Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When living is Christ

There was this guy back at my alma mater who would literally walk around with a smile plastered on his face.  He would often be humming a tune, typically a hymn, and say, "Hi" to anyone that caught his gaze.  Now, I must confess, I never got to know this guy, because let's face it, I was a little creeped out by him and his "perma-smile."  He was genuine though, genuine in his happiness, genuine in his faith, and I am sure that today he is a great pastor somewhere - bringing hope to many through the Gospel of Christ.

He knew exactly what it meant to be "living as Christ" with his own unique personality.  The passage of Philippians 1:19-30 has always been one has completely fascinated me - because it is so incredibly straight-forward and simple, but also so deeply complex.

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  This statement has been plastered over and over again by Christians on their blogs, their Facebook status, and a whole world of social networking.  It has become a sort of brand, if you will - "I am the type of Christian that knows that living is Christ."  But do we really know?  Do we really get it?

You see, because for Paul, "to live is Christ" means fruitful labor.  Yep, FRUITFUL labor.  Check it out, verse 22, it's right there.  "If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me."  Paul, ever the honest man, would much rather die and be in heaven with Christ - this is gain.  I think that we all understand that - this world is fallen, broken, miserable (at times), and dying for those in Christ, means a heavenly home, eternity with an Almighty, Amazing God, Love Unbounded - pretty much incredibleness.  Dying in Christ is gain.

What I think that we misunderstand though is the "To live is Christ" part.  For Paul, it was fruitful labor. It was necessary for his churches (see verse 24).  It was all for the glory of Christ, not only in his life and faith, but in the lives and faith of the churches that he planted, led and wrote to (see verses 25-26).  Not only is it for the glory of Christ, it is for missions!  Reading verses 27-30, Paul had every aim that as the people of Philippi were finding out what "living is Christ" means, that the Gospel, their faith, would become unified under their oppression and persecution - causing their persecutors to see their unified faith that would be glorifying God, and showing them that there is only destruction or salvation from the road that they have chosen.

Paul knew this road as a persecutor all too well.  He, the chief of sinners, the chief persecutor of the church (at one time) knew that road.  He was on his way to the path of destruction, but Jesus stopped him on a road to Damascus.  Jesus stopped him completely and changed his life forever.  No longer was his life living to destroy people, but it was "living is Christ."  This is why he shows no fear in front of mobs in Ephesus; shipwrecks and snake bites don't stop him from sharing the good news that Jesus came to this earth to save sinners; imprisonment, what should be a shameful and despairing time, is filled with hope and opportunity to share the Gospel even more to those surrounding him on their way to death, even to those who keep him in the prison.  To live is Christ, is to take all of who you are, all that God has given you the capability to be, and in every single situation present the Gospel in a worthy manner (verse 27).

There are parts of the world today where Christians can identify completely with Paul's imprisoned circumstances, but for the majority of us, our lives do not present us with such dire, life-threatening circumstances.  There is still incredible hardships though.  Most of my family lives in Michigan, which has been suffering for a decade in an economic downward spiral.  In one day, 6,000 people were laid off from Ford.  6,000 people were out of a job in one day.  6,000 people were added to the already hundreds of thousands of people looking for a job in the state of Michigan.

Career goals, job potential, all of that no longer matters.  Finding a job to feed your family, finding any sort of work just so you don't lose your house - this is the goal.  The challenge now, as a Christian, as someone who professes that "to live is Christ" is to realize that the Gospel is more important than even your situation.  The Gospel, your faith, being unified together as a church in order that more and more may come to know the salvation through Jesus, is what you live for - even as you hunt for a job every day, even as you struggle to make ends meet when your wages are cut, or bonuses are denied.  Even when they foreclose on your home - to live is Christ, because there are those out there who dying and not gaining.

There should be some sort of comfort to know that Paul was in prison, and not a Martha Stewart, fluff prison, when he wrote these words.  Paul could have sunk into a deep depression; Paul could have given up on everything and turned from God; but he stayed firm, he persevered, he found that the only way to live was in a way where the Gospel would be presented in a worthy manner in spite of every situation he was thrown into.  "Living is Christ" is not an easy thing.  Every step of the way there will be things to throw you off, but there is comfort in prayers and the knowledge that the Spirit is with you, guiding and helping you every step of the way (verse 19).

"To live is Christ, and to die is gain."  Once again, I am blown away by how deep and vast faith truly is.

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