Summary: My dorm mate used to say, "Are you living, or are you dying?" His saying brings up a point. What is living? As Paul sits in a dark, dank, depressing prison cell, he gives us and the Philippians an answer.
Are you living, or are you dying? One of my dormmates, Josh, would tell me that all the time. He would say that to encourage me to get out of my room, to stop studying, and to go have some fun, which, in his definition, would be living. Then what is dying? Well, that is what I was doing, and good at doing, that is, sitting in my room, studying and doing homework assignments. Later in the year, as I would study with my dorm room door open, he would just walk past, look in, see me with a book, shake his head, and say, “You’re dying, you’re dying,” and then walk away. I heard this multiple times a day for over thirty weeks. While he wanted me to get out of my room by playfully teasing me, his saying brings up a good point: what is living? As Paul sits in prison, chained to a royal guard, he gives us an answer. He tells us what it means to live.
As Paul tells us his answer, it is helpful to know the context of which he finds himself in. As Paul pens the letter to the Philippians, he is imprisoned, and has been for years now. After he returned from his third missionary journey, he went to Jerusalem. While he was there, he was falsely accused by the Jews of preaching against the Laws of Moses and for defiling the temple by bringing a Gentile into a forbidden part. He was arrested for this. He has been brought before numerous governors and leaders to plead his case and innocence. As he waits for these opportunities, he sits in jail. Just like today, the legal process can be quite slow. I guess somethings don’t change with time. The apostle used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal before the Emperor himself. He wants to go to Rome to appeal and witness to the Emperor. But in the meantime, as Paul waits for this opportunity, he is imprisoned and on house arrest in Rome. He is uncertain of what will happen to him.
As Paul begins his letter, he gives the Philippians an update and some encouragement. He tells them that God is working through his imprisonment. He says that the Gospel is being advanced to people that would not have heard it without this circumstance, which was the royal guard, and Caesar’s household. These guards would have been shackled to Paul all day long. What do you think would happen being shackled next to a pastor? You’re gonna hear about Jesus, or he will at least talk your ear off.
The apostle also says that his imprisonment is a source of encouragement for others to witness and speak about Jesus. Since Paul is not discouraged by his status, it has encouraged the faith and actions of others. It gave them the confidence and boldness that they needed to proclaim Jesus to a hostile world.
I remember asking a friend who was finishing up his doctorate about what is he going to do now that his degree is almost finished. He said that he was going to go back to his home country in Africa and most likely be martyred like his brother. He said he was still going to proclaim Jesus even though this would be his fate. His faith, determination, and bravery amazed and encouraged me. It is the same here with Paul.
It is in this context that Paul gives us his answer. He is chained to a guard, not out in the world. He cannot enjoy the pleasures of this life and has no freedom. Is this really living? Can Paul really speak about this as he is under arrest? Are you living, or are you dying, Paul? The apostle says, “I am living!”
For the apostle, life and living is Jesus. He says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Jesus is the apostle’s life! The Lord was the beginning of his faith life on that fateful Damascus road encounter where Jesus appeared to Saul. The Lord was also the continuing of his life. There was never a day in which Paul didn’t live in His presence. There was never a day that the Lord wasn’t with him. The Lord will also be the end of his life. With each passing second, Paul was one second, one step closer to being with his Lord. Jesus was the inspiration of his life, and what dominated his thoughts and actions. The Lord gave him a meaning for life, which was to preach and be an apostle. He was also the strength for his life. Christ’s all-sufficient grace was made perfect in Paul’s weaknesses. For Paul, no Jesus equaled no life. Christ was nothing less than life itself. His circumstances had no bearing on this. Paul is not dying, but he is living, and living to the fullest.