easy about the trials, why does God promise us comfort?  Why would we need Him to reassure us of His presence through the Scriptures and the Spirit if our hearts weren’t in turmoil?

Paul didn’t rejoiced over the bad things people were saying about him or false teachings they espoused, but over the fact the good news of salvation got preached at all.  He makes his argument here because the news of these people distressed him so he found comfort and joy in the one positive coming out of the whole mess.  Even through his imprisonment and chains he found a way to look for God’s hand in the depressing reality.  This means he knew the depressing reality not that he felt nothing.  There would be no reason at all to even speak of such issues if he didn’t experience, process and solve them as problems.

Yet, towards the end of chapter 1 he warns the Philippians For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.  verse 29, 30.  The word “struggle” means what to us?  Well, what do you contend with in your life that makes you “struggle” with it?  Paul tells us point blank he had struggled in the past and had another one now one in the present.  Folks, the path of the Christian goes directly through the cross, a place of death, humiliation and struggle.

I guess one of my struggles in the past was to look at these heroes of Bible legend as simply human beings with the same realities we have (except we have running water, electricity, toilets, affordable soap, deodorant and a host of other things they never even imagined).  No matter what we believe about ourselves or them, the truth is they struggled to maintain their confidence in their own calling and mission at times.  Acts claims they never wavered in their trust in God, but we know for certain that Paul struggled with the wisdom of coming back to Jerusalem after the Jews arrested him in the temple (see Acts 21:27ff).  If Paul wasn’t discouraged or afraid his situation compromised God’s work through him, why would the Lord come to him with reassurance and hope?  No, we read these stories and forget what God’s actions on behalf of the apostles implies.  Just to emphasize my point:  If God came to reassure Paul, it was because he needed it.

He says something strange that I had to chew on for a few days (a couple of weeks actually) to make sense for me.  For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. So does this sentence make you wonder what he’s talking about, or do you innately know?  Here’s the questions that popped into my brain-thingy:  Is he talking about being delivered from a death sentence and chains, or, is it simply he believed something would work out either now or for eternity?

It appears from the context that he doesn’t consider either option—martyrdom or release—as anything but deliverance.  He has two concerns that keep him conflicted:  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two:  I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

His struggle here isn’t about dying for Christ because he says,  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. So we’re not dealing with a man conflicted about the trial and possible death, rather he’s worried about the churches he’s planted being firmly rooted and brought up in Christ.  That should give us pause to consider what we value while on earth.  Is the church of God and their well being of utmost importance to us, right up their with going to be with Christ?  Or are we more concerned with what we can build in the here and now?

Whatever happens…

Paul is content with either outcome, for he sees profit in both.  Yet what he’s most concerned about is being assured the Philippians stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose them. This characteristic defines the body of Christ; the lack of it mars the image of the invisible God, the Son and Spirit, for they are one.  If we are to be the image of God, we must pursue and constantly encourage unity in the faith as well as standing together on His Word.  It is our greatest testimony to the world when they cannot divide and conquer.

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