Everything's Possible - Day 5

Philippians 1:20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.
25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. 26 And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.

There are some tough concepts that we need to tackle in today’s pericope. Let's start with verse 20. Paul has been bold and courageous when it comes to proclaiming the gospel in all different types of situations. He has been imprisoned, he has been stoned, he has been beaten, and nothing has stopped him from sharing the grace that comes from Christ. He is hoping that he will continue to be this bold in the future, no matter what is to come for him.

But in verse 21, he makes the statement that for him, “to live is Christ, and to die is even better. . .” WHAT? How could he really believe that? Does that mean that Paul is considering suicide in order to be with Jesus? Does this mean that somehow, not living is better than living for Christ? 

It was Paul’s understanding that the next thing he would see is Jesus, regardless if it was because his soul left his body and went to heaven or, more like what we believe, if he rested until he was resurrected by Jesus at the second coming. (Obviously, we are not commenting on his belief in the state of those who have died.) What we do know is that he had a deep desire to walk with Jesus as soon as he could. His life had not been a boring and uneventful life. In fact, it had been a dangerous and difficult journey to where he was writing this letter. Paul was ready to lean into the idea that walking with Jesus was a great thing to look forward to. It was so great, in fact, that he would consider leaving this world a kind of grace. 

However, he reasons in the next verse that if he stays, there is more work to be done and he can certainly do it more effectively if he remains here. It actually gives him some comfort to know that when he meets with them again, he will take pride in Jesus for what Christ has been doing through him with their support. 

I have reflected on this portion of scripture often, as it holds concepts that are a bit disconcerting and troubling. Particularly this is true if you believe that one who commits suicide will not make it to heaven. (By the way, this is an overly simplistic understanding of the commandment “You shall not kill.” I don’t want to get into it, but I think we have to take into account mental health, depression, and the fact that only God knows what is happening in someone’s heart and head in those difficult times. Also, it is God who decides people’s trajectory, not us. I will just leave this here, we are not the arbiters of who will be in heaven, and while I would never encourage or support suicide, I don’t think it precludes someone from heaven.)

Perhaps we need to understand Paul’s perspective. He has done so much for Christ that there is a sense that things may be coming to an end. He has become secure in the fact that if his life is about to be over, he will be with Christ soon, and for that he is grateful. 
What we see here is someone who is less concerned about his circumstances but more concerned about how effective he can be for Christ. It is actually a pretty amazing way to live! 

  1. Have you ever worried about your effectiveness for Christ? 
  2. What can you do in order to make sure you are living for Christ and not for your circumstances? 
  3. Do you have people who support you like the Philippians supported Paul? 

By Pastor Timothy Gillespie

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