Summary: Paul, Pt. 17
FACE UP TO LIFE AND DEATH (PHILIPPIANS 1:20-26)
A man was out of town on a trip and he asked his brother to take care of his cat for him while he was away. The cat was a beautiful Siamese and meant a great deal to the man, although the brother who was caring for the cat didn’t like cats at all. When he got back from the trip he called his brother’s house and asked about his cat. The brother was very curt, and replied, “Your cat died.” And then he hung up.
For days the man was inconsolable. Finally, he phoned his brother again to point out, “It was needlessly cruel and sadistic of you to tell me so bluntly that my poor cat had passed away.” The brother demanded, “Well, what did you expect me to do?” He said, “Well, you could have broken the bad news to me gradually. First, you could have said the cat was playing on the roof. Later you could have called to say he fell off. The next morning you could have reported he had broken his leg. Then, when I came to get him, you could have told me he had passed away during the night. But you didn’t have it in you to be that civilized. Now tell me- how’s Mama?”
The brother pondered momentarily, then announced, “She’s playing on the roof.”
There is no good way to talk about death. The aged avoids it. The ailing shuns it. The Chinese deems it taboo and bad luck to discuss one’s death and burial. Five times lashed forty minus one times, three times beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked (2 Cor 11:24-25), Paul regards himself as facing death all day long (Rom 8:36) and dying every day (1 Corinthians 15:31), so the presently imprisoned Paul has no such qualms or problem staring death straight in the face in the book of Philippians.
Why is contemplating and confronting one’s death a reality and not a risk? What life is there after death? How are we to live in view and in light of eternity?
There is Only Sanctuary and No Shame in Death
20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Phil 1:20)
I remember how troubled I was after attending the funeral of an old lady who used to be my visitation partner for many years in a two-person team at a former church. Her brother and sister-in-law were deacons at the church. When I heard she had cancer some years after I left, I visited her at the nursing home, talking about old times and her grandkids, her favorite topic. Her physical condition was not what it was previously, but her energy level was still fantastic.
The family was surprised at my attendance at the funeral, and asked me to say the closing prayer, which brought tears to my eyes. After the funeral was over and well wishes were said, the deceased’s daughter-in-law came up to me and told me her mother-in-law had actually saw me on another occasion in a restaurant when her condition was deteriorating, but she avoided meeting me and did not want me to see her in her worsening health and appearance at that time. What saddened me was that she was fine with entering a restaurant full of strangers but not entertaining an old friend. That’s the power of shame. It deflates, chokes and kills one’s sense of self, relationships with others and, possibly, perception of God.
In verse 20 Paul speaks with confidence and certainty on the subject of his fate and his future. The Greek noun for “eagerly expect” (apo-kara-dokia) means “intense anticipation.” Its literal meaning is stretching one’s head. The only other time this word is used in the Bible alludes to the creation waiting in “eager expectation” for the redemption of man (Rom 8:19). Biblical “hope” (v 20) is not wishful thinking, but confident assurance in God’s wisdom, His word and work. However, there are only two crucial verbs in verse 20, and they are not NIV’s “expect” or “hope,” which are simply nouns in Greek.
The first verb is “be ashamed.” One of the believer’s greatest fears is to discredit, disgrace, dishonor and even deny the Lord in the event and in the wake of intense persecution or pain, especially in death and dying. This word and sense of indignity, inferiority, irrelevance, incapacitation and incompetence is best epitomized by the unjust steward in Jesus’ parable who said to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ASHAMED to beg.” (Luke 16:3) Paul’s experience tells us otherwise. Four times in the chapter Paul reminds believers in Philippi that he is in chains (Phil 1:7, 13, 14, 17) and he knows firsthand that the fear of death and dying is scarier than its fact. The apostle Paul is positive and convinced that not only will he not be ashamed, he will not be ashamed “in nothing,” in Greek. The epistles use this word (aischunomai) four times, each instance accompanied by the word “no” or “not” (2 Cor 10:8, Phil 1:20, 1 Peter 4:16, 1 John 2:28). Paul’s stretched head, strong heart and steadfast hope are supported by Peter and John in their letters. 1 Peter 4:16 says, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” and 1 John 2:28, “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”