Summary: Although Paul desired to be in the Lord's presence, he knew it was more needful to remain for the church. He was determined to glorify Christ in life or death. We too need to remain committed and faithful to the work the Lord given us.
Torn between Two
Following his passionate discourse regarding the preaching of the Gospel, Paul continues to bear his heart unto the church at Philippi. Here we find those often quoted verses that reveal Paul being in a strait, betwixt two – having a burning desire to depart and be with Christ, and yet knowing he must finish the work he had received of the Lord. He was willing to lay aside the passion of his heart in order to be of further benefit to the church.
The great 1800s Scottish preacher Alexander MacLaren said: "Many of us cling to life with a desperate clutch, like some poor wretch pushed over a precipice and trying to dig his nails into the rock as he falls. Some of us cling to it because we dread what is beyond, and our longing to live is the measure of our dread to die. But Paul did not look forward to a thick darkness of judgment, or to nothingness. He saw in the darkness a great light, the light in the windows of his Father’s house, and yet he turned willingly away to his toil in the field, and was more than content to drudge on as long as he could do anything by his work. Blessed are they who share his desire to depart, and his victorious willingness to stay here and labour! They shall find that such a life in the flesh, too, is being with Christ. He is no more in a strait betwixt two, or unwitting what he shall choose. He chooses nothing, but accepts the appointment of a higher wisdom. There is rest for him, as for us, in ceasing from our own wishes, and laying our wills silent and passive at His feet." i
As difficult as this may be, we too need to develop the attitude of Paul, having a genuine desire to meet the Lord, and yet remain committed to the work we’ve been given until the Lord calls us home. I want to be found faithful when He calls for me. As we examine the admissions of Paul within the text, I want to consider the thought: Torn between Two.
I. The Discipline of Paul (19-21) – Here we discover the great spiritual discipline Paul possessed. Consider:
A. His Assurance (19) – For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This thought is actually tied to the previous verses. Paul refers to the preaching of the Gospel and the joy it brings. Lest there be any confusion, Paul does not refer to their prayer being the source of his spiritual salvation, but rather the source of his well-being and possibly his release from prison. Their prayers for him and those who shared the Gospel, along with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, offered great assurance to Paul as he dealt with the struggles of his bondage.
As we walk this journey of life, seeking to serve the Lord, there is great assurance for us as well. We are commissioned to share the good news of Jesus Christ, aided by the prayers of the saints and the help of the Spirit. This provides great comfort and assurance for the believer.
B. His Anticipation (20a) – According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed. Bear in mind Paul is imprisoned in Rome for preaching the Gospel. There are those who sought to destroy his life and mar his reputation. Some sought to add to his suffering by any means possible. Although he was faced with extreme difficulty, Paul remained hopeful and confident. He refused to allow his bonds to bring shame. He possessed a confident expectation and hope that refused to be deterred. Paul knew he had not labored in vain. He would gladly suffer bonds and reproach for the cause of Christ. While he may have lost his physical freedoms, countless souls had been freed from the bondage of sin. Others were preaching the Gospel and the body of Christ was growing! Even though his current situation left much to be desired, Paul maintained a confident and hopeful expectation in Christ.
It would be easy to overlook this profound truth disclosed along with the following verses, but we need to pay close attention to the words of Paul here. Life is filled with adversity and pain. Serving the Lord is never without opposition or personal cost. The enemy would love for us to come to the conclusion that our efforts are not worth the gains, but that is a lie to be rejected. Regardless of what this world believes, there is no shame in serving Christ our Lord. The Gospel remains relevant today and the Lord continues to save. We must continue to share the Truth with confident expectation in the Lord.