If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. ~Philippians 1:22-26
Paul knew that his ministry work was dangerous (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). He had been beaten, stoned, left for dead, lowered out of a city in a basket, and imprisoned. He knew the next day of his life was not guaranteed, nor the next breath.
Paul longed to be with Jesus, so he did not fear death. He even told the church at Philippi that death was better because then he could be face-to-face with his Savior. This was not some suicide wish. This was not Paul depressed. Rather, this was Paul grasping tight to the realities of faith. If given a choice, he would gladly receive the glories of eternity over the sufferings of this world.
But he also knew it wasn’t up to him. He would have known what David said in Psalm 139:16—it is God who numbers our days. So, Paul left life and death in the hands of the Father and decided on another course. As long as he had breath, his work on earth was not yet complete. He desired to be with Jesus, but he saw necessity in remaining on in the world.
Paul was a servant of Jesus and therefore a servant to Jesus’ churches, and his desire was for their “progress and joy in the faith.” When he made the statement in 1:21, “To live is Christ,” this was an other-focused statement. This was a declaration to love God supremely and love others deeply. Loving others deeply meant seeing them grow in Christ.
Our culture and context might look different, but our task is not removed from Paul’s. Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” applies to all of his disciples, everyone who follows him in faith. To make disciples is to love others enough to show them Jesus, call them to follow Jesus, and then work for the progress and joy in the faith for all who answer that call.
As we wait for that better day when we get to see Jesus face-to-face, the better choice is not to sit back in an unengaged-with-people longing to escape this world. Rather, the better choice is to give ourselves to help others progress as Paul did.
New posts from this devotional series in Philippians will run most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.