By Julius Gingles '21
...but that with full courage now as always Christ will be
honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me 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 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.
(Philippians 1:20b - 24 ESV)
If you haven’t read the following verses before, you may be taken aback by the strong declaration that Paul makes to the Philippians. “How could it be that to die is gain?” and “what does it mean to be hard pressed between living and dying? Why wouldn’t Paul just want to live?” are a few questions I have asked myself as I’ve studied this passage and listened to sermons on it. The statements that Paul makes here can be a bit jarring for the believer to hear and discern its application. Yet, it has become clear to me here that Paul is not only professing how precious the gift of life that God has given us to live is, but even more importantly, the profound worth of eternal life. Though he was once a Jew who persecuted and killed Christians and considered himself faultless according to the law of his time, Paul was completely transformed by the grace of God, and he speaks of the restorative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ here in Philippians and in several other books in the Bible.
I wish that I could have reminded myself of this more in this past year. It was much easier to find worth in social media, entertainment, and the fictional lives of characters on television shows when times became tough in the midst of the pandemic that we have endured through. You are worth it all God...help me to turn my eyes to you in times of trouble and to be constantly reminded of the invaluable worth of being a child of God.
As I rest my head on my pillow and look to the ceiling of my room, I think of what it means to honor Christ in my life. To live as both a man of faith and a diligent university student. To live as both a man transformed by God’s love and a relative who pours out his love upon his family. To live as both a man whose attention is fixed on God’s Word and a friend who is fully present and attentive to the needs of those around him.
I often find it difficult to humble myself and squash my perfectionist mentality when it comes to living out these identities. How can I put God first in my life but also strive to get all A’s on my assignments in these difficult academic circumstances? How can I receive God’s love and be more loving to myself while also pouring out my love to family and friends with the limited mental and physical capacity that I have? I have to remind myself that God doesn’t require that I live out these duties and identities perfectly. It is expected that I will fail and mess up. His love and faithfulness give me the confidence and strength to do my best and to live out the precious gift of life that He has given me through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When I look back on the times I placed my full identity in the success of my school work throughout my four years at university, I remember how much I placed my self-worth in doing well academically. I would often tell myself that if I wasn’t doing well in school, then I was failing myself and the life that God had given me to live. The issue, though, was that I often neglected going to God in these times and tried powering through without His guidance. Whenever I came back to my senses and looked to Him in those stressful times, I would be reminded of how much more there was to life than mere grades; a life purposed by the love and grace of God was enough to keep me going.
I now turn my head and face the window in my room. I watch the raindrops fall on the windowsill and contemplate what eternal life will be like when it is my time to depart and be with God. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (1). This verse is a depiction of what is to come once I pass away and enter the afterlife. I am able to look forward to a time when I will no longer have to struggle with my mental health. To the joy and rest that I will be able to experience each and every day. To a time when I will no longer fear judgement or alienation from others for having faith in Jesus. To a time when injustice and hate against those who look like me and my friends will no longer exist. To a time when our cultural and societal background no longer determines our value and worthiness of love. I can’t wait to be with my Heavenly Father when the time comes. My desperate need for God and His provision in this time has become more apparent than ever lately. Help me Lord to rely on You and to persevere through the hardships that life will continue to throw my way. May You be the Comforter and Provider for all who long for a taste of certainty and love in this time. Thank you for the assurance of eternal life.
With my face in my pillow, preparing to sleep, I softly recite this prayer. The surpassing worth of knowing You and living life for the purpose of Your glory is a beautiful thing. Thank You for the ways that You have guided and strengthened me through the best and worst times of this past year. Thank You for the lives that You have touched during this time and the lives that You will continue to transform as time goes on. May You help me to honor You in my daily walk of life and to put You first in all that I do. I need Your wisdom and Your Spirit to live out the duties and identities You have called me into. I desire to have the confidence and reassurance of a life dedicated and transformed by Christ that Paul presented to the Philippians. You are worthy of it all Lord. Amen.
(1) Revelations 21:4 ESV
Illustration by Ashley Yae '23