For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21
Our Bible class has just finished the book of Acts, and I’m a little sad to say goodbye to Paul. We’ve traveled with him for weeks and over thousands of miles. I’d like to bring Paul home to talk about COVID and the way it’s disorganizing our lives and bringing so much death. I want his perspective.
I might begin with the boredom so many are feeling after being shut down with nothing to do and isolating for months. Last night was eerily quiet, and there was such a sense of detachment. Did Paul ever experience anything like that? Umm, I see that he spent two years imprisoned in Rome, probably chained to a Praetorian guard. He entertained everyone who came to see him (Acts 28:30), and it’s likely that he shared his faith with the rota of guards who stayed with him (Acts 28:16). But how did he keep himself amused during those days of confinement? Ah, he wrote letters—letters to the Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and to Philemon. That’s one way to handle quarantine.
Did he have to deal with fear? Opening the Book, I see that he escaped from Damascus by hiding in a basket that was lowered over the city wall. And he left a couple of places at night to avoid harm. He was beaten and imprisoned at Philippi where there was an earthquake at the jail. He was repeatedly threatened, and plots to kill him were hard to count. Perhaps Paul was sometimes tempted to fear, but he wrote in a second letter to Timothy (1:7), “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love and a sound mind.” While fear clouds judgment, a sound mind can inspire wisdom and prudent behavior. I’m feeling more encouraged listening to Paul.
He was such a spiritual giant, hardship was probably easy for him, but I wonder if he ever experienced discouragement? Then I read, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8). Paul confessed that “…life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about God’s mighty kindness and love” (Acts. 20:24).
More and more I get a picture of a man who knew whose he was and who he was, refusing to get tripped up in selfish thoughts of personal loss or injury. He was “crucified with Christ and [he] no longer [lived], but Christ [lived] in [him]. The life [he] now [lived] in the body, [he lived] by faith in the Son of God, who loved [him] and gave himself for [Paul]. That Christ-centered, image-bearing life had set him free.
Paul wasn’t distracted by circumstances. He didn’t allow himself to be diverted by persecution or peril but instead was prepared to share Christ with the Philippian jailer and his family, the angry mob trying to murder him in Jerusalem, the envious Jews in Asia, the Roman guards in Caesarea, or the frightened sailors on the cargo ship. He was instant in season and out of season (II Tim. 4:2), ready always to present Christ and, if necessary, to die for him. Essentially, Paul lived by faith in Jesus Christ who loved him and who gave himself for him.
That’s why Paul could have walked clear-eyed through COVID, unafraid of death, unconcerned about shutdowns or hardships, and totally unselfconscious. He wasn’t just an itinerant preacher; he was a man who lived life from the inside out, wholly devoted to Jesus. He would take whatever God brought and glorify him through it, rejoicing all the while.
Paul’s final words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” II Timothy 4:7
Father, make me to live always glorifying you, eyes fixed on you, keeping the faith. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.