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 labor 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. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verses 21-26)
It seems Paul was given a very interesting choice in his present imprisonment. He had the choice of this being his end, his last hurrah, his departure from the body and the transport of his soul into the presence of Jesus Christ. Or he could choose to be released from prison and return to ministry with his churches. From the standpoint of sheer release from the failures of this body and this soul and personal face to face fellowship with the risen Lord Jesus, there was no question that death would be preferred. So why would God give Paul, as we assume He must have, such a choice?
I would venture to say that being given such a choice is rare. At least, I have never heard of anyone I knew being given the option by God of dying or staying alive. I don’t see this chronicled much in Scripture either. So I am not expecting that I will be given this choice. But what is more important than this is our seeing the basis on which Paul made his choice.
Pure and simple, Paul believed that the Philippians needed him to stay and minister to them. Their progress and joy in the faith was at stake. It would likely mean more suffering for Paul, more work, more disappointment, and, of course, a longer absence from face time with Jesus. But Paul’s life was, as ours should be, lived not for his own sake but for the sake of others.
And that is why we’re still here and able to read this blog article. God has others for us to live for. God has plans to teach us how to love those around us more than we love ourselves. If what we’re living for is a comfortable retirement, we’ve missed the purpose of living.
I have a friend who is dying in the hospital. When I see him he is fine with talking about his illness or my doing his funeral. But what he most wants to talk about is how much he loves me and other people in his life. With his last energy his life is about blessing others. He’s patting my hand as if offering me comfort. He’s modeling the purpose for living.
So if our purpose for being here is to serve others with the love of Jesus, that should mean that we are being more bold about telling lost souls about the rescue available in Christ, that we are making decisions that are for the benefit of our children above our own benefit, that we are sacrificing ourselves for our spouses, that we are healing influences in our churches, that we are praying for and making a difference in our communities.
To be sure, this is not to be mistaken with being a people pleaser. It is not always the case that what the recipient of our love gets from us is what they want. But it will always be what they need. Why are you still here?
For further reading:
Other articles by Thimblefullof theology on helping others.