Every day we are faced with a multitude of choices, some small and some great. We often live a binary existence, having to make choices between two alternatives. Should I marry him or not? Should I take the new job and the risks involved?
Keeping in mind that we just lived through Sanctity of Life Sunday, the most important choice we can make is a choice for life and not for death.
But when faced with the choice of living or dying, St. Paul is surprisingly conflicted. What a strange position to be in! But for St. Paul, it was not really living or dying in the body that was most important but living in Christ or not. That is the real choice in life, and everything else depends upon this one choice. The choice each lifetime, each day, each moment to live in Jesus Christ or not is always the most important thing because it will determine the goodness and holiness and joyfulness of each moment.
St. Paul makes a lot of odd statements in his letters, odd to those of us who are trying hard to follow him in a life of complete sacrifice to him. Paul says, “For me to live is Christ” (verse 21.) What a strange thing to say. It’s kind of like saying, “For me to live is Jackie” (my wife.) For me to live is the name of a person? How bizarre!
But Paul really means it. For him, life is really all about Jesus Christ living in him. Paul really believes what he teaches about Jesus Christ living in him through the Spirit, and he really believes that Jesus Christ dwells in him, and he in Christ.
For this reason, since life to Paul is all about living in and through Jesus Christ, whether Paul continues to live on earth or goes to live in heaven doesn’t make that much difference because in either case for him to live is Jesus Christ.
But then we’re faced with another strange statement of Paul’s. Not strange because it’s hard to figure out what he means but strange to think he could really believe and act on such a thing. And what Paul says is that he has made the choice to continue living on earth. Paul says this, knowing full well that he has a desire to depart this earth and to be with Christ in a closer way (verse 23.) And yet he still chooses to remain on earth.
What on earth could possess a man to choose this life instead of heaven?!
“Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith” (verses 24 and 25.) Paul makes his counterintuitive choice to remain here on the earth, in prison and chains we should remember, for the sake of the Philippians.
Paul doesn’t mention love here in this passage but this is still one of the greatest teachings on love in the Bible. For surely this is love: that a man lays down his life for another. People cling to life in this world for many reasons: to retire to the golf course; to enjoy the home and life they have created for themselves; because of fear; or because it’s all they have. But Paul chose to remain in this life because it is better for the Philippians. He chose to give up his life in heaven for a life of suffering and prison in this life – all so that he could further serve the Philippians and others.
For Paul himself, it meant more cold, damp prisons and more chains. It meant still having the thorn in his flesh, and it meant being weighed down by the cares of pastoring many churches. But Paul made that choice because it was more needful for the Philippians. He traded the good life for a more painful one so that the Philippians would have progress and joy in faith.
This is the definition of courage that I give to my children: “doing what is right when you don’t feel like doing it.” Strange, but courage is actually a lot like love. And courage is what St. Paul had in abundance.
Where else could Paul have possibly learned such courage and love and have received the grace to make such an extraordinary choice than from Jesus Christ Himself? Paul learned this courage and love from Jesus, who gave up His glory in heaven to be born of Mary, and Jesus, who gave up His life on the Cross for each of us, who taught Paul so to love.
Because for Paul to live is Christ and because through Christ he has made the choice to live a painful life for the good of the Philippians, he is able to make another extraordinary statement: “the things which have happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (verse 12.)
Putting this all together, Paul has given us a picture of the kind of life in Christ to which every Christian is called. You don’t have to be a super-apostle to be able to say that, “For me to live is Christ.” You don’t have to be thrown in prison to be able to live the love and courage of Christ in your life.
In whatever circumstances God has given you in this life, God is calling you to be like St. Paul. God is calling you to make a choice to live your life for Jesus Christ and in him. If you are living your life for Christ and making a choice to live in Him every day, then the startling news is that, whether you recognize it or not, the things which have happened to you have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.
Whether you “win” or “lose” according to human standards is of little relevance. If the choices you make today are made for the sake of Jesus Christ and out of love for Him and for others, then the things that happen to you will give glory to God and in some small way contribute to the spread of His kingdom. Nothing is wasted in Christ’s kingdom: every moment of your life is redeemable. He means every event and moment in your life to be lived in Him and for Him, and if it is, you will be blessed by His presence. The good, the bad, and the ugly, the joy and the suffering, every bit of your life is an opportunity to live for Christ and to be able to say that it happened for the furtherance of the gospel and for the glory of God.
This is why we and Paul can take such joy in this life, even in suffering, because when we can say that “to live is Christ” and when we can say that we will live our life in Christ because it is needful for others, then we have the joy of Jesus Christ because we have the presence of Jesus Christ (see verses 18 and 19.)
In all sorts of human pursuits – sports, business, games, acting – some people achieve what is called “flow.” They are “in the zone,” and for a period of time have a joyful, almost timeless, existence in the task at hand. True flow is having a never-ending supply of God’s grace and being vivified by the Holy Spirit because of your labors on behalf of Christ.
St. Paul was constantly “in the zone” because he constantly lived for Christ because Christ was his life. The amazing thing is that if you live as if to live is Christ you can be in this same zone. And if you understand that everything that has happened to you, and everything that will happen, happens for your edification and the edification of others, for the spread of God’s kingdom and the glory of God, then you too will be blessed, because you too will have the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (verse 19.)
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I ask that You would be magnified in me today and that I might learn to say that for me to live is You. Grant me Your courage and love that was manifest in St. Paul that I might choose to live my life for the progress and joy of faith in others. Help me to realize that everything that You have given me today is my daily bread that you have given for the nourishment of my soul, the good of others, and the glory of Your Name. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
1. Practice reminding yourself throughout the day that the things which happen to you today are meant to draw you closer to Jesus that you might live in and for Him.
2. Pray throughout the day today for a supply of the Spirit of Christ to be able to live in Him.
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today to choose to do what is needful for another person.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson