Summary: How do we balance our own pursuit of meaning and happiness with the call to live as Kingdom people? What role does suffering have in the Christian life and why in the world are we called not only to believe in Jesus but to suffer for him? A little bait an
This dates me, I know, but I can sometimes relate to Charlie Brown in the Peanuts cartoons. Like the one where Lucy is philosophizing and Charlie is listening. As usual, Lucy has the floor, delivering one of her lectures.
She says, "Charlie Brown, life is a lot like a deck chair. Some place it so they can see where they’re going. Others place it to see where they’ve been.
And some so they can see where they are at the present." Charlie Brown sighs and says, "I can’t even get mine unfolded."
Have you ever come up face to face with a dilemma? Have you ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? Or in a situation where you were genuinely conflicted which way to go?
Most of us at some point in our lives have hit that point when we just have to make a determination which way we are to go. [PPT]
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this type of struggle. Paul had committed his life to serving Jesus and to sharing Jesus with as many people as he could.
Paul was driven by vision – first it was the vision that transformed his life on the road to Damascus, when God changed his name from Saul to Paul.
He had been travelling to Damascus to continue his pursuit of what at that point in his life he considered to be the awful heretical group known as The Way. That was the name of the church in its infancy, actually.
The risen Jesus appeared to Saul and asked Saul why he was persecuting Him. That led to a series of events that transformed Saul from a self-righteous Pharisee to the pastor and apostle he is known to the world as.
And here in this passage Paul is reflecting on the numerous struggles he has faced. He has more than once stared death in the face. In 2 Corinthians Paul elaborates for us the kinds of trials he has faced:
2 Corinthians 11:24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
So Paul is a guy who’s known a lot of pressure. He’s been in situations where his own mortality was really up for grabs in the moment. He’s thought a lot about living and a lot about dying.
He’s reflected on how rich and full his life in Jesus has been, how blessed he has been to be alive and to have been saved, and to have been given a calling in life, a vision – for Paul it was the calling of an apostle.
He has thought about the sheer beauty of living now for Jesus…and he’s done it a lot.
Paul has also thought about dying. He writes a fair bit about heaven, but it’s clear that when Paul speaks of heaven, his focus is the chief tenant of heaven. His focus is on God.
And so Paul writes in our passage today these powerful words: [PPT] 21 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. What is Paul trying to convey here?
Well, he actually unpacks what he means for us. And as he unpacks it he thinks in terms of pretty practical considerations. Now whether Paul lives or dies, of course, is not up to him. This has nothing to do with a person ending their own life, in case you’re wondering.
Paul says “to live is Christ”, and he sees the value of remaining alive in his service to others. If he is granted more time to live, it will mean fruitful labour. Time well spent. Not time consumed on himself, but time lived on earth in God’s service to other people.
I was talking to my son the other day about people being happy. He was interested in what makes people happy, and especially in why so many people are unhappy. I shared with him that the difference between happy and unhappy people tends to be their focus.
Those who plan and scheme and live in order to position themselves to be happy, to get all that they want, those people always seem to end up miserable, whether or not they get what they want. If we focus on ourselves, we lose track of what God wants.