(Please note!! The following is twoarticles back to back for you. Just above is the original title I used when sending this particular article out in an email in September 2010. I wanted to feature them back to back here for your reading and edification.They do correspond quite a bit. I hope this helps you. God bless you!)
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:21-24).
I have to cover this ground once again. It is so important. Because in verse 21 we have one of the greatest verses in all the Bible. As a model for us to aspire to, it is lofty indeed. That verse was not just meant for Paul, but all of us believers. Practically everybody in this world is living for something; or somebody. Some are living to accumulate wealth. Some for worldly fame. Some for their family. Some for their country. Some just for sin and gross immorality. In other words, there is usually something that is most important in a person’s life. Something, or somebody they will live for, and perhaps die for. That something can be the key to how we live our lives.
When Paul was known as Saul of Taursus, the major thing in his life seems to have been his religion. Saul was a Pharisee. Not only a Pharisee, but a “Pharisee of the Pharisees”. He was among the strictest of a very strict religion indeed. He was trained by Gamaliel, known as one of the greatest rabbis among the Jews. Although he was born in Tarsus in Cilicia, a colony of Rome in what is now Turkey, Saul was born into a Jewish family. No doubt this is why he wound up studying in Jerusalem with Gamaliel. It was the best place for a devout Jew to study. Saul’s exceptional mind, and zeal made him ideally suited to be a warrior for his faith, searching out any corrupting influences and pursuing them with a vengeance. In my study about him, I would say that Saul lived for his religion. It’s not hard to see that. He could likely say “For to me to live is the Jew’s religion”. He was a zealot. That is why he was on the Damascus road with official documents from Jerusalem to capture any who were of “the way”.
Of course, most of you know the story, how that Jesus Christ Himself called out “Saul, Saul why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4) He stopped Saul in his tracks, brought him low on the ground, temporarily blinded him, and caused him to cry out “Who art thou Lord?”The Lord said in reply “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 9:5). Because he was not a believer, Saul probably did not know he was persecuting Christ. He was after people of this “cult” which taught what he felt was false teaching. But, when you persecute Christ’s own sheep, you persecute Him. Saul believed in his heart that he was right in following his religion. On that road, it only took Christ a few seconds to show Saul how wrong he was, and change his life forever, and later his name. He was no longer known as Saul (a proud name), but Paul, which means a little man. After conversion he was no longer a proud man, but a humble man.
By the time Paul wrote the Philippian letter, he was a seasoned Christian. Now he was the one being persecuted-- for his Christian faith. He was in a Roman prison when he wrote the Philippian letter. The change was so complete. Now Paul knew what was worth living for, and what was even worth dying for. Now he could say “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Christ was the “pearl of great price”. He is the only thing worth living for, and dying for. Our verse shows us a dilemma. Paul was anxious to go and be with his Lord, yet he knew that the Christians in the assemblies yet needed him as a leader. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says in Joy Way (his commentary on Philippians one and two), that if the English Christians in the late1940s really applied verse 21 to themselves, great things would happen. Surely in our day as well! He quotes Count Zinzendorf, the Moravian leader who was such an influence on John Wesley. Zinzendorf stated as his motto “I have one passion, it is He and He alone. To me living is Christ”. Lloyd-Jones said “Oh that we all may have this passion! I believe we could transform our land in a day. I believe a great revival would come if only we had this passion. He and He alone!”
Zinzendorf and some others had this passion, even though they were not converted in exactly the same manner as Paul. Paul never got over his experience with Christ and followed His Lord to the end of his earthly life. That is why he says in verse 23 “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:” For Paul, that would be graduation. Death would be the greatest thing that could happen to him. But, I have found in studying the prayers of Paul that he mostly prayed for others. His biggest concern and care was for the church of Jesus Christ. Many of the individual assemblies he helped get started. He loved them as his children. So he did not want to go if it would be better for them if he stayed a while longer. So he could say“Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:24). He wanted to go--but when Christ was ready for him to depart.
We know from the Bible, and secular history that Paul stayed around a bit longer. Evidence indicates that this Roman imprisonment was his first of two. In 2 Timothy, we see his earthly chapter winding up when he said “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
I have pondered these verses a lot lately. I have said that my key verse in life is“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Not a bad verse either. John the Baptist said it. Really something to live up to. But perhaps more lofty is Paul’s verse here. What if we could all say truthfully “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. Dear friends, how I would desire to live that verse. To see us prove Lloyd-Jones right. Live that verse, and see a sweeping revival in a flash. What if Zinzendorf was right--a nation transformed in a day! It will only happen when we see Christ as Paul did and can forsake all to follow Him.
Published by Charles Woodruff- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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"He must increase, I must decrease" (John 3:30). My name is Charles Woodruff. I am 74 years old, and my desire is to serve God the rest of my days, preaching the old evangelical gospel that Paul and Peter preached, that Calvin preached, that Whitefield preached, that Spurgeon preached, and that Isaac Watts wrote about in his hymns. You are welcome! I hope you like our blogs.Your comments are also welcome. Please feel free to comment.
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