Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 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.[d] 20 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. 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.
Hanging on for Dear Life
Paul continues to talk about the imprisonment that he is enduring. For his religious beliefs he could endure a death sentence. Persecution against Christians steadily grew in the time of Paul making each arrest and each opposition to the gospel more and more serious. However, Paul has a hope many today have lost. His thinking is so rooted in the gospel and the cause of Christ that he evaluates whether he lives or dies by whether he will be able to do Jesus’ work. I believe he communicates this truth to the Philippians with good purpose. The Philippians are bickering with a major focus on what will transpire on this earth. Their thinking is for their own rights, for their own agenda, for their own lives. Paul’s life serves Jesus first, his churches second, and his own life third. He considers himself and his destiny, but only in the light of what God might want to do.
When my grandmothers died, they both died quite differently. My father’s mother had lived a life of vicious defensiveness. She would cause her children to fight, if she thought it served her purposes. If she felt pain, she would deny it and cause as much pain in others as possible until hers was gone. The best people to deal with her were those who loved her but could remain above her emotional games and manipulation. When she died, she mellowed and became soft. It was beautiful to see what was previously a ‘formidable woman’ become a kind and thoughtful woman. However, at the thought of her death a fear consumed her. She counted backwards in order to stop time. She would do anything to turn back time. She had no higher purpose than eating and entertaining herself, and staring into eternity the frivolity of her life gave her no comfort. She was hanging on for dear life. To live was empty, to die was to enter the nightmare of the unknown.
My mother’s mother was equally stubborn. She was also manipulative. She could ‘throw a strop’ with the best of them. She could push other people’s buttons with the best of them. A strong-willed and domineering woman, she could not stand any strong willed or domineering woman. She resisted the faith for years in order not to give her Christian children the satisfaction of seeing her convert. However, somewhere around seventy years old, she found Jesus and started to shape her life around him. When she died at 86, her resolve was different. She did not fight to live, she asked to be allowed to die. She was determined to have no-one bring her back because she wanted ‘to dance with her Jesus.’
One grandmother had the perspective of Paul, the other did not. One hung on for dear life, the other hung on to the way the truth and the life.
As I am sat here in Panera, I hear a couple accusing each other of not listening whilst they plan for Christmas. I hear another pair of people discussing a possible job opportunity. An older couple says nothing, but they sit with a detachment that hints at isolation. With the patterns we develop, we fight for our corner, we insulate ourselves from pain, and we detach. Left with ourselves, we are not happy because it is within our own heart that the true source of pain and dissatisfaction occurs. We are taught to fear being wrong and so we blame circumstances and personalities, and we fear death because nothing is resolved. We have no peace in this life, how could we expect to have any peace in the next life? However, harmony is available to those who don’t pursue it. And contented living is available to those who don’t demand acceptance from others. All we need, we already have. The path of the gospel is laid out before us. Once we realise that this life is not about us, and we shape our lives with the focus on others, we find that life or death does not hold us. It is about Christ on either side of the veil and that purpose is not removed. The self is to be overcome as it is wounded and selfish, but as Jesus heals us for his purposes, the self is forgotten. Our lives gain the purpose they were designed for and whether it is night or day, we see clearly where we are going.
As I navigate my mid-life crisis, I see that this life is but a shadow of the things to come. The things I become attached to here seem so important at the time, but they will be burned up or fade with time. The word of the Lord endures forever. Help me to live in the word and to speak the word.
- What are two possible outcomes of Paul’s imprisonment?
- Why isn’t he afraid?
- Why do the Philippians, who are bickering and persecuted, need to hear this?
- What does the culture teach about death?
- How could death lose more of its sting for you?