I left off with Paul’s comments that training in godliness is of better value than physical training. He then emphasizes this by assuring us that what he said is a trustworthy statement. To prove just how trustworthy it is, he tells us that he has toiled and strived. However he isn’t doing it to gain a better life now, but in eternity because he has his hope set on God.
However, it is interesting that while training in godliness has eternal consequences, bodily training sometime is required to accomplish the work that God has provided for us. In many areas, a weak body can’t serve as well as a strong one. Paul is a great example of someone who must have been physically fit despite his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7) as he endured much physical abuse. While he gave all the glory to God, it is inspirational to see what happened to him.
2 Cor 4:8-11 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (ESV)
I can’t say that there has ever been a time in my life when I was afflicted in every way. Sure, I’ve had problems as every person does. I can see in Paul’s comments that even though he was afflicted, he was physically spared. This is certainly not by his own strength. In Acts 14:19-20, he was stoned and dragged outside the city, yet he was able to get up and walk back into the city. Many of us have had to suffer disease and injury simply because we live in a fallen world. Few of us have suffered these afflictions because we were serving the Lord. If Paul could be so focused on eternity and the work that was before him that he could say he wasn’t crushed, who am I that I should complain when physical suffering occurs?
Sometimes we simply don’t understand what God wants or what He is doing. It is perplexing. Added to that is trying to deal with imperfect people. It can be very perplexing, especially when brothers and sister in the faith don’t live up to our expectations for the name, Christian.
What kept Paul from being driven to despair especially when some were intentionally trying to antagonize him while he was in prison (Phil 1:17)? Phil 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (NKJV)
To Live is Christ
I read that well known verse and nod my head in agreement until I stop to ponder what Paul meant when he said, “to live is Christ.” It isn’t exactly good English to put a proper noun after the verb is. I expect a verb or adjective would normally be here, but Paul is attempting to convey a meaning of life that surpasses all the adjectives he could throw at it. It is much more profound that he stated to live is Christ. Everything that Jesus is, all that He represents, all that He commands, all that He has done for us, is what makes living as a Christian worthwhile.
Paul could suffer all the things that happened to him because His life had become Christ living through him. Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV) If I’m to say that to live is Christ, then I have to have the same attitude that Paul expressed. I have to be able to say that I’ve been crucified with Jesus. I have to consider all my personal desires dead. Anything that I want to do has to be what Jesus wants to do. That’s extremely radical. That can only be done by faith in Jesus. That is a radical faith.
My struggle is knowing what Jesus wants to do. It isn’t as if He has taken over my body and I’m just going along for the ride. I have to make decisions about everything from when to get up in the morning to what kind of toothpaste to use. What kind of work am I supposed to be doing or what ministries should I be doing? Fortunately, Paul also gave some instructions. 1 Cor 10:31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (NASB)
Jesus needs people to live and work in this world not only as missionaries like Paul, or Pastors like Timothy, but also as common people who go to work every day. The way I live must glorify God. I can do that when I do it for Him or unto Him. If I’m doing it only for my own needs, then He is robbed of the glory and I’m robbed of the reward.
I don’t have a problem with the “to die is gain” part. The benefits there are overwhelming. However, there are many who can’t see this. Their life on earth is far more important to them than eternity with Christ. This is a reflection of their walk with the Lord here. I don’t think they can say, “To live is Christ.” To live is to get married. To live is to have a career. To live is see children married or graduate or have children. When all of their life is tied to things of the world instead of Christ, then death means an end to what gives them pleasure and meaning.
We need to get it in the right order and make sure that to live is indeed Christ. When we have our hope set on the living God, Jesus, then we not only say to live is Christ, but we will also be able endure the hardships that come in this world. Paul faced things most of us will never see in our lives. However, his attitude was completely wrapped up in giving glory to God.
2 Cor 12:10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (NASB)
He didn’t just put up with hardships, but was content with them. When was the last time you were content with an insult? Sometimes, the hint of an insult can bug me. It’s very hard to live up to being content with everything from weakness to persecution. I don’t think we really consider this verse very often. When James says that we need to consider our trials to be joy, I think about severe, life-threatening, painful stuff. I don’t think about simple weakness, insults, or minor problems as trials. Because of that, it makes it too easy to grumble about them.
I just need to keep my eyes set on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith, my Savior, my Lord. When I do that, then I can strive, toil, and do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Col 3:17).