Thanks for joining me for our on Philippians on Fridays Devotion. Today we’re dissecting a fascinating passage: Chapter 1 and verses 22-26.
Phil 1:22-26 – (NIV) – 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 joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.
What an interesting passage of scripture! Paul is in a dilemma of sorts. He is describing to the Philippians an internal conflict. Should I go or should I stay? His conundrum is not about whether to stay in prison or be released – that would be an easy choice! He is thinking about heaven. He is weighing out the pros and cons of staying here or going on to be with the Lord.
He said to the Philippians, if I go, it would be better for me! I’ll be with Christ. I will receive my reward – my crown of righteousness. If I go, I will no longer struggle in this dark prison cell, chained to a wall. But if I stay, I will have more opportunities to preach the Gospel. If I stay, it will be better for you!
22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. (KJV)
Paul ponders, “What shall I choose?” It’s interesting that Paul feels he has a say in the matter. What does that mean? I don’t, for a second, believe it meant Paul was contemplating or condoning suicide. Paul’s entire ministry was characterized by the notion that he was “not his own, but was bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). He both practiced and preached that God is control of our lives and we are submitted completely to His will and purpose. Committing suicide would go against the very core of Paul’s ministry philosophy (as well as an overwhelming amount of scripture).
Paul is obviously not speaking of taking his own life, so we can only infer from his comment that God – who is the only rightful author and finisher of life – was interested in Paul’s feelings on the matter.
I believe Paul had such a close relationship with God that God actually gave Paul the option. It was as though God was asking, “Paul, do you want to come home or do you want to stay?” Could it be that someone can have such a relationship with God that He would honor the person’s desire in something as significant as this?
Remember what God said about Abraham (the man who was called the “friend of God”):
Gen 18:17-18 – And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? (KJV)
Wow! God said, what do you think about this, Abraham? God asked for Abraham’s thoughts on the matter of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Joy comes from the selfless attitude of serving others and placing the will of God above our own.
Paul had already been “caught up to the third heaven,” had visions and revelations of God, and heard things during those spiritual experiences that he was not even permitted to share. So I don’t think it is strange that Paul walked so close to God that God was actually giving Paul a choice: remain in the body or be called home.
23-24: For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
Paul is torn because, to be with Christ is better for him, but to be in the flesh is better for the Philippians! For Paul, death was a much better alternative than life. What is better than heaven? Christ has gone away to prepare a place for us – what is better than experiencing that heavenly place? Heaven is what we all yearn for!
But Paul knows the young Philippian church still needs his ministry and encouragement. And so after considering the matter he says,
“…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 joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” (NIV)
Once again, Paul shows us the secret to a joy and peace that transcends adversity and suffering. Paul is in prison. He is tired, weary, and battle-worn. The thought of heaven is tempting, yet he still focuses on the needs of the Philippians – he’s thinking of what is best for others! Joy comes from the selfless attitude of serving others and placing the will of God above our own.
We should all lift our eyes to contemplate the joys of heaven. But when we see them, we must also turn back to see those who still need Jesus. When I think of my eternal reward, I must also think about the unfinished Father’s Business. How can I only contemplate my own reward? What about all the others who still need to hear the message?
It’s not time to go home yet! Why doesn’t God just take us all home now? It would be better for us. But it would not be better for the world. The Great Commission is not yet complete.
Yes, there will be great joy in heaven – but we also find great joy here, when our own desires and personal comfort comes secondary to our Lord’s Work.
Until Next Friday,