Friday, April 20, 2007

The Joy of Living...

Philippians 1:21-26

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (v21). How many times have we heard this verse quoted as a an admonition to couragiously embrace death? I've often quoted this mantra at funerals in an attempt to make death seem more appealing to those of us who fear it so often. Recently, when I was working through some dark and despairing days, this text came alive to me in a very unexpected way. An enlightening clue to Paul's meaning is hidden in his very next statement:

"but if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me;" (v22). My Greek study revealed an amazing possibility. "Fruitful labor" translated literally would read, "fruit of my labor". Perhaps instead of meaning that his life would continue to produce "good fruit", Paul is saying that his continued life would produce more of this kind of fruit, which is in fact, suffering! Is it possible that Paul is writing out of an emotion of deep despair and pain, and therefore death is very appealing to him? I believe that it is likely. It doesn't mean that Paul is suicidal but it does mean that the pressure of suffering is immense and the release of death is to be preferred.

" . . . and I do not know which to choose." (v22). Note that Paul is not convinced in his mind which course he will choose.

But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake" (v22-24). As Paul comes to grips with his decision, he declares that it would be in his best interest to go on and be with Christ. "Depart" is word picture that envisions untying a boat from the dock. It's not only "better" to is not only "much better" to go...but it is "very much better" to go! And yet, Paul recognizes the necessity of living--not for his benefit but rather for the church.

"Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again" (v25-26). Paul chooses life for two reasons: for the progress of the church, and for the joy of the church!

It is true that for many of us we need to be willing to let go of the enticements of this life and to embrace death. But it is also true that for those who are suffering and dying inside--those who despair of living--there is a call to live! "To live is Christ (suffering) and to die is, of course, much better . . . however, I will choose to remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy".

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