Anticipating Life and Death
Persecution brings a mixture of thoughts about the future. Suffering's worst fear is that everything will be lost at death, and its worst delusion is that nothing in life is worthwhile any more. The Apostle Paul robustly contradicts both. He says that for the follower of Jesus, it is a win-win situation: until death we have the constant presence, provision and protection of Christ; and after death there is so much more of Him, and all the glory to come. Before our life is taken, we are here to work for the Lord, and even when death ends that period of ministry, our life with Christ can never be taken away.
If Paul had to make a choice for himself about living or dying a martyr (and none of us can, because neither we nor others have been given the right to decide our lifespan: our times are in God's hands - see Ps 31:15) he is almost unable to decide. Both this life and the afterlife are wonderful privileges for those who follow Jesus. But Paul knows that he is not the only person involved. Others depend on him. God had given Paul the responsibility to preach the gospel and build up the churches; and he had no evidence that the job had been completed. So, he concluded that it was better to stay and serve.
Hard times often encourage us to hope for a way out of the uncertainty for our own sakes. Although it is not wrong to seek God's blessings for ourselves, we are not just here for ourselves. Paul is clear about his obligation to serve others for the Lord's sake. Service for Christ will bring suffering in some way or another, but that is no reason to shrink back: Jesus didn't (cf Heb 12:2-3). So we may well need these verses to strengthen our resolve; or to help others who need the steadying effect of God's Word, when they feel tossed about by their circumstances.
© Dr Paul Adams