Bible Reading: Philippians 1:21-26 (NRSVUE)
21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me, yet I cannot say which I will choose. 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 for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that, by my presence again with you, your boast might abound in Christ Jesus because of me.
From prison Paul expresses his Christian hope using these words: “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” These words come from a man who faces death by Roman executioners at any moment. Though he tends to lean toward living, dying is a very real possibility: “I am hard pressed between two: my desire is to depart (from the flesh) and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh (body) is more necessary for you.” Paul views neither life nor death as a failure. Both have their advantages. In death, he will be with Christ and find fulfillment, but he acknowledges that for the Philippians, his remaining with them as a teacher is more beneficial. He gives expression to his confidence in Christ in order to encourage and foster confidence in the Philippians.
Paul no longer views the world through the earthly eyes of someone who aspires to worldly success and acclaim. Rather his view is that of Christian hope, a “forever” home with the exalted Christ. This Christian hope changes three things for Paul because he no longer lives with the fear of death.
1. Paul’s focus shifts from his wants to others’ needs. Christ’s love for Paul makes him love others more than himself.
2. Paul’s view of what matters in life changes. He wants his life to reflect well on the cause of Christ.
3. Paul’s understanding of suffering as a privilege increases. In seeing life with a vision suffused with the Holy Spirit, he counts his suffering as a blessing. He invites the Philippian Christians not only to believe in Christ but to suffer for him as well.
Paul comes to the end of his physical life having found something to live for and to die for — Jesus Christ.
Eternal God, thank you for Paul’s confident faith in the Resurrection that inspires us to fruitful living by turning suffering into service. Amen.
By Hakyoung Cho Kim, The Upper Room Disciplines 2017, page 315.