Saturday, August 25, 2012

Far Better, or More Needful?

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26)
In “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” there is a character named Banjo, who is played by Jimmy Durante. He is not “the man who came to dinner” but when he shows up, he goes to the piano and sings, “Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go, but still had the feeling that you wanted to stay?”

That’s where Paul is. A moment ago, he spoke of Messiah being magnified in his body, “whether by life or by death.” That “by death” might have shaken up some of his partners, the Jesus believers at Philippi, so now he goes on to explain:
  • To live is Christ. If all goes well and Paul lives, his life will ever and always be about Jesus the Messiah, to know Him, proclaim Him, and serve Him and His people. It means more “fruit” from his labor, and he wants to bear as much fruit as he can for the Lord. Jesus said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples” (John 15:6). Paul’s highest purpose is to give God glory.
  • To die is gain. On the other hand, if Paul is put to death, he will simply go and be with the One his life has been all about. He has a deep desire to do that, and it only gets deeper with each passing day. The more we understand “to live is Christ,” the better we will understand “to die is gain.”
For Paul, it is all win/win, but it has still been a tough choice: His growing desire to be with the Lord Jesus (“which is far better”) and his desire to serve the people of the Lord (which is “more needful for you”). Imagine him pacing his room, his Roman guard looking on as he talks it over with the Lord. Of course, by the time he writes this letter, he has already made up his mind — and the believers at Philippi can breathe a sigh of relief: Paul chooses to stay.

Now, it is quite interesting that he speaks of this, almost casually, in terms of a choice. Is this really in his hands to decide? But he has a confidence about this, being persuaded that God still has work for him to do, that he will be delivered from his present circumstances and will be returning to minister to the believers at Philippi again: “I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith.”

The Greek word for “progress” is prokope, which is the same word he used earlier concerning the “furtherance” of the gospel. Not only is the gospel moving forward but God’s plan is for believers to progress in it as well. As we saw earlier, what God has begun in them He will bring through to completion.

Here again we find joy, the “joy of faith.” As they grow in faith, joy increases. And of course, their rejoicing will be all the greater when they see Paul once again.

Focus Question
  1. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Do you find one of those easier than the other?
  2. What is the level of confidence you have about what God has for you to do?
  3. Do you find that when your faith increases, your joy does, too?

Now, just for fun, here is Banjo (Jimmy Durante) singing in this clip from “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”




There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.