“Rejoice in the Lord always.
Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4)
A WIN — WIN SITUATION
(TO LIVE IS CHRIST! TO DIE IS GAIN!)
The prisoner Paul was in a quandary. If the choice was his, would he choose to remain in the body on earth, or would he rather depart to be with Christ in heaven? To depart and be with Christ was far better for him personally. To remain, however, was more needful for the spiritual growth of the Philippians and the other recent converts to Christianity.
But the choice was not his–it was the Lord’s. Paul understood this, and he was completely satisfied with either option. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul longed to see his Savior face to face. His citizenship was in heaven. How eagerly he waited for His Savior to take him home. But whatever God’s plan for Paul, he joyfully asserted, “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”
What is our attitude in all this? We too long to say good-by to this
world with all its hurts and disappointments. There are days when our hearts may cry out, “O dear Jesus, take me home! I can’t take it anymore. I can’t go on living with all this pain and turmoil.” We want to be with Jesus. There are even days when we don’t want to stay in
this world one moment longer!
Look carefully at the preceding paragraph. Does it express the same desire of Paul? Not quite. Remember, Paul was content either way. For him it was a win-win situation. Whether he remained or departed, he was well satisfied.
Truly we are pilgrims who rightly long for a better country. But the desire to die may actually be reflective of a selfish and impatient heart, which simply wants to escape its God-given responsibilities. Paul invites us to see that, while there is surely tremendous joy in departing, there is also real joy in remaining.
The Joy Of Our Salvation
Isn’t this one of the areas in which we so often fail? We often fail to find joy in serving Christ. Pastors can easily find themselves complaining about their work. (No one seems to take my sermons to heart!) Parishioners can become disheartened when only they and a few others volunteer for work around the church. Christians in general can become downhearted when everybody and everything seems against them.
Someone once said something to the effect that too many Christians look at serving Christ as a penalty they have to pay before they get to heaven. Is that the way we sometimes think? Do we forget the words of Paul the prisoner: “Rejoice in the LORD always, and
again I say rejoice”?
When we lack joy in serving Christ, we need His Spirit to speak to our hearts. The Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament, shows us Jesus’ cross and empty tomb, thus restoring to us the joy of salvation. Through the same Means of Grace, the Spirit convinces us that there is no higher privilege than serving Christ in the great cause of rescuing lost souls.
What we do for Christ here in time has eternal value. Working for Him in His kingdom gives our lives meaning way beyond anything else. What greater joy could there be than serving the One Who would not even spare His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all?
The hymnist caught the joy of the prisoner Paul. May we catch it too:
Oh, let thy life be given,
Thy years for Me be spent,
World's fetters all be riven,
And joy with suffering blent!
I gave Myself for thee:
Give thou thyself to Me. (TLH #405)
–Pastor Michael Wilke