“...I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:18-25).
Sometimes we read (and teach) this passage with an emphasis on Paul’s “gain” and “desire to depart and be with Christ.” This is a good and right thing – we need more of a scripturally-informed leaning toward and yearning for Christ’s heaven (Colossians 3:1-4 is a very important passage to me). However, that’s not the whole story.
I got to be part of a 100th birthday for a dear sister in Christ yesterday. She was having a difficult day health-wise, but it was a joy to see her reach – by God’s grace – this landmark. I thought of the difficulties and sorrowful loss her family has experienced in the years I’ve been their pastor, and was reminded of this profound truth proclaimed in the midst of heartbreak:
“This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:21-26).
This was Tuesday’s meditation for me.
Today is Wednesday. I got a call this morning telling me that another dear sister in Christ, a 94-year-old prayer warrior of the highest degree, was in the hospital with a possible stroke. I confess: I felt a bit of fear inside. I was thankful to find her sitting up, smiling, eating breakfast, and drinking coffee (that magnificent elixir gifted from heaven to a sod-bound race). It was good to see her like this.
I don’t know what the next hour, day, or month holds, but I told her I hoped we’d be celebrating her 100th in six years. She agreed. I read Psalm 30 with her, prayed, and left. On the drive in to the office another passage from Philippians came to mind, and it wasn’t the one at the top of this post.
“But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow” (Philippians 2:25-27).
It’s interesting that Paul’s “gain” and “desire to depart and be with Christ” didn’t make him emotionless or oddly inhuman about “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). The apostle loathed this thing (as I do with all my soul) and considered it the mercy of God that his fellow servant and dear brother was brought back from the brink, so that Paul wouldn’t have to drink a cup of “sorrow upon sorrow.”
I long for the heavenly Home where my Savior and Lord is. A lot. But I hate the process of getting there, and despise the fact that a funeral is always somewhere unseen around the corner. Paul held both of these emotions without contradiction or sin, which strengthens me. I pray for the grace to do the same.