Read: Philippians 1:18-26
Reflect: Have you ever been presented with an offer described as a “win, win” situation? It could be a great deal advanced by an eager salesman, a well-planned proposal for a project or business agreement, or even something suggested by your best friend. To my ears, the idea usually has the sound of being too good to be true. My cynicism suggests that one “winner” will end up with a larger portion of the pie than the other. Is it really possible for both winners to be equally satisfied?
In today’s reading we find the apostle Paul lamenting/debating which was better; his life here on earth as a missionary of the Gospel or death, that would bring about his eternal reward of being with Jesus. For Paul, this was not a morbid mental exercise where he juggled the ultimate scenarios of life and death. So how do these sentences fit in a letter which has the ongoing theme of joy? This moment of reflection on life and death can seem a bit out of place. However, Paul was writing from prison where he was awaiting trial and the possibility of the death penalty. Daily, he faced and understood the stark reality that the outcome of his conviction could cost his life. Aware of both scenarios of life and death, Paul understood them and embraced both as motivators for his ministry.
Paul was first driven the motivation behind his ministry. He lived in eager expectation and hope, ready to speak boldly for Christ, whether the outcome of his trial was for him live or die. Serving fully with mind, body and soul, it was Paul’s great desire for Christ to be magnified and glorified. This was his expectation and hope. Paul strived to emphasize eternal values as he told others about knowing and following Jesus. Paul saw life as Jesus sees it: from an eternal perspective.
Paul had contentment in either outcome, regardless of how it would play out. To live in the flesh, Paul endeavored to labor to advance the Kingdom of Christ in this world. If the outcome of Paul’s imprisonment brought death, Paul could confidently claim that outcome as better than living. After all, he would then be free of worldly troubles and trials and obtain the truly happiest result of being in the very presence of Christ. He would actually see Christ face to face. Paul was caught between two blessings: serving Christ in this world or enjoying Christ in the next world. The Application Study Bible commentary states: “If you’re not ready to die, then you’re not ready to live. Make certain of your eternal destiny; then you will be free to serve – devoting your life to what really counts, without fear of death.”
Paul was focused on his purpose and to live Christ, either way. Paul’s chosen focus and purpose for living was to preach the Gospel and serve the church as he lived out his remaining time in this world. He chose to advance the Kingdom of Christ and his church and deny and delay the gratification of his eternal reward. Paul’s devotion to the work of the church came with a great confidence in divine providence. Even in light of the uncertainty of his immediate circumstances and future, he trusted that whatever was best for the church, God would certainly do.
Apply: Paul’s purpose for living was to preach the Gospel, and serve the Philippians and others. What is your motivation for living? Whom can you serve? Take time to reflect and assess how this lines up with God’s plan for your life. To be in the center of God’s will gives great contentment, even when in the midst of the storms of life. This is how Paul found peace and joy, even in the darkness of a prison cell. Pray, asking God for clarity of purpose. Pray, asking whom and how you might serve. And may all your joy be rooted in Christ as the Holy Spirit helps you to better understand the contentment of that “win, win” situation.