Summary: Truly living is to have Jesus First in order to shape and form our emotional perspective on death, for ourselves, and for those we love.
To Live Is…
October 3, 2010 Phil 1:18b-26
How would you finish this sentence: “to live is…”? Take a few moments to think about that – in your experience and from your perspective, what does it mean to “live”?
Our answers might include the physical: “to live is to have a heart that beats and a brain that functions…”
It might include the emotional: “to live is to feel joy or pain, to really feel alive…”
It might include the intellectual: “to live is to be engaged in a purpose or a problem, trying to figure something out…”
It might include the active: “to live is to do things of value, hands-on, important, productive…”
And it might even include the idea of love: “to live is to love”.
I think most of us would want to include at least several if not all of these in our response to the question, “what does it mean to live?”. Our emphasis will reflect our personality and the way we are made spiritually. In general, we see true living as more than “existing”, we see it as purposeful, intense, experiential, and engaging. We often equate it with the “highs” of life – like “the days my kids were born were the days I really felt alive”, or “that time I knew with all my being that Jesus was real and close and my sins were forgiven and I was accepted, that was living”. And in my experience with people, it isn’t limited to the “good” times of life, but rather the “significant” times of life even when those are really hard. The moments when things really matter. Our passage of Scripture in Philippians causes us to ask the question that follows the one I posed first: are we really alive?
Our fall study of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi continues this morning in verse 18. Remember Paul is writing from prison to his friends, who are deeply concerned about how Paul is doing as he sits in a Roman jail, very possibly facing death if he is convicted of the charges against him. We saw last week Paul expressing that he really only cares about the message of Jesus getting out to people who don’t yet know, and we heard Paul talk about rejoicing wherever and however the message is being spread. We pick it up in the middle of verse 18, where I believe Paul starts a new paragraph continuing to share honestly and emotionally about how he is doing and what he is going through and how he is understanding and perceiving his life.
Phil 1:18b-26 (NLT):
And I will continue to rejoice. 19 For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. 20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.
25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. 26 And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.
At first glance, we might think that Paul is talking about a choice between life and death. But that would be mis-reading what Paul understands about death, which he sees here in terms of death’s function as carrying us from this present life into a greater, eternal life. I don’t want to dive deeply into Paul’s whole understanding of death, as an attempt for evil which God has (in Jesus) defeated and now turned to good, for the sake of time, but I do want us to see clearly in our passage that Paul’s choice is really between life here on earth, and the life-after-death where we believe that Christians will be bodily resurrected to a new, eternal, perfected life. The choice is not life or death, it is life or more life. That is Paul’s struggle.
It is a little difficult to see in our English translation, and since I don’t know or read Greek I’ll have to trust my commentators who report that the way this is written is intensely emotional, it is Paul pouring out his heart, it is not a well-thought through and carefully composed argument, it is passionate and real and the tension and conflict is raw and on the surface. We see a bit of that when we read, “I really don’t know which is better… I’m torn…”