My bible study has gotten a bit derailed by life, but we’re still plodding along after a brief hiatus. Last Sunday we covered the rest of chapter one and, as usual, several things jumped out at me.
We left Paul, if you remember, laying aside his own ego to rejoice that the gospel was being spread, even though some of those who were preaching were also trying to discredit or one-up Paul in the process. The important thing was that Christ was being preached. Period. Nothing else mattered in Paul’s mind.
Now we see the apostle continuing to rejoice as he looks forward to being delivered from his incarceration. Remember that at this point, Paul doesn’t know if that deliverance will be in the form of acquittal or execution, yet he is fully confident that Christ will be honored in either his life or his death. Again, we see that Paul’s only intent is that Jesus be magnified, clearly seen to the lost and dying world he lived in.
But then we see a rather strange little conversation that Paul seems to be having with himself. It reminds me of an old Clash song, ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’? (If it’s now running through your head as it is in mine, you’re welcome. It’s a classic!)
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 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! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
In verse 21, Paul makes it very, very simple. His life is all and only about Jesus. For him, nothing at all is lost in death. In fact, he makes it clear that death would be far better. The word in verse 23 for ‘desire’ isn’t used as we do today. Today we usually reserve the word for things like sex or wanting a decadent dessert, for fleshly indulgences which are fleeting in nature. But here it means an intense longing. And what is he intensely longing for? To depart and be with Christ.
Now the word ‘depart’ here means to unloosen. It was a term used by soldiers to indicate pulling up one’s stakes, packing up, and moving on. It was also used by sailors to refer to loosening the ropes holding one’s ship to the dock and sailing off. I love this imagery. Paul is intensely longing to pull up stakes and journey on to a far better adventure, an eternal existence in the presence of Christ.
Do you see the single-minded intensity here? Do we have this same focus? Can I with any degree of sincerity say, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’?
Honestly, I must confess that all too often I’m allowing my focus to be wrapped up in worldly values. Most of us do, which is why I find it a sobering exercise to ponder this for a moment and fill in the blanks:
To live is to________(whatever we strive for to give us a sense of worth),
to die is________(letting go of whatever we hang onto to fill our inner void).
What am I living for? What things are taking up the majority of my mental real estate? Is there anything I would hesitate to leave behind, even if ‘departing’ means being with Jesus? (Hint: I suspect most mamas would feel the same pang I do at the thought of leaving our children behind.)
But for Paul, all the ties to this world, even the ties of loved ones, pale in comparison with the thought of being with Jesus. Yet even so, he is perfectly content to stay and labor for the gospel because he is convinced that this is what will bring the most glory to his Lord. His single-mindedness brings about a contentment that is completely untethered from his circumstances. Wow!
I think I’m going to stop here for today and just soak that in. We’ll finish this section up next time as we look at the final four verses of chapter one. Until then, may we learn to let go of the all that weighs us down and causes a heart of discontent. May we instead focus on Christ, doing whatever work He puts in front of us with a desire to clearly reflect Him. Amen?
Grace and peace,
What this section, (vs. 18b-26) tells us about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit:
He can deliver us from trials
Christ can be glorified in us/through our actions
To live is Christ—being with Him is far better than anything this life offers
Photo by lovleah, at bigstockphoto.com.