Imagine with me for a moment about what it would be like to experience the trials and tribulations that the apostle Paul lived through. We read in 2 Corinthians chapter eleven a summarization of Paul’s “major” physical trials he faced. 2 Cor. 11: 23-27 reads, “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” Many more passages could be referenced when talking about Paul’s struggles as a Christian. We could explore the idea of him being rejected by his former peers when he converted to “the Way”. We could reference the “thorn in his side” or the mental torment that he endured while being held captive by Felix for two years while Felix looked for a handout. These topics that have been mentioned about Paul’s life could be discussed by any Christian and benefit be gained, but I want to look deeper into one of Paul’s mental battles that he faced towards the end of his life.
Philippians 1: 20-26 reads “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” We see in this passage that Paul is facing a mental battle or struggle about his current situation on earth. Paul expresses a healthy hunger to get to heaven soon, while realizing that leaving this earth for heaven may not be the best choice at time. Paul realizes that there is still much joy, knowledge, and encouragement that he can give to other Christians, so we see the mental battle that he is faced with. He can choose to stay on this earth and continue to work in God’s kingdom to help others get to Heaven, or he can soon be with his father in paradise. Paul proclaims in the passage that he is going to chose the unselfish choice and remain and continue with them all, for their progress and joy in the faith. Paul makes the valiant choice and gives Christians today a great example on how to be servant. The main point I want to focus on though is about the mental battle that Paul was able to have that maybe not all of us as Christians could have in our own minds. Anyone who has heard the stories about Paul and has learned about his love for the “the Way” knows that Paul could boldly say that “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul, on countless occasions, made sacrifices in his life for the benefit of others. His conversation was such a life changing experience that from a worldly standpoint took him from being on cloud nine to falling all the way to rock bottom. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Could we all say that? Could I say that? In my life, am I living in such a way that for to me to live is Christ? While passing through this pit stop on our way to our true home, are we living in such a way that is going to lead us to Heaven? Another question we could ask is, “are we as sure as Paul about where our final destination will be?” “To die is gain” is such a powerful message to us. As Christians we have power over death that Christ gave to us that others in this world do not have. These questions are great to ask on a regular basis to help keep us in check. We should be yearning to reach Heaven and living towards that goal each and every day.
Paul was able say “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” Producing fruitful labor is what it means to live for Christ. The Bible uses a common theme about the idea of fruit being produced or not being produced in the New Testament. In Matthew 21 Jesus finds himself hungry and seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. Immediately Jesus curses the fig tree and the tree withers at once. I want to present a simple question. Would Jesus have cursed the tree had it had fruit on it? I believe the simple answer to this question is no. The purpose of a fig tree is to produce figs, just like the purpose of an apple tree is to produce apples. As Christians, our purpose on this earth is to fear God and keep his commandments. Our purpose is to produce fruit, but not just any kind of fruit. We have to produce wholesome and pure fruit. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes about love and how important love is to God’s kingdom. Paul writes about the important role love plays in our actions as Christians. He writes that if we do anything without love, it is meaningless. While fulfilling our purpose to fear God and keep his commandments, we must produce the right kind of fruit with love.
Paul is admired by Christians for so many reasons. Countess times he put the needs of others in front of his own needs. This being said, I sometimes think that Christians do Paul an injustice by exalting him higher than a human being should be. Paul did great things in his life, but Paul would never approve of Christians today putting his example up above anything we could attain today. Paul did have the power of the Holy Spirit and he did preach in a time when the Gospel was still fairly new, but that does not mean that we cannot strive to be like Paul in any shape or form. There are still many people who have no clue who God is, or they don’t care to know. There are still people that can use encouragement and support. There are still fellow Christians that need a spiritual boost, and we can give it to them. We can make an impact, just like Paul did, and quite frankly we should. If a Christian is not able or willing to preach the Gospel afar, there are people that for dollars a day could make that happen. There are families in every local congregation that are just waiting to be picked up off the ground spiritually by a helping hand. We all have to do our part, not thinking that someone else will carry our load. Let us be aware of passages like Matthew twenty-five and help those who are in need. Let us be steadfast to live in such a way that we all could say, “to live is Christ.”