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Anticipating Life and Death

Philippians 1:21-24
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (NIV)

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.

Dear Lord. Thank You for not giving me the right to decide my future; that secret is safest in Your hands. Please help me to realise that You have set me in this world to serve others for Your sake, and that You will continue to give me the strength to do that each day. Give me wisdom to know how to help friends and colleagues at work as they go through hard times; may I point them to the Lord Jesus and seek their blessing in His Name. Amen
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© Dr Paul Adams