Reading: Philippians 1: 21-26
Verses 21 and 23: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain… I am torn between the two!
Paul writes today from a Roman prison cell. Death looms in the air. The executioners could come at any moment. Yet even in this place Paul is full of hope. He has come to a place in his life where his faith is absolutely secure. He is assured that if this day were his last that he would depart and be with Jesus – “which is far better”. This is what Paul means when he says, “to die is gain”.
But Paul also feels this pull to living. He feels a pull to live so that he can continue in his ministry. He knows that if he “stays in the body” that he will continue to have fruitful labor. His work will continue to be about bringing people to Christ and about helping people to grow in their faith. This is what he means by “to live is Christ”. He also acknowledges another “better” – it is better for the church in Philippi if he continues to live so that he can continue on with them on their faith journey.
Although Paul is “torn between the two”, there are some lessons in his circumstance and attitude for us. First, his focus is on others. It would be far better to be with Jesus in heaven. Many people today feel this way. But like Paul they know God has more in store for them. Paul loves Jesus and the church more than himself so he joyfully remains. Second, he finds joy in the suffering. Paul is living into the idea of being worthy to suffer for Christ. He has stood firm in the faith and gladly faces the consequences for doing so. And lastly, Paul is reflecting Christ. His desire and will to serve others regardless of the cost to self models Christ’s example to others. Just as Paul has chosen to closely follow Christ, his example here beckons us to do the same. In all we do and say each day, may we strive to allow our “joy in Jesus Christ” to overflow into the lives of all we meet. May it be so.