By Toby Johnson
“…so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” – Philippians 1:26
Recently, as I read Philippians 1, I was struck by this verse. I paused. Went back. Read the paragraph again. And was struck even more deeply. Take a minute. Open your Bible. Read Philippians 1:18b-26.
Philippians is full of familiar verses, one of which is in the middle of this paragraph. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). Whatever comes of him…life or death…Paul is eager to honor Christ. Honor Christ through his life, and honor Christ in his death (see v. 20).
Paul goes on to talk about the struggle in determining which he would prefer. If the choice were left to him, would he rather lie or die? Obviously, being free of this world and its entanglements is far greater. But, he says, it is more necessary to remain.
Imagine the scene. It’s a Roman prison, and Paul is dictating this letter. Paul’s scribe is faithfully taking the apostle’s words down. Paul’s just said that being with Christ would be far better, and maybe the scribe is nodding as he writes. And then Paul says: “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary…” The scribe stops and puts the pen down.
“More necessary, Paul?” he inquires. Paul replies, “Yes, more necessary.”
Still puzzled, the scribe asks another question: “Better than being with Christ, Paul?” Paul shakes his head: “I didn’t say that, brother. I said it is more necessary. More necessary to keep living. To keep preaching. To keep teaching. To keep suffering.”
“But why, Paul?” “Let me finish my sentence…But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (v. 24).
Paul felt it more necessary to keep living. But not just to keep living. Not so he could continue to breathe in and out. Not so he could enjoy all this life offers. Not so he could retire and live a life of ease in the last years of life. No. Paul determined to live his life for the good of others. For the building up of the church. For the advance of the kingdom.
Paul wanted to come to this Philippian church again. He longed to continue working for their progress in the faith. He yearned to see their joy in the faith continue to increase. Why? “…so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus…”
Don’t misunderstand. Paul doesn’t want the Philippians to think highly of him. To give him a plaque of appreciation for all his years of service. To name their meeting space “The Apostle Paul Worship Center.” If offered, he probably would have said: “May it never be!”
In no way is Paul the focus of Paul’s thinking here. Paul’s life is about Jesus. It’s been about Jesus, it is about Jesus, and it will always be about Jesus. “For me to live is Christ…” But even then…with all his focus on Jesus…Paul wants his life to matter for the glory of Christ. That’s his goal. His aim. Paul wants to be the means by which Christians grow in their love for Jesus. He wants to serve in such a way that Christians will forget all about Paul, but they’ll never be able to forget about Jesus.
And he works hard to accomplish this goal! He goes to great lengths to identify with unbelievers around him so that he can see them come to faith in Christ (1 Cor. 9:20-23). He expends all his strength in preaching Christ so that every single Christian he encounters will grow to full maturity (Col. 1:28). He pours himself out like a drink offering for the sake of others (cf. Phil. 3:17). He even goes so far as to say that, by the grace of God, he has worked harder than anyone else in doing these things (1 Cor. 15:10).
This picture of the apostle Paul challenges me. It confronts me. It pushes me to keep on. It prods me to work hard by God’s grace. To expend all my energy for His purposes. To go to great lengths in promoting the gospel. To give myself fully to the task God has laid before me, not turning to the right or to the left.
In preaching. In teaching. In counseling. In leading my family. I want to be like the apostle Paul in this…to give my wife, my children, my friends, my neighbors, and the congregation I serve ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.
What about you?