“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
Paul wrote this from prison in Rome, or at least this is the prevalent consensus. Also concluded is that the letter to the Philippians was actually several smaller letters and not one long epistle – if you will. Biblical scholars note, and I concur, that Paul does not seem to have great expectations for being able to gain his liberty. In fact, his days may be numbered by this of have imprisoned him. But that does not daunt or dent his message.
“If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 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 for you.” (Verses 22 – 24)
Think back, beloved reader, to what Christ said to his disciples. That his departure is/was necessary so that the Spiritual Advocate could come. Now I am not saying anything against Paul – those days are behind me. What I am saying is that Divinity is different than humanity. Paul felt it was better for his converts if he stayed with them. Despite is knowing that the better thing for him was to be with the Divine, he felt his presence was necessary to continue supporting them. Maybe Paul did not know or could not dream the impact his letters would have. They live far, far beyond his life span and have influenced more people than he influenced and evangelized to in his lifetime.
“Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.” (Verses 25 – 26)
When Christ was crucified (as was inevitable for a whole host of reasons) his disciples pretty much lost hope because so much of their faith was tied to his physical presence. What they came to learn was this Jesus’ physical presence was only the start of his ministry.
“Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.” (Verses 27 – 28)
I can image that Paul’s readers were hoping against hope that Paul would be freed and come to them. Paul wanted that too. But that is the thing in the early Christian church. The here and now faith was so new that they could not conceive of anything much beyond their present days. If Paul thought ahead, he only thought to being united with Christ and the Divine – as I am sure he was in the fullness of time. But we, beloved reader, think beyond our here and now because we know that there is a future coming; not the eternal world to come, but next year and the year after that, and the decade after that. We have to look toward the future. And we have to have hope for the future. (Especially when our present is so yucky.)
Yes, there will a future where we will be united with the Divine; but there is a different kind of future that beckons to us with the setting of sun and each new dawn. The hope that our faith will sustain us is one of the things that will allow us to be the faithful remnant.
“For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well–
since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” (Verses 29 – 30)
I don’t know what Paul would say about our present time. I would like to think that Paul would be savvy enough to know that the epistles that he wrote over two centuries ago may not sufficiently apply to us today. Yes, there is wisdom there in those letters. We need to take wisdom & consolation and apply it to our lives now. Beloved reader, may your faith and hope sustain you in this world, forming us into a faithful remnant. Shalom & Selah!