A Reason to Live

Philippians 1:18b-26  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,  for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.  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 by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  

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.  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,  so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

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In our last study (click here), we saw that Paul was in jail for his faith, for he was well-known for his preaching of the Good News about Jesus Christ.  Whereas he had proclaimed the truth outside in public view before, now he was imprisoned and being called on by God to defend the Gospel privately in the Roman courts and judicial system.

His words in the previous verses show his concern for the Philippians as he tried to encourage their spirits and realize that his imprisonment ultimately was bringing about good for the advancement of the Gospel.  In these verses though, we see that Paul has taken a close look at what had happened to him and realized that he was at a crossroad in his life.  He knew that God was quite capable of rescuing him from the situation, but at the same time, he recognized the possibility that he might die as a prisoner.

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As I think about what Paul is saying here, “Living is good, but dying is better,” I must take this in context and see this is a statement of great faith, not the last wish of a desperate man.  Since his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus (see Acts chapter 9), Paul had spent pretty much every day of his life serving the cause of Christ, proclaiming the Gospel, and planting churches across lower Asia and southern Europe.

For Paul, the most real and most meaningful thing to do on earth was to bring honor to Christ in everything he did.  But as he contemplated his possible death, he said that would be even better.  Why?  Because he knew that he would spend eternity with his Saviour in the glorious realms of Heaven.  The struggle for Paul was that he felt caught between living and helping people for Christ’s sake, or to die and to be with Christ forever.

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Now I will be very honest here and say that I am in no way close to the man that Paul was.  I do identify though with his desire to serve Christ throughout his entire life.  Except for a few minor detours, most of my life has been in training for Christian service, or has been in active pastoral or missionary service.  To contemplate anything else seems unthinkable.

I will be honest though and say that in these past three years of living with my muscle disease, that I had despaired of being of any use to the Kingdom as I secluded myself at home while enduring the constant fatigue and pain.  But then I had a good talk with God about this (and my wife, bless her soul), and came up with a similar attitude as Paul’s in this passage.

I was determined to do as Paul said, to “exalt Christ in my body“.  The literal Greek phrase here is, “I will cause Christ to be honored (magnified/exalted) in my body”.  The words “in my body” could be translated as “in everything I do”.  It is the idea of showing great respect “to a person on the basis of the importance of such an individual”.  Now I believe that no man must be ultimately put up in such high esteem that all others should bow before them.  Only the Man, Jesus Christ deserves this honor.

What I have found while I carry this disease in my body, is that as I continue to offer my service to Him, traveling to do His work (especially in the area of helping to bring God’s Word to people in their own language), is that people give praise to God as they see Him working in and through me.  I have truly seen more people blessed while I work with this infirmity, than I did while I was strong and healthy.

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The point that I see Paul making in this passage is that what we do in this life is meant to bring honor to Christ.  And one of the main reasons why God allows us to remain alive on earth after we have given our lives to Him, is that there are others to whom we are to minister in the name of Christ.  This coincides with what Paul says, that he wanted to see them “grow in their faith” and to have “a deep sense of joy” in their faith.

That too is my prayer.  For many years I have been a Bible translator and now recently, a consultant to translations.  In these past 6 months, God has also opened up this “Armchair Ministry” of The Listening Post.  But even if it is to simply nurture the faith of my family members, attend my small group Bible study, or be a good neighbor, I have learned and am still learning that I am here to “live for Christ”, and to honor him in whatever I am doing.

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