If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again (Philippians 1:22-26).
What’s the first word here? “If.” Consider what faced Paul? “If I am to live in the flesh…” meaning, “If I am to escape the possible execution I’m facing.” I’ve been at the bedside of many who have been sick and/or dying. When the possibility of death comes along, the vast majority of us approach this season with anxiety and dread. We ask all sorts of questions about the life we will leave behind. Paul could have asked these same questions about what would happen with his churches and those he won to Christ.
Our present life entails fruitful labor for Christ. In verse 22, we read, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.” If Paul lived, then praise God—fruitful labor for him! He would continue to tell others of the good news of Christ.
Compare him with the likes of Hezekiah. In Isaiah, chapters 38-39, King Hezekiah was on the point of death. He did not approach the prospect of death well!
And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
4 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: 5 “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.
Hezekiah wept at the thought of death. He wanted to stay here. But those 15 years that God gave him were tragic years. At the beginning of Isaiah 39, a Babylonian delegate asked to see the Temple, the armory, the storehouses, everything. Hezekiah was proud, so he allowed it. Isaiah responded:
5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: 6 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 7 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 8 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”
He wanted to stay in order to glorify himself rather than God. Even when tragedy would hit, he took comfort in that this tragedy wouldn’t happen as long as he was alive—even if it affected his sons and people.
How different are Hezekiah than Paul! But if we were to take inventory of our hearts in our culture, and even those who name the name of Christ, we identify more with Hezekiah, don’t we? Some of you know that I’ve just started working on a team the North American Missions Board helping churches that are within two years of dying not to, well, die. They’ve gotten to a position of looking inward more than outward, ministering more to themselves rather than to the changing communities around them. Many of these churches would rather die than to change. As long as they have comfort in their own community, they are fine–for at least there is peace and security in their days.
We wish for fruitful labor, that is, labor that bears fruit! Make your life count, dear Christian! Do you believe that God’s favor is found in peace and security in your days–or fighting the good fight of faith for the eternal security of others?