From prison Paul expresses his Christian hope using these words: “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” These words come from a man who faces death by Roman executioners at any moment. Though he tends to lean toward living, dying is a very real possibility: “I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart [from the flesh] and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh [body] is more necessary for you.” Paul views neither life nor death as failure. Both have their advantages. In death he will be with Christ and find fulfillment, but he acknowledges that for the Philippians, his remaining with them as a teacher is more beneficial. He gives expression to his confidence in Christ in order to encourage and foster confidence in the Philippians.
Paul no longer views the world through the earthly eyes of someone who aspires to worldly success and acclaim. Rather, his view is that of Christian hope, a “forever” home with the exalted Christ. This Christian hope changes three things for Paul because he no longer lives with the fear of death:
1. Paul’s focus shifts from his wants to others’ needs. Christ’s love for Paul makes him love others more than self.
2. Paul’s view of what matters in life changes. He wants his life to reflect well on the cause of Christ.
3. Paul’s understanding of suffering as a privilege increases. In seeing life with a vision suffused with the Holy Spirit, he counts his suffering as blessing. He invites the Philippian Christians not only to believe in Christ but to suffer for him as well.
Paul comes to the end of his physical life having found something to live for and to die for—Jesus Christ.
Eternal God, thank you for Paul’s confident faith in the Resurrection that inspires us to fruitful living by turning suffering into service. Amen.
The reading from Exodus 16 concerns Israel’s primary memory of food given in the wilderness, given where there are no visible sources of life, given in the face of restless protest, given wondrously and saving Israel from both hunger and despair. The verses from Psalm 105 recall the marvel of God’s grace during the wilderness years and the people’s joyful response. In the Philippians text Paul wrestles with the question of God’s will with respect to his own leadership. Paul not only explains the meaning of his incarceration but goes beyond that to explain the meaning of his life: “Living is Christ and dying is gain.” Matthew 20 reminds the reader that in the kingdom of heaven God’s mercy is often surprising, even offensive. People are valued not because of their economic productivity but because God loves and engages them.
• Read Exodus 16:2-15. What experiences have strengthened your trust in God?
• Read Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45. Spend a moment recounting God’s faithfulness to you in the past. Does recalling those times encourage your obedience to God today?
• Read Philippians 1:21-30. Paul acknowledges the importance of his physical presence to the Philippians. Whose physical presence makes a difference in your life?
• Read Matthew 20:1-16. What situations in your life make you question God’s fairness? When have you been envious because of God’s blessing of another?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.