For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. (Philippians 1:21, NLT)
This passage is the fighter verse for Sunday at our church. It also happens to be a very well-known passage of Scripture. But it gains far more meaning if understood in its context: this bold statement is just a small part of an ardent letter from a seasoned Christian pastor and preacher writing to one of his beloved congregations.
Which makes this passage especially meaningful to me, for, like Paul, I too am a Christian pastor and preacher who has the great joy of serving a church family I dearly love.
So allow me to take Paul's words as my own, with some adjustments, in order to express my heart and hope (text adapted from Philippians 1, The Kingdom New Testament)...
From Matthew, a slave of King Jesus, to all God's holy ones in King Jesus who are in St. Cloud, together with the overseers and ministers: grace to you and peace, from God our father and King Jesus our Master.
I thank my God every time I think of you! I always pray with joy, whenever I pray for you all, because of your partnership in the good news of the kingdom of God from that day - back on August 27, 2007, when you called from the fellowship hall and asked me to be your pastor - from that day until now. Of this I am convinced: the one who began a good work in you will thoroughly complete it by the day of King Jesus.
It's right for me to think this way about all of you. You have me in your hearts, as I work and labor among you, working to defend and bolster up the good news. You are my partners in grace, all of you! Yes: God can bear witness how much I long to be with you for the rest of my days, longing with the deep love of King Jesus.
And this is what I am praying: that your love may overflow still more and more, in knowledge and in all astute wisdom. Then you will be able to tell the difference between good and evil, to be sincere and faultless on the day of the Messiah, filled to overflowing with the fruit of right living, fruit that comes through King Jesus to God's glory and praise.
Now, my dear family, I know it hasn't always been easy. We've been through so much together. At times it has been hard for you. And at times it has been difficult for me. I want you to know that the things I've been through have caused me to grow, and I believe have helped the good news on its way. And I think these times have also benefitted you, providing new grace-soaked growth to the Lord's family. I think many of us are now much more prepared to speak the word, boldly and fearlessly. And there are many who are proclaiming the King out of good will, acting out of love. I am so happy to celebrate when people are living in obedience and proclaiming the King!
However, this proclamation may result in our persecution and suffering. Yes, that is true. There will be a cost to celebrating King Jesus. But I know that in him, we will always find rescue, through prayer and the support of the Spirit of King Jesus.
Therefore, I am full of hope, because nothing is going to put me (or us) to shame. I am going to be bold and outspoken, now as always, and I pray the King is going to gain a great reputation through my body, whether in good or bad, in life or death.
You see, to me, living means living for the King, and dying is even better. If it's to be living on in the flesh, that means fruitful work for me.
Actually, I don't know which I would choose. I'm pulled both ways at once: I would really love to leave all this and be with the King, because that would be far better! But staying on here in the flesh seems that it is more vital for your sake, which I know only because he has not taken me home.
So, for the time being, I will remain here, and stay alongside all of you, to help you advance and rejoice in your faith, to help you advance and rejoice in King Jesus, so that the joy you take in King Jesus may, by God's grace, come to overflow because I pour myself out for your sakes. I could find no greater honor if years from now, people would come across my grave and find written on the headstone there, "He lived for King Jesus, and that people would know, grow, and rejoice in Him."
This coming Sunday will be another deposit in that lifetime effort. We will look to the King. We will sing to the King. We will rejoice and advance in the King. And the Spirit of King Jesus will transform us more into the King's image. I can't wait.
See you Sunday.