18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. 20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.
“Living is Christ and dying is gain.” Oh, to have the faith that could make such a bold statement.
One might be tempted to believe based on this statement that Paul has a kind of indifference toward his own life: “well, you know, I could take it or leave it.” You could read it as nonchalant, careless even.
But I don’t think that’s true. He deeply believed what he preached, that on the other side of death there is another life: a life with Christ that is so much greater than anything we can understand or even imagine. And at times he is mightily tempted, given all he has suffered, to just give in.
Take a minute to read about all the trials he faced in service of the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), and tell me if you wouldn’t want to just throw in the towel after all that. I know I would. And then, add to his list of sufferings one final indignity: he’s to be tried before the Emperor for preaching the gospel. If convicted, it’s likely that he’ll receive the death sentence. He knows it, and his readers know it.
So it seems like the most natural thing, having suffered more than one’s share, to just want to collect the reward for your labors. But that’s not how Paul feels about it: he’s still wondering what other work God may have for him to do. He’s excited to think about it – so excited, in fact, that he says, “living is Christ and dying is gain….I do not know which I prefer.”
It’s not that Paul is indifferent towards his life – not at all. He loves the work God has given him to do. He loves the life God has given him to live, despite its difficulty. He’s excited about his reward, of course, but you get the sense that right up to the end, he continued to ask: “What’s next, God?” And in fact, we know that’s true, because the scriptures make it clear that even while in custody, he continued to preach the gospel as often as he could.
Paul wasn’t indifferent. He was deeply committed. Deeply committed to Christ in this life, and even more enthusiastic for the promise of the life to come.
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Do you ever suffer from indifference in your spiritual life? What dimensions of your relationship with God help you to rekindle your excitement? Paul clearly embraced the idea of eternal life as a motivator – both for himself and those he served. What motivates you?
Prayer: God, there are times when we feel indifferent and apathetic. When we lose our passion for the spiritual life, we pray that you will rekindle our excitement with a fresh experience of your goodness. Lord Jesus, let us live our lives in you. Amen.