Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Christian's Death Wish

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

Paul encouraged the Philippians to mature in their insight and love for Christ. The more we mature in this way, the more we come to understand two things. First, we come to see the beauty of Christ Jesus, and we desire to be with Him. Second, we come to understand, by contrast, the horror of sin (especially our own sin) and we desire to be rid of it. These two things—an increasing hatred of sin and an increasing love of Christ—cause us to want to leave this world and go to the next.

Paul knew that the Philippians would face the temptation to give up on this life, and so he addressed it in terms of his own desires (Philippians 1:21–30). He said that he desired “to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far,” but that “it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (vv. 23–24). In other words, the maturing Christian must press beyond the first two points (Christ’s beauty and his own sin) to a third: The call to service.

Paul knew that this life is very short when measured by the everlasting life that awaits us. A few more years of service are next to nothing compared to the billions of years of personal bliss ahead, but for the sake of the kingdom on earth, those few years of service may count a great deal. “If I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me,” he wrote (v. 22).

The Christian call to service is the call to live “in Christ.” It is the great privilege of the believer that we are called to participate in the work of Christ. In union with His once-for-all work, our works count for the glory of the kingdom. In particular, we are privileged to suffer in union with His sufferings (v. 29). If we commit suicide, mentally or physically, we are rejecting our high calling from God.

Just as the sacrificial suffering and death of Jesus redeemed the world definitively and once for all, so the suffering and death of believers extends and applies the redemption of the world and fills out the kingdom. Irenaeus was right in saying the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Thus, Paul says, while it is personally desirable to be rid of this world of sin and to be with Christ, it is our special calling to wait on the Lord in this regard and to serve Him while we still have life and breath.