“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Philippians 1:6
Through the Bible: Philippians 1-4
This afternoon I will meet with the widow of a ninety six year old man who passed away earlier this week. James and Dorothy were two of the founding members of our church. They had been married for seventy-five years. Before the pandemic, they never missed a Sunday. James Phillips was the picture of humble, gentle, consistent faith. His was a long obedience in the same direction.
I was out of town this week, and Mike, our worship pastor, had the initial meeting with the family. He sent me his handwritten notes so we could begin planning the service. One line from his notes jumped out at me:
No eulogy. Keep it about Jesus.
There’s a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton where George Washington is trying to convince the young Alexander Hamilton to join his staff. Hamilton doesn’t want to. He wants the glory of being on the front lines, and possibly even dying in battle, and the thought of serving as Washington’s secretary doesn’t appeal to him at all.
In these lines from the song “Right Hand Man” the Washington character says,
It's all right you want to fight: you've got a hunger
I was just like you when I was younger
Head full of fantasies of dying like a martyr
Dying is easy, young man; living is harder
The same can be said of the Christian life. No sincere Christian has a death wish, but we all imagine how we would respond if we were called on to give our lives for Christ. Could we face the test? Would we find the courage to stand for Jesus even if it cost us our lives?
We hope we would, and we also hope we never have to find out.
But while it may be less romantic to think about living a long life marked by integrity, service, and character, that may be the bigger challenge. There are lots of stories of once-strong Christians burning out, falling away, deconstructing their faith and labeling themselves “ex-vangelicals.”
There are other stories of prominent celebrity pastors who experience moral failure and scandal and leave the ministry. If asked, I wonder if they would have preferred dying unexpectedly at the height of their influence to the shame of seeing their ministry go down in flames. Maybe they relate to Harvey Dent’s cynical line in The Dark Knight: You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Paul has no such cynicism. If he continues to live, it will mean fruitful labor for him (v. 22) and the “progress and joy in the faith” for the Philippians (v. 24). He looks forward to his eternal rest, but he joyfully embraces the hard work of continuing in the flesh for the sake of the believers in Philippi.
Beloved, it is good to be willing to die for Christ. But it is better, and harder, to be willing to live for Christ. Faithfully, consistently, with however much time He gives you on the earth.