Seeing Life Through the Lens of Christ
Have you ever had that moment when you look back over your life and ask, “What is the point?” That moment came for me at the ripe old age of 24. I had flown through the big milestones at breakneck speed. I got married in college and graduated when I was pregnant. My husband finished seminary in two years instead of three. We had a second child, and we moved to Washington where Richard started pastoring. We settled in for Christmas and had a joyous time. And then…January rolled around. It was dark and cold, and I didn’t know anyone in our tiny town. My days settled into a consistent monotony of wake up, change diapers, feed the babies, clean the house, watch the house get dirty, clean it again, smell the diapers get dirty, change them again…you know what I mean. I remember one day I stood in my living room and thought, “I have accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish. It’s not really satisfying. What else is there except to die?”
I had forgotten that Jesus is the point of life.
At some level, I was clearly a bit melodramatic, or at least short sighted. But there was some truth in the emptiness that I felt. I had forgotten that Jesus is the point of life. I had forgotten that death is not an escape from meaninglessness, but is a chance to have even more of him. And whenever I do that (and to some degree I do every single day), I begin to feel the futility of everything else. I need to be reminded of him again. This week, the Lord used my study in Philippians to do just that.
Paul wrote this epistle from prison in Rome. He was there awaiting a trial before Caesar, which would be the opportunity to proclaim the gospel that he’d been waiting for. But meanwhile, he spent his days chained to a guard (which is even less preferable than being chained to a perpetually dirty house). Paul didn’t know how long this time of waiting would last, and he didn’t know if his trial would end in life or death. But, unlike me, Paul did not feel empty. Instead, he saw his situation through the lens of Christ and felt great joy. He writes, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
“To live is Christ.” What does Paul mean by this? For him, living is tied to the advance of the gospel. He says that his imprisonment has turned out “for the greater progress of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). This is because many from Caesar’s household had been saved through Paul’s witness from within the prison. And he says that if he is released and returns to the Philippians, it will be for their progress in the gospel. For Paul, life was always about fruitful labor for Christ, made possible by the provision of the Spirit. This includes progress of the gospel to the lost and the progress of the gospel within Christians as they matured in the faith. This is truly living.
“To die is gain.” One of the greatest gifts of living for the advancement of the gospel is that, since we are united to Christ, we get to have intimacy with him as we labor for his glory. Intimacy with Christ is the height of all joy, and the taste we get of it in this life cannot compare to anything else. Nonetheless, in this world we only get glimpses of the closeness we will have with him for all eternity. Therefore, Paul says that if he were acting according to his greatest personal desire, he would rather die. Unlike me, he did not want to die to escape meaninglessness. No, he would prefer to die because it would mean more of Jesus. And he says having more of Jesus is “far, far better” than even fruitful labor for Christ. In the end, he says his choice is to stay in the flesh for the sake of the Philippians, because he loves them very much.
This starts, as it did when I was 24 and as it did again today, by confessing that I don’t care enough about Jesus and his mission. That I care more about my temporal happiness than what my Father’s will is.
In other words, life and death are a choice between good and better. In life, I can exalt Christ by laboring for the advancement of the gospel. This starts, as it did when I was 24 and as it did again today, by confessing that I don’t care enough about Jesus and his mission. That I care more about my temporal happiness than what my Father’s will is. The Lord is always gracious to remind me that he knows this, that he loves me anyway, that he is committed to me regardless, and that he is willing show me that Jesus is the point of life once more. His Spirit floods my heart with a knowledge of the truth again, especially with the beauty of Christ and the value of giving my all for his glory. Then I simply have to ask, “In what ways can I advance the gospel today?” Whatever God gives me to do, I know that in it I will have close fellowship with Jesus. Best of all, I know that at the end of all of this fruitful labor, whether that is through death or the return of my Savior, I will get to have uninterrupted intimacy with Jesus forever.
Father, please give us this lens again today. We need Jesus to be the point of life and death.