"For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and be with CHRIST which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." (Phil 1:23-24)
In these verses, we find Paul caught between the proverbial rock, which is CHRIST, and the hard place, which was to abide in his flesh. Having to choose between going home to be with CHRIST, and staying to nurture the Saints: Paul chose not what he most desired but rather, what he perceived to be more needful. For Paul, being with CHRIST was "far better" than anything life could offer him: However, Paul chose to abide placing the needs of others before his own desires. Even in this: Paul proved to be a selfless man of GOD.
Having a willingness to be absent from his body, Paul was not hindered by the fear of death. Guided by his desire to be "accepted of him," Paul labored having great boldness, knowing the terror of the LORD, he persuaded men, warning them of things, which should afterwards be revealed. Knowing, "we all must appear before the Judgment Seat of CHRIST that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done," (2Cor 5:8-11),
Paul willingly suffered the loss of all things. All that he could call his own, he forsook, and counted it but dung that he might win CHRIST. (Phil 3:7-8) This was by no means an easy task even for Paul. If you doubt it, try giving up just that one thing which GOD has been convicting you of for years. Anything, which might prove to be a hindrance to his pursuit of CHRIST, Paul forsook, reckoning himself dead unto the world but alive unto GOD. "But GOD forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal 6:14) The world, by reason of the light of eternal things, had lost its sparkle. For Paul, there was no joy to be gained from living. The pleasures of this life had lost their appeal his joy lied in his hope of what he knew awaited him in heaven with CHRIST.
"According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also, CHRIST shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is CHRIST..." (Phil 1:20-21) Whether by life, or by his death, it was Paul's earnest expectation and hope that CHRIST be magnified in his body that he meet whatsoever may come, head on, with great boldness being ashamed in nothing.
Shame robs us of boldness. Our shame of the gospel of CHRIST robs from us, our boldness and leaves us powerless: And our lack of boldness, in this life, will be turned into our shame at the Judgment Seat of CHRIST. (Rm 1:16) We have a tendency to magnify ourselves. It is only when CHRIST is magnified in our bodies that self is thrust into proper perspective. Let GOD be magnified, and as for myself, let me become obscure. There is an utter absence of self-magnification in Paul's ambition: "For to me to live is CHRIST." Hide me, that you may be manifested - as my life.
"Remember that JESUS CHRIST of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: Wherein I suffer trouble as an evil doer, even unto bonds but the word of GOD is not bound." (2Tim 2:8-9) In an attempt to silence Paul from preaching the gospel, Caesar had him imprisoned in the Palace dungeon. From this Roman prison, Paul manifested great boldness so much so, the whole Palace heard about the old fool who was locked up in the dungeon. The soldiers appointed to guard Paul's cell were the very messengers Paul used to spread the gospel throughout "all the Palace." (Phil 1:13, 4:22) As the guards traveled throughout Caesar's household, they would stop and say to those they met, "you should see this old fool we have down in the dungeon, praising his GOD for his chains, singing at the top of his lungs, about how thankful he is to be counted worthy to suffer and to be a prisoner for CHRIST'S sake." (Acts 5:40-41) "You need to come down sometime and see this man for yourselves. I tell you I've never seen anything like it in my life."
Had Paul moped about his cell crying woe is me, feeling sorry for himself, being too scared to open his mouth except to complain about his circumstances in life who would have listened? Paul was bold and exuberant, full of zeal and certainty. Imagine the power of his words as he joyfully thundered to his captors, "I have more freedom in chains than you have without them. You cannot bind the word of GOD, but it shall accomplish that which GOD pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto he sent it."
The guards thought this old blind man was either crazy, or what he had was more precious than life itself. Satan was pulling his hair out saying, "there is no stopping this thing! No matter what I do to him, he continues to persuade men." Paul's prison cell became a place where bound men went to receive their freedom. Paul led member after member of Caesar's household to JESUS. By Paul's testimony, the word of GOD was given free course.
"Even unto this hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place and labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless being persecuted, we suffer it being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." (1Cor 4:11-13) As a Christian, Paul was persecuted from every side he was in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathens, in perils in the city, in perils in the sea, in perils among false Christians. Paul was whipped five times he received forty stripes save one. Three times he was beaten with sticks, once he was stoned and left for dead, three times he was shipwrecked, a night and a day he spent in the deep. Paul was distressed on every side, he was persecuted, but not forsaken, perplexed, but not in despair, cast down, but not destroyed. Now bound in chains from a Roman prison he writes, "For to me to live is CHRIST."
For Paul to live was CHRIST: This was his purpose for living, this was his only purpose for living, his only inspiration, and his only satisfaction in life. Paul's life was totally at the disposal of GOD'S will. "LORD, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6) Paul lived a life of submission, his will was surrendered to GOD, minute by minute, hour by hour, day after day. "So now also, CHRIST shall be magnified in my body." This was Paul's testimony. For Paul to live was CHRIST. I wonder - what are we living for?
