Life and Living…
Life and Living…
Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In John 5:24 he says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” The Apostle John expands on this idea in I John 3:14 when he writes: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brothers and the sisters.” Finally in John 17:3 Jesus says, “this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” All of this means, as I have written before, that believers in Christ have eternal life now. It will never end. Death cannot cause it to end!
Many people in our culture are very afraid of death. I talked recently to a Christian healthcare professional who shared that even when all the medical options have been exhausted, some patients want to stay in the hospital and keep attacking the disease—rather than to have palliative care and die. The American thing, the “thing” even for some American Christians, seems often to be to extend life as long as possible—even if the quality of that life becomes very bad. I am often struck by how differently the apostle Paul thought. Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. In that letter he wrote “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21.) He went on: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Philippians 1:22-24.
Paul was so sure of his bright future in Christ that from a selfish perspective, he preferred to die and be with Christ immediately. But he was “torn” and “hard pressed” between living and dying because he knew that by living he could continue his “fruitful labor.” He knew that by staying longer with those to whom he was writing he could increase their “joy” and “progress” in the faith. (v.25) He knew that his staying with them longer would have the effect of increasing their “boasting” in Christ. (v.26) Boasting in Christ is a concept that is fairly foreign to us, but what it really means is that a person is so focused on Christ that Christ is where their exuberant joy comes from. So here is the irony: Paul is so Christ-focused that Jesus Christ is where his exuberance comes from, and so naturally he would rather die and go be with Christ. Yet in order to help other people get to that same place -- where their exuberance comes from Jesus--he prefers to stay here and proclaim the good news!
This is different from the main paths people choose in our culture. On the one hand many people are “lovers of the world;” they just want to stay here as long as possible, especially if they are unsure of any future beyond death. A second path is that sometimes when we are in the midst of life’s trials and pains, some believers, like Paul, want to go be with Christ because that is “far better.” Despite this, in Philippians, Paul shows that he is in a third and different place: He wants to go be with Christ, but because he wants more people on earth to know Christ and to know him more deeply, for the present he wants to remain in this life.
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column first appears in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.