Philippians 1:19-26
To Live Is Christ

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

What if you couldn't work?

1. A scholar well-informed in the history of religious thought has written the following words:

2. "As the tale goes, once in a certain north eastern mountain village, on one certain day an old woman over eighty unexpectedly hung herself to death in a barn. The old woman had her health whichever way you looked at her and even had been working in the fields up to the day before her death. However, on the evening of that day she came down with a light spell of some sort; she was ordered by the doctor to recuperate and rest for just a brief period. If you can speak of a cause, that was it. When she heard that diagnosis, in just the twinkling of an eye she changed to her long-held belief and put into practice exactly as she believed. She was resigned to the long-held belief that if you can't work, you die...

3. ...I can't even fathom how much is true fact being told in this drama of one's life's last moments which they call heroic and how much of it may be mixed with bits of fabrication. However, when I heard this story and before seeking the truth and falsity of it, I was impressed. And I felt that if I could do it, I also want to do the same as her."

4. The above is a quotation from that composition. I also felt I do not know how much fact is in the story about this old woman. But, when I read this composition what gripped my heart most was not the story itself about that old woman, but the words written afterwards by the historian. I feel his comments are problematic when he said, "When I heard this story and before seeking the truth or falsity of it, I was impressed. And I felt that if I could do it, I also want to do the same as her."

5. The old woman moved to put into practice her resigned perception that "if you can't work, you die..." Her feelings are not impossible to understand. I understand them. But, it is a strange way of talking; I think one ought not be impressed by this story. I don't think we should say "I also want to be like her." I think this because it does nothing but affirm the idea that "a person who can no longer work or becomes unproductive for others should not live." It does nothing but say to a person who can no longer work to please hurry up and die. As I read this piece and the words in the story that "I was impressed," I experienced only anger. Should a person die if he is disabled from his birth and unable to work? If one person commits suicide, does it do no more than impress a person? Does a person's life and existence only mean that much? Because of these things I felt my heart getting gloomy.

As Before And Even Right Now

6. If I say why did I talk about this kind of thing in the opening paragraphs, it is because this has a connection to today's scriptural passage. The passage I read today is a portion from the letter that the man called Paul wrote, and at first glance it is similar to the preceding thought of that woman who hung herself. Of course, this was not a situation where Paul was considering suicide. However, in verse twenty-three he says, "I long to be with Christ and depart this world, and am so wishful for this way." In short, he was wishing for death. Also, he was writing like this:  "But on the other hand, to stay in the flesh is very needed for your sakes." Therefore he  does not only say, "I am still living." To be  brief, it seems that he says, "if it gets to  where I am not useful for you, then I should  die. If I can't work I will always be glad to  depart from this world." Is Paul thinking that a person who becomes useless to people has no need to be in this world? Is he really saying such a thing as that?

7. Well, I just said, "it resembles it at first glance." It's a normal thing in this world to have things similar at first glance but in fact be completely different. It's the same with Paul's words. We shouldn't take just part of it out and read it. We need to read the story in its full flow. He was not thinking about his life on such a level as: "Am I useful to some people for some purpose? Does my being alive have some value to them?" What was the desire of Paul's heart? In verse twenty Paul speaks as such:

8. "So, without making me ashamed in anything, as before and even right now, whether in living or dying I earnestly wish and hope that Christ will be lifted up publicly through  my body," (1:20). Let me touch upon somethng minute first. The words "without making one ashamed" do not mean "don't have shameful feelings before others." Paul is not bothering with such a point. The phrase "not make ashamed" in the Bible means "a hope that does not end in disappointment." In short, what Paul is talking about here is that "what he wished and hoped for will not end up in disappointment." So, what is it that Paul is earnestly wishing and hoping for that has no disappointment in it?  He says this in "as before and even right now, whether in living or dying, that Christ may be lifted up by my body." This very matter is Paul's earnest request, and he has fixed his life in that direction.

9. Here the important words are the words "as before and even right now." Up to this Paul had been going from region to region proclaiming the Word of God. He had led people to salvation, built churches, guided pastoral care givers, and whatever shape you see him in he had been serving people. So you could say, he was helpful to people in various jobs visible to the eye. That was Paul's "before." But, "right now" is different. Paul was arrested and in prison. Right at such a moment he cannot go around to the different regions. Of course, he can write this letter from prison; but, if you compare that with the work he did up to now, you could say that it ends up becoming quite small on a corresponding scale. No, far from that the brothers and sisters of various churches have served in an assortment of ways to fulfil the needs of Paul while imprisoned. He was supported in material ways by many persons. That's how the "now" is. So, while he is in jail, he was awaiting a judgment against him. If you will, it may be that he had to die just like that. It is a "now" that does not base itself on the feeling that "Will I ever accomplish anything after this?"

