I’m waiting eagerly and full of hope, because nothing is going to put me to shame. I am going to be bold and outspoken, now as always, and the king is going to gain a great reputation through my body, whether in life or in death. You see, for me to live means the Messiah; to die means to make a profit. If it’s to be living on in the flesh, that means fruitful work for me. Actually, I don’t know which I would choose. I’m pulled both ways at once: I would really love to leave all this and be with the king, because that would be far better. But staying on here in the flesh is more vital for your sake. Since I’ve become convinced of this, I know that I will remain here, and stay alongside all of you, to help you to advance and rejoice in your faith, so that the pride you take in King Jesus may overflow because of me, when I come to visit you once again. – Philippians 1:20-26
This passage from St Paul, among a few others, has served as a diagnostic tool for most of my life as his follower. Early on, as a young Christian, I remember rashly thinking that I could easily die for Jesus. My zealous idealism had found it’s purpose in Christ. I would die for him if necessary. I could easily be a martyr, or so I thought. I even had a gun put to my head after a Bible study and was told, “I could shoot you right now.” My response was “Go ahead. I’m not afraid.” Spoiler alert… I’m still here decades later.
Sometime later, I heard someone say that dying for Jesus was fairly simple. But living for Jesus was difficult because you had to die every day, even every moment. While I didn’t understand it fully then, that statement has proven to be true.
Many years have passed since Jesus called me to follow him. And while the overall trajectory of my life has been in faithful service to Jesus, the shiny, sharp zeal of my youth has been dinged and dulled over time. Like the extra physical weight one easily puts on as the decades pass, accumulated comfort and compromise have weighed me down spiritually. I have transitioned from a single teenager with little responsibilities to a married man and father with a career, possessions, responsibilities, stress, and obligations. And in this place, I realize that neither dying nor living for Christ is particularly easy.
Paul’s declaration stands in contrast to my life. His declaration was neither the uninformed zeal of immaturity nor the regret-filled reflections of middle-age. Instead, it’s the rock-solid maturity of a man whose imagination and daily life are shaped by both an intimacy with Jesus and a vocation in his new world order. He is a man in love with his God and equally in love with the men, women and children in his care.
He is a man so intimate and enamored with King Jesus that his personal desire is to die and be with him. And he is a man so intimate and enamored with King Jesus that he equally desires to live and serve him in people’s lives, even when that service will result in further suffering and humiliation as he’s already experiencing.
So I have to believe there’s something more going on here rather than just living or dying. Paul is trying to encourage the Philippian Christians during his current imprisonment. He’s not sure of its outcome, so he’s informing the Philippians that he’s okay with either dying or living.
And that’s kind of the point. His statement is an autobiographical window into his heart, motives and the ongoing reality of his life — his intimacy and devotion to King Jesus. He loves Jesus so much that he equally longs to be with Jesus and serve Jesus in people’s lives. When given the choice, he’s torn between the two. Everything else falls aside.
In the previous post, we saw how Jesus told his kinsmen to pay Caesar in his own coin, cold metal currency stamped with his image. But we are to pay God in his own coin, lives of loving devotion stamped with God’s image.
Paul demonstrates that martyrdom and service are the two sides of the same coin of love. And while he knows that circumstances aren’t determined by the random flip of the coin, he is content whichever side the coin lands. That’s because both his life and death are expressions of the same love for King Jesus.
And it forces me to look at my relationship with King Jesus. While I believe I love him, the personal difficulty of either living or dying for him reveals that my love has far more to grow.
Similar to Paul’s declaration, John Wimber used to say that he simply wanted to be the coins in God’s pocket, to be spent any way God chooses. That’s my desire to. Well at least I want to want that.