When I was in university there were certain people who were totally devoted to their schoolwork. They had their days planned out, minute-by-minute, to maximize the amount of time they could put into studying. They would go to bed at like 2am and then wake up the next day at 6:30am to get in a quick bite from the cafeteria, and then a bit more studying before 8am class.
I was one of those people. It was all about the next test score. It was obsessive. It was all-encompassing. It was messed up.
But when you look at the life of the Apostle Paul you quickly see that this is the kind of all-consuming passion he had, but he had it for Jesus. He says in Philippians 1:21-24, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which shall I chose 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.”
Paul wanted more than anything just to be with Jesus. That is why death for him was gain! It was a gain to leave this body for at time to enter the presence of Jesus! And this all-encompassing, overriding, love for Jesus changed how he looked at the rest of his life.
What kind of a person can say death is gain? Most Christians cannot say that. Hey! In all honesty – I can hardly relate to that! Occasionally I can. But what kind of person would we need to be to be able to say, with sincerity, “My live is lived totally for Christ and my death will be a great victory for me! It’s a gain because then I will get to see Jesus face to face!”
If we really want to say that then we would have to be people of intense faith, intense hope, and intense love (1 Cor 13:13):
Paul did not just believe in Jesus as a sort of guess at “the meaning of life.” He trusted in Jesus and his existence and in his promises moment by moment. When you are faced with clubs and whips, you need to really trust that what you believe is worth believing in. And for Paul it was. Jesus revealed himself on the Damascus road and commissioned Paul to be the suffering missionary to the Kings, the Gentiles, and the Jews (Acts 9:17). And suffer he did. His faith was as strong like a bull moose on steroids. It propelled him to serve others and look forward to meeting Jesus.
I am convinced that Paul woke up and got out of bed saying, “Come today, Lord Jesus!” The return of Christ was not some vague idea. It fueled him. It pushed him forward like high octane jet-fuel. His focus was set on the reality that one day Jesus would split open the sky and return. He was not all that concerned about the next Avengers movie; his weekend sleep-over plans; or his next paycheque. He was driven by a simple thought “What if Jesus comes back today?”
Most of all Paul was driven by love for Jesus, his supreme treasure. Paul’s treasure was in heaven sitting down at the right hand of God the Father. That’s why death was gain. Death was just the necessary bridge to cross to get to that treasure. It was like walking out in a cold winter day to pick up a cheque in the mail for a million dollars. The treasure makes the walk pretty easy.
Paul’s love for Jesus propelled him in two ways – to love the people of Jesus and to do all he could to care for them. And second – it made him want to go home to see Jesus ASAP. That is why he was torn. He wanted to care for Jesus’ people. Yet, really he cared for them because he cared so much about Jesus himself.
So what about you?
Where is your faith? What are you trusting in? Do you really believe in Jesus?
Where is your hope placed? What are you hoping for? Is your hope really placed in the return of Jesus?
What do you love? What is the chief treasure of your life? What is the GAIN you are pursuing? Do you really love Jesus, or are you just kidding yourself?
And if Jesus is secondary in all of those answers. Then you need to wake up to the fact that the King is returning and it would be best to get ready for his arrival. That is an all-consuming truth – but, unlike getting a good test score, it is sure to happen, and it is sure to satisfy every longing of your heart. All other obsessions don’t even come close. All other loves won’t ultimately deliver like this one.