“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents--which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”-Philippians 1:21-30 (NASB)
I was reading this passage in Philippians before work the other day. Paul has two desires that seem to be pulling him in two directions. He says in verse 23 “I am hard pressed in both directions.” What could be such a hard decision? In verse 21 he explains “To live is Christ.” If he continues to live on this earth, he gets to continue to serve Christ on this earth. “To die is gain”. When he dies in his fleshly body, he gets to be with Christ. He explains the better decision is to depart from this earth and be with Christ. But to live on this earth is necessary at this time for the Philippian Christians sake. Paul’s desire to be with Christ is great, but he is convinced that he will remain to continue his work with the church at Philippi. He then challenges the Philippian Christians to “stand firm in one spirit and one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel” even if he was not able to make it there to see them. But what I found the best part in this whole passage is the very last two verses of the chapter.
“It was granted for Christ’s sake not only to believe in Him, but to suffer for His sake.” V29 (NASB) We as Christians, already have believed in Jesus Christ. That is the reason we are called Christians or followers of Christ. We also have been granted or permitted to suffer for His sake. What a privilege that is. Who else would call suffering a privilege? Most people would not call it a privilege. Would you call it a privilege to suffer for Christ’s sake?
Christians in America call out for justice if a Christian is held a prisoner in a foreign country. They say that is not good or just. They would even say that it is not a privilege, but that it is an atrocity. They call on man to help them bring this person out of suffering for his faith, instead of allowing God to work. Paul looks at this in a different way. The same way as we should be looking at it no matter what country we live in.
The result of suffering for Christ’s sake is this conflict that Paul has within himself. Whether to depart and be with Christ or to stay and continue in fruitful labor on this earth. We as Christians in America and in other countries don’t really understand suffering all that much. We do not look at it as the privilege that Paul looked at it as. Should this be our attitude? Should not we be experiencing the same conflict Paul is having? Of course we should. Paul even tells us this at the the end of verse 30. “experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Suffering for the sake of Christ makes this conflict become more apparent to us. It is not to say that we do not experience this conflict if we are not suffering, but suffering makes us desire, all the more, to be with Christ.
It is not easy to suffer for Christ’s sake. Paul went through a lot of suffering for Christ’s sake. (See 2 Corinthians 11:21-30). Yet Paul writes 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (NASB) Paul’s attitude is that suffering on this earth is a momentary light affliction compared to what heaven and being in Christ’s presence will be like. What an amazing thought. Our desire should be to be with Christ. Is that what we desire?
I find myself thinking about these things often. If the Lord gave me a choice to finally go home to be with Him or to stay here and continue to labor for His sake would I beg the Lord not to take me and let me continue my work here on this earth for Him or would my response be joyous that I finally get to be with Him? Indeed the greater thing would be to be with Christ. I am thankful that I do not have that choice, but that He will decide when I get to finally be with Him.
When talking to people about Africa and spending time there people often ask me why I want to go to Nigeria and put myself in danger. I could be beaten or robbed or tortured or suffer loss. When I am in Nigeria I do not feel like I am in danger and if danger comes, what do I have to fear? Christ has given me the promise that He is with me always. (Matt. 28:20) I could be scared that I would die there or that they would torture me or do other things to me, but what is the point in worrying about what someone might do to me, when there is a need to share the gospel with people and show them who Christ is. If I spend time worrying about what is going to happen to me, I have wasted time not doing what the Lord wants me to do.
With a perspective of suffering as a momentary light affliction and a privilege it makes it something that we do not have to fear or worry about. We know that Christ is with us always and that the Holy Spirit is with us. Whether it is ridicule or torture that the Lord wants us to go through, He will also give us the strength to get through it. We will not be alone through it. Let us desire to be with Christ and let us not get stuck on desiring to be here on this earth out of selfish desires, but let us desire first and foremost to serve Him while we are here for this short time. We can look forward to that day with great eagerness when we get to be with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Are you looking forward to that day?