As I am writing this, my heart is filled with conviction. I need readers to know that this is coming from a place of brokenness. The words that are on your screen are things that I myself am continuing to struggle with. My hope is that you and I can assist each other in moving forward. So let’s get started.
We crave security. It’s just simply who we are. We live in a culture that puts self on a pedestal. We abide in a place that screams, “It’s all about me! It’s what I want! I have to do what’s best for me! Me, me, me!” It’s the product of the American Dream. We build up a life of shelter. We ensure that we have what we need in order to be self-sufficient and then take it further and ensure that we’re comfortable. And in that comfort we sink deeper and deeper in to ourselves. We get to a point where emerging from our cocoons of safety is a foreign thought. Why would we ever want to leave them? What’s in it for us? We think, “Will I be safe and secure if I leave? Will I be promised safety? What if something bad happens to me?” Let’s refer to a lengthy, yet great passage of scripture that I believe rages against the heartbeat of our society. It’s Philippians 1:12-26:
(12) I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, (13) so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. (14) And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (15) Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. (16) The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. (17) The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. (18) What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, (19) for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, (20) 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. (21) For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (22) If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. (23) I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (24) But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (25) Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, (26) so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
The writer, Paul, was in a pretty dire situation. The man was imprisoned. He was subjected to societal shame. He had been taken and ripped away from any comforts he could have had. But did he sit there and pout about it? Nah. The brother went and made the best of pretty awful situation. Better yet, God took an awful situation and used it for His own good. Too often we hear teachings that promote false gospels such as those that condone the promise of “health and wealth.” I’ve heard “pastors” say, “When someone sees you with your blessing of a brand new car and your big bank account, they’ll want what you have! They’ll see God being glorified in that!” How about God being glorified in a man who has lost it all? A man who has to feed his family with a minimum income. A man who just cannot catch a break and yet still looks up and praises God for simply who He is. A man who preaches the gospel and then gets thrown in to prison. How about that? I have to stop and ponder: When problems arise, will I see them as chores or as mission/ministry opportunities? Paul’s persecutors and the others that were there came to know Christ, or at the very least heard the Gospel. Heck, those who knew Christ were BOLD in proclaiming the gospel because of how God used Paul. These were, in the eyes of man, his enemies. They persecuted him. Here in the American church, we don’t really have a true concept of persecution. Sure, we may be seeing a trend that could develop in to persecution. But we are definitely not there yet. Some view our “religious rights” being stripped away (but brace yourselves because you’re not gonna like this: what is the point in having public religious liberties and Christian governmental control if we’re not going to practice the very things we’re preaching and fighting for in our own homes and with our own families? But I digress). In reality, we’re just not as comfortable anymore. And that bothers us. As previously stated, we crave comfort. Being messed with or “persecuted” doesn’t sit well with us. The people who are doing the persecuting especially do not sit well with us. But Paul, a man who knew trials and persecutions, shared the most amazing news with his captors. How am I impacting those around me? How am I impacting my enemies? Paul even had some, what we would call, haters. These guys were trying to slander him for some unidentifiable reason. They wanted to bring him down. But once again, did Paul care? Nah. He didn’t care about his name and his interests. He only cared about Christ being truthfully proclaimed. What interests of mine are taking priority over Christ being proclaimed? Paul also knew that the continuation of people’s prayers for him and the work of the Holy Spirit would deliver him…but from where? For us, the logical answer is from being locked up in the joint. Was Paul focusing on the temporal or the eternal? Perhaps both. But you see Paul wouldn’t have wanted deliverance for his own life’s sake. He would want deliverance for the benefit of the churches he had planted. He would love to be in the fellowship of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He longs for them, “with the affection of Christ.” (Phil. 1:8) But Paul didn’t just want that. Paul would rather depart from this life to be with Christ. What a dude! He doesn’t even care if he dies! He cares more about his faithful witness to Christ! What do I care about most?
Now, I want to bring us in on verse 21 of this passage. Paul: life=Christ, death=gain. Like, what the what!? Paul yearned to be with his savior. He wanted to be close to Christ! It was his heart’s desire! What do I want most of all? But verses 24-26 tells us that while his heart aches to depart and be with Christ, he knew it would be more beneficial for him to stay because he knew that the church would need him. What a call to disrupt our common culture! Live for Christ and live for others before ourselves! Sacrifice and surrender our wants and needs for someone else. Tear down our walls of security that we’ve built up and expose ourselves to a life of radical living. Heck, view dying as something to gain.
I want to live like that.
I want to have that mindset, no matter what my circumstances are. I want living to be like Christ. And when I die, I want it to be nothing else but gaining. I leave you with a lyric that spoke to me and still does, “Death is only the beginning of everything I’m living for.”- (Pariah by For Today)
God bless. May you continue to live as Christ.