by Steven Chan
The Bible declares to us in Heb 9:26-28 that “now, once at the end of the ages, He (Christ) has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” There are two appointments that every man cannot miss: death and judgement.
Given that death and the judgement are certainties, what is the Christian’s attitude towards life and death? While imprisoned, the apostle Paul wrote the following:-
“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.”(Phil 1:19-24)
In the face of adversities (such as his imprisonment) the apostle Paul believed there will be deliverance for him because of:-
- the prayers of the church at Philippi;
- the supply of the Spirit of Christ;
- his expectation & hope that in nothing he shall be ashamed; and
- with all boldness, as always, so now also – Christ will be magnified in his body – whether by life or death!
1. To Paul, deliverance from God does not necessarily mean being spared from death. He was fully prepared to die because he believed that whether he lived or die, his expectation and hope was that Christ would be magnified in his body! He expects a deliverance from his imprisonment that would result in Christ being magnified in his body – whatever that may entail. How about us? Is the magnifying of Christ through our lives the whole purpose of our lives? Or, is satisfying our own personal needs the all-consuming ambition/desire of our lives?
2. Praying for one another is important as was recognized by the apostle Paul. He believed that he would be delivered because of the prayer of the church. We should never under-estimate the power of prayer of the church. It is interesting to note that Paul did not depend on whatever connections that members of the church may have with the authorities so that some “strings can be pulled” and he be delivered from prison. Neither was he encouraging the church to have a public demonstration in front of his prison and demanding that he be released. He appealed to the power of prayer because God answers the prayers of His saints (James 5:16). God is all-powerful and what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27). In Acts 12, King Herod threw the apostle Peter into prison and the Bible wanted us to know that “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5) and God sent an angel to deliver him: “And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.” So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying” (Acts 12: 11-12). Prayer meetings are scriptural practices for the early Christians gathered together to pray.
In a world where everyone is busy with their own lives, coming together as Christians, to pray and to worship God may soon become extinct. However, the Lord reminded us in Matt 18:19-20: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Our Lord teaches that prayers are effective when brethren are agreed in the things they asked for; and also that the Lord is in the midst of Christians when they are gathered together to pray. Isn’t that a wonderful reason why we should come together more often and pray together more regularly? Of course we can and ought to pray on our own in the privacy of our homes or offices (Matt 6:5-6) but our Lord also expect us to come together to pray for things that we are agreed on.
3. Paul also stated his dependence on the supply from the Spirit of Christ. In 2 Cor 12:9 Paul shared with us what God said to him: “”My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Heb 2:18: “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Heb 4:16: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We should never ever forget that God’s promise to help us at all times under all circumstances is certain and unwavering: “For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5-6). How about us? Do we look to God for supply of whatever we need: whether wisdom, strength and/or deliverance? Are we weak in faith to ask of Him?
4. Paul’s deep belief that “in nothing he shall be ashamed”. If we feel ashamed of who we are or what we do then it would be difficult for us to expect deliverance from God. Our Lord said in Mark 8:38: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” We need to be steadfast that under whatever circumstance we may be in, we should not be ashamed that we are Christians or that we have done anything that is shameful. Are there things that you do which are shameful? Are our conduct honourable before men? “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”( 1 Peter 2:11-12)
5. Finally, the apostle Paul affirmed and re-affirmed his “boldness that as always, so now also – Christ will be magnified in his body – whether by life or death!” The magnifying of Christ in his body was Paul’s bold declaration. He explained the reason why we should magnify Christ in our body in 1 Cor 6:19-20: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” If we truly seek to magnify God under all circumstances in our lives, we can have boldness of deliverance from God in whatever form that deliverance may take.
The attitude of Paul towards life and death is summed up in his statement: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In other words, if he continues to live on earth, his desire is to labor for Him and for His glory. However, if he were to die, it would be his gain because he desires to “be with Christ, which is far better”. So, for the Christian, it does not matter whether he lives or dies, so long as he desires always to magnify Christ in his life. Is that our desire too? Listen to what our Lord said in Mark 8:36-38: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”