If we had to fill in the blank, what would it be in our lives? For me to live is self. For you to live is comfort: Could it be for wealth, possessions, happiness, a person to love, a better life for you and your family? What are you spending your life pursuing: Could it be peace of mind, popularity, a master's degree: Could it be that you are pursuing the great "American Dream" - the big house in the suburbs with two cars in the garage, a 52-inch television, and 1.7 children? For the lost man - to live is life (in the flesh), liberty (to sin), and the pursuit of happiness (the pleasures of sin for a season). Where do you stand in this equation? "But she [he] that liveth in [for] pleasure is dead while she [he] liveth." (1Tim 5:6)
"...And to die is gain." There are a select few who truly wish to commit suicide. Having lost their will to live, they stand poised on the edge, gazing through the veil that separates life from the unknown, contemplating the darkness which lies beyond. Driven by forces that the world calls "suicidal tendencies," (I call them demons), they are deceived into thinking there is no misery under the canopy of darkness, no accountability, only peace of mind. "There is no shame in surrendering from agony'" they are told "there is only comfort, and relief from the travailings of life." We perceive them to be in agony, guilt ridden, extremely sorrowful, or mad. Through their sense of desperation, they retreat into isolation creating a perfect breeding ground for confusion. Driven inward, they abandon familiarity and seek supernatural direction leading to a state of self-delusion.
Suicide does not discriminate: it strikes all segments of the population without regard to age, sex, social class, or economic status. Teenage suicide has reached epidemic proportions, even out pacing that of the elderly. Suicide among adolescents has become the third most common cause of death. The latest craze to arrive on the scene is "assisted suicide.” Conceived and propagated by Jack Kavorkian (Dr. Death), he prostituted his deadly services to those who could afford to fill his pockets. He claimed it was "mercy" yet he became rich through his murdering.
Some will plot their demise for months, approaching it in a business fashion calmly hiring the counseling services of a devil like Dr. Death. Some may take their life in a moment of desperation having never entertained thoughts of suicide. Still others may be committing suicide unconsciously bringing about their premature end as a result of an abusive lifestyle, which they have deliberately chosen. Whichever the case may be, the one thing which ties them all together is suffering.
The loss of beauty, the loss of a limb, the loss of a child or loved one for those who live for pleasure, the absence of pleasure is suffering. During the Great Depression, the loss of wealth sent thousands to their deaths. Shame, guilt, divorce, failure to live up to the expectations of others to fail in the eyes of those you admire is suffering. Only those who are not having a good time desire to leave the party early. Only those that suffer truly desire to die.
Suffering, whether it be the stripes of a guilty conscience, the wounds of emotional anguish, or the pain of physical defect or illness it comes in many forms. Some suffering is obvious, but most lies hidden from the eye. For these, which suffer - for them to die, truly it is gain, or so they have been deceived into believing. They desire death, not to be with CHRIST, but to remedy their torment and anguish.
Paul shared "the fellowship of his [the LORD's] sufferings." For Paul to live was to continue to share in his sufferings. Dying was nothing new to Paul, for him, it had become a daily ritual it was Paul who penned, "I die daily." (1Cor 15:31) Only those who suffer can truly say they long for death. If to die is not gain, it is because we suffer not. As Christians, we are to suffer for CHRIST'S sake. If we choose not to suffer, our hearts are not wholly with him, having never been made conformable to his death. Paul endured great suffering, having been consoled by the SPIRIT, he fainted not. His one object was CHRIST, whether in life or in death. "For as the sufferings of CHRIST abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by CHRIST." (2Cor 1:5)
"...And to die is gain." Who among us can truthfully say this? I can't, and I doubt that there be any. We have become too comfortable, too infatuated with living this life that we have all but forgotten the next. We have become too near-sighted and cannot see afar off. When faced with death, we would give anything for one more day. We have all made our plans for the future, and dying wasn't in our schedule, it just wasn't part of the plan. Dying would spoil everything.
"I don't want to die now," we would say, as we formulate our excuses, "I just got married wait until I've spent a few years with my love. My children are still young wait until they are grown. I just started my own business let me first see it succeed. My father is old let me first bury him. My grandchild was just born let me enjoy her a few years." The list goes on and on. Each of us have our own agendas that is not to say we don't have our moments or even our days when we wish it would all end, but even then, it is a surrender of frustration, not a desire to be with CHRIST. Face it: for to me to live is GAIN, and to die would spoil everything. Where is CHRIST? - He has been excluded.
"...And to die is gain." We don't desire to die to be with CHRIST. Perhaps it is because we haven't suffered enough to whet our appetites, to create that sense of urgency. Suffering will come, it cannot be avoided: only pray that we suffer not as evil doers. It may come corporately, though persecution. It may fall on us as our health declines, as our family splits apart, or as our possessions sprout wings and fly away. Our need for heaven increases daily as the world around us becomes more and more hostile towards CHRIST.
In 1983, I left Rochester, NY and moved to Massachusetts. At the time, my reasons were many, but none of them were to pursue CHRIST. Massachusetts was beautiful and though I met a lot of wonderful people, it wasn't home and it wasn't long before I longed for home. Home was in my mind, and I carried it in my heart. We need to long for heaven. We need a clear picture of "HOME" in our minds and in our hearts. "And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: Wherefore GOD is not ashamed to be called their GOD: for he hath prepared for them a city." (Heb
In Massachusetts I was mindful of Rochester, and I had opportunity to have returned. To me Rochester was like heaven, it was home. If we desire to return to the world from which GOD delivered us, being mindful of it, or rather having our minds full of it, we give GOD reason to be ashamed to be called our GOD. We need to be mindful of heaven. We need to have our minds full of heaven. The world is not our home, we are all heaven bound: if it be that CHRIST dwelleth in us. Let us therefore, not be ashamed when we arrive.
In prison, Paul did not meditate on his problems, instead, his mind was stayed on CHRIST: And as he magnified CHRIST, his problems became very small indeed. His sufferings were replaced with joy, and his testimony was an inspiration and an encouragement to those who held him prisoner. By Paul's testimony, the word of GOD was given free course. It shall not return void, but it will accomplish what GOD has sent it to do. Is it working in your life? Home IS where the heart is. Give your heart to CHRIST today.