‘’Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…’’ (18b).
As we have noted, everything in Paul’s circumstances was not hunky-dory, but he was determined to rejoice. It was his decision; his commitment. You can choose joy, as Paul shows (e.g. 3:1; 4:4). You may not be able to choose your situation, but you can choose your attitude.
One big reason for Paul’s rejoicing was because he knew the power of prayer (19). There is a definite link between ‘’your prayers’’ and ‘’the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.’’ Although the final outcome of his prison term wasn’t clear, in his heart Paul knew it was settled (25, 26). He was prepared to die, but expected to live.
But regardless of what did happen (20), Paul did not want to be ashamed of being a Christian. He desired to have ‘’sufficient courage’’ to ‘’exalt’ Christ in his body (his whole life) whether he lived or died. He saw their prayers as playing a part in this. He says ‘’now as always’’: this was a particularly testing (even tempting) time in his life. But Paul did not want to cave in to fear, or anything else. He believed there was a distinct connection between the prayers of the church and his boldness. (See Ephesians 6:19, 20 for words written at about the same time during the same prison sentence.)
Maybe you are not ready to live until you are ready to die, and when you are truly ready for death you will live better. Paul had so many brushes with danger and death that it may have helped him to get ready. He was no doubt tired; battered and beaten by life in many ways. The prospect of going ‘home’seemed sweet to him. Someone said, ‘Life is what you’re alive to.’ For a musician it may be music. I heard an interview with a famous conductor in which he said something like this: ‘I believe it is important to have other things in your life, but I sometimes think music is all there is.’ Music is what he is alive to. For a football supporter, his/her team may be their life. Everything rises or falls on the fortunes of their team. For Paul, Christ was his grand obsession. If death meant seeing Him and being with Him, that could only be ‘’gain’’ in his eyes, and ‘’better by far’’ (23).David Watson said, when he had cancer, that he had to change his thinking from wanting to stay on earth, but being willing to go, to wanting to go but being willing to stay on earth.
Paul was in the place where he was ready to go, but willing to stay for the sake of the church (23, 24). There was a death involved in that willingness to stick around. Paul knew that his continuing to live would be:
- For the ‘’progress’’ of the church (25);
- For the ‘’joy’’ of the believers (25, 26).
Paul was ‘’torn between’’ (23) going and staying. But he felt it was for the good of the church that he should stay, and that’s what he believed the outcome would be.
‘’Life versus even more life! I can’t lose…The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here.’’ The Message.
Prayer: Lord help me to see life and death through your eyes, and think about it in a way that honours you.