In our last devotion we noted Paul was rejoicing as he witnessed God’s grace at work in the spreading of the gospel. In vs 18b-26, we see Paul rejoicing in God’s future deliverance – Paul states “I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”
Being stuck in a prison cell wouldn’t be a particularly great experience – even if you knew when your release date was. But at least knowing when the ordeal is set to be over would give you something to look forward to. However, it seems apparent from the verses that follow that Paul didn’t have a clear indication of what was going to happen to him. He didn’t know when his ordeal would be over or what would be his outcome. You can see this in vs 20ff – how he swings between two possible outcomes: life or death (vs 20, 21), remaining or departing (vs 23, 24). And yet despite this lack of insight to his future – Paul rejoices in the sure knowledge that he will be ‘delivered’ (lit. ‘saved’ – vs 19).
I think Paul is ambiguous about his deliverance on purpose, allowing for the fact that he doesn’t know specifically what will transpire. And yet, Paul rejoices despite this lack of future clarity – marvelling in the wonderful Christian hope of salvation. Namely, for every Christian, come what may our God is always working for our good and our salvation – whether in life or in death.
This is what those famous words of verse vs 20-21 point us to: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will … have sufficient courage so that … Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This is at the heart of what makes Paul tick and what drives him in life and ministry. Come what may: his goal, his purpose, his drive – in everything – is to ‘exalt’ Jesus Christ in his body – whether by life or death (vs20).
A telescope pointed to the tiny stars in the sky, magnifies them giving the star gazer a glimpse of what they are really like – magnificent, powerful, glorious. This exalts or glorifies the stars by displaying them as they actually are. That’s Paul’s aim in all of life with Christ. To display the wonder of Christ Jesus in everything he does, showing his Lord in all his beauty, majesty, and power – as he really is to a watching world.
While he was alive, Paul would do this by proclaiming the gospel of what Jesus has done (1:7, 18). But what about death? Paul would do this, by showing that ‘to die is gain’ (vs21b), to ‘depart and be with Christ…is better by far’ (vs 23). By simply clinging to the Christian hope, that death is but a gateway to greater and lasting joy in Christ, Paul can exalt Jesus, even in his death.
Friends let’s live our purpose in Christ. We were made and we were saved to display Jesus to a watching world in the way we live and die, speak and act, love and serve. We do this most, when we live in a such a way that demonstrates – belonging to Him is better than life itself. May we as God’s people take up Paul’s mantra: “to live is Christ and to die is gain”.
Your brother in Christ, Craig Stalder
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