Living Life with God's Irrepressible Joy
Have you ever thought of what it might be like to have the potential of execution hanging over you? Have you considered what your thoughts and spiritual outlook might be if you were imprisoned for your faith?
I don’t think many of us consider the notion. We’re comfortable in our un-persecuted lives. We don’t have to worry about being caught following Jesus or ponder whether we are ready to die for what we believe. The worst that might happen right now in comfortable America is we might get sued or dragged into a lawsuit for standing up for what we believe. Or maybe we’d receive a nasty email or letter from people who don’t like what we have to say. These are not nice things to experience, nor are they easy. However, we would not be thrown into a dark, damp prison cell with little food or water for our faith. Nor are we expecting to be executed for preaching the gospel.
But this is what Paul faced.
Paul was imprisoned for preaching the gospel and believing that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah and the only God worthy of worship. His own people, the Jews, didn’t like him because they believed him a heretic, and the Romans were unhappy with how Paul came down hard on their pagan way of life and polytheistic (worship of more than one god) beliefs. Therefore, Paul ended up in prison for several years. In the 1st century Roman Empire, Paul’s fate could go either way. He could be executed for his “crimes” or released, it just depended on the mood of the emperor at the time.
However, as a firm believer in God’s sovereignty, Paul knew who was really in charge—God. So he didn’t fear the outcome. On the contrary, Paul actually struggled with his feelings in choosing between the two possibilities, an internal struggle he shared with his friends in Philippi. Therefore, let’s see what he has to say about this matter.
“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored 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 live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”
“To Live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Probably one of the most recognized phrases in Philippians, this statement resonates with a level of contentment not many of us achieve. How many of us count death as gain? Or do we view living this life as living for Christ? How often is everything we do and think about centered around ourselves?
However, while in prison, Paul’s thoughts were focused on the benefit and welfare of others. We see in this passage that his heart yearned to leave this world behind and enter eternity with his Savior. But in true selflessness, he discerned that God still had work for him to do on earth and that the fledgling churches he planted still needed him. Therefore, Paul knew with certainty that this trial would not lead to death, but that he would eventually be released and return to the people he loved.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that despite all that God did through Paul and all the people Paul loved, his desire and love for Christ was far greater. Even though this mighty man of faith accomplished great things, preformed miracles in the name of Jesus, and ignited revival throughout the Roman Empire, Paul’s one true desire was to leave it all behind and finally see God face to face.
This is convicting. How often do we get so excited about what the future holds or what we’re going to do that we secretly wish Jesus won’t return quite yet or that He won’t call us home for a long while? When great things are happening and life is good, is our deepest desire to go home to be with Jesus? If faced with the possibility of death, would we say that to die is gain?
Even though Paul had some severe hardships, he also had one of the biggest and most active ministries in the New Testament. He led thousands to the Lord and impacted countless others. God used him in mighty ways and did great things through him. However, even with all these exciting things in his life and big accomplishments, Paul’s focus and desire was Christ above all else.
So may we learn from this great man of God and always keep Christ at the center of our affections, never placing anyone or anything above Him in our hearts. No matter how excited the journey gets or how great the things God does through us, may our one true desire be to see our Savior face to face.