Have you ever had to wait for something that you had no clue what the outcome would be? Maybe it was test results or whether or not you were going to get into the school of your dreams. Or maybe it was waiting to hear back if that pregnancy test you took was accurate and depending on the result your life would be changed forever.
The fact is this… Paul is waiting.
He is in prison writing to the Philippians and we believe that he is waiting to stand trail before authorities. Maybe it was the local government he would stand before or maybe, just maybe he would stand before Caesar himself. Either way Paul’s life is in the balance. He does not know if he will be let go or if he will loose his life because of his passionate pursuit of advancing the gospel. He knows that there is a reasonable chance that the authorities will decide it’s time to execute him.
This reality shapes the way we interpret what Paul is saying. Not only is he rejoicing that the gospel is being preached, even at times with bad motives, but Paul is also torn.
Paul says in verse 21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Gerald Hawthorn comments on this verse and says, “Life is filled up with, occupied with, Christ, in the sense that everything Paul does – trust, loves, hopes, obeys, preaches, follows, and so on – is inspired by Christ and done for Christ. Christ, and Christ alone, give inspiration, direction, meaning, and purpose to existence.”
As you continue to read you see that Paul leaves us as the church thousands of years later in this tension.
Here’s how he sums it up:
First, he desires to depart and be with Christ, which is better. “To depart” is the imagery in the first century of the military breaking camp and moving on. Paul is ready to go and be with the king because to Paul death is not the end of the story but the beginning. He also wants the Philippians to know that if they receive a note on his death that he was quite happy about it and ready for it.
Second, he is torn because he knows that it is also important for him to remain in this current age for the progress of the church for their joy in faith. In his bones Paul knows that there is more work for him to do in this present age. He knows and is passionate about the fact that he is to help advance the gospel and participate in kingdom life in the here and now.
Do you see it? Everything to Paul is about the king and his kingdom. He desires to go and be with the king and yet at the same time knows that his mission in the current age is not finished.
What about you? What about us? Are we so kingdom minded that we live in this tension?
For many of us this stirs up our imaginations as to how much we love our lives here in this present age. To be honest, there is nothing wrong with that. But do we love it so much that we forget the king and his kingdom?
You see, tension is healthy and this is what we learn from Paul. Disciples of Jesus are people who live in tension. In a sense we are torn in two. We long to be with the king, yet at the same time we have lots of work to do here as the church for the gospel.