10. How about us? The circumstances that we are living under are completely different from Paul's; but, doesn't each one have a kind of "before" and "now"? If you have a time now hen you are able to work and run with vigor, you will have a time when you will not run like that because of being restricted by something or other. Surely, if being useful to others and being praised by them is a time of happiness for you, the day is coming when you won't be able to serve others with anything. If there is a time when you carry the heavy burdens of others, there will also be a time when you end up a heavy burden for others.

11. However, Paul earnestly wants not just what he did "before" but even "now" "to lift up Christ publicly through my body." He wants "to lift up Christ publicly through my body even in dying" as well as through living for him.

12. One more phrase that we shouldn't miss out on here is the phrase "through my body." It is not written, "through what I am doing." It does not say "according to what I have accomplished." Referring to our works and deeds is only one part of the matter that the word "body [or self]" expresses. It is notevery thing. A person who thinks work is every thing is in sad shape. That is just hanging oneself whenever one gets unable to work. Paul is taking issue with not simply work alone. It is because having meaning at the end is what existence, which includes a person's character, is all about. It is with this very type of existence that Christ is lifted up. When the verb "being lifted up" is translated literally it is the word "to be made big." It shows the love and grace of Christ bigger and bigger through that person's having an existence there, and it shows bigger and bigger Christ's glory. This indeed is what Paul wanted from his heart.

13. As I read this I remember a particular individual. Before I went to seminary, I used to participate frequently in large meetings where people from many churches assembled and back then there was a sister from another church I used to see from time to time. She bore the burden of a developmental disability in her intellectual functions. I think she was nearly twenty years old, but intellectually she had not come up to even the level of the lower grades of elementary school. Perhaps she thought she couldn't do service that seems like service or work that seems like work. However, whenever I met her she seemed to be showing the love of God by means of her entire body. I cannot forget how she rejoiced in the love of Christ, how she loved Christ from the heart, how she looked praying from the bottom of her heart although with unskilful and poor wording, and her singing voice praises Christ from the bottom of her heart although her sounds were completely off. Through her body the grace and glory of Christ was being displayed bigger and bigger.

14. A person can show the glory of Christ through his work. But, he can also show the glory of Christ even on the sick bed unable to work. If you can show the glory of Christ with a healthful body, you can show the glory of Christ through the midst of various sorts of handicaps or disabilities. The same way you can show the glory of Christ while in your youth, you can show the glory of Christ in your old age. You can show the glory of Christ even through death. Yes, you can. At the time of death you richly display the grace of Christ; there are many people who have departed this world having carved out Christ in their hearts. We also want to be included in that number.

As The Belongings Of Christ

15. Well, this is how Paul's request "as before and even right now, whether in living or dying that Christ be publicly lifted up through my body" had been. Of course, this request must be coming from Paul's faith. For Paul, the life of faith was not simply for obtaining Christ for his own personal salvation. Rather, it was for being owned by Christ and nothing more. Paul's Lord is Jesus, Paul belongs to Jesus. Paul is always one with Christ and he had been keeping very aware of this. In Galatians 2:20 this is how he speaks. "The one who is living is no longer me. Christ is living within me." How important is it that we live with this type of consciousness? If you don't have this awareness of mind, as a believer in conclusion you are not seeking to lift up Christ through that body, but are ending up seeking to lift up self. You end up thinking that the meaning of human life is just to make the self bigger. Therefore, when the self is no longer able to get bigger in human hearts and in your own heart one gets to where one can't live any more. It results in merely measuring human life as simply a self that is a useful person and as being seen in such a way. Such a measurement can be explained as "if you can't work any more, you shouldn't live."

16. Paul's measuring was different. He talks like this. "For me, to live is Christ; to die is profit." What shall we say? To live is "me." In short, the self becomes lord and master, and if one holds on to one's life, one could not say that "to die is profit." In that case, dying ought only to be a loss. If a person sets his life on the purpose of increasing the self, he ends up tearing off every thing by death. He loses every thing. Therefore, one's entire life was only a journey to the act of losing. A person lives continually losing. However, in belonging to Christ, if we live all our lives aiming to show forth the glory of Christ, our relationship with Christ will not be snatched away by death. Rather, we will get to live eternally together with Christ. In this definition death is not a loss, but it is profit. Our lives are no longer a walking towards loss.

17. "To live is Christ, death is profitable." We are saved so that we would able to add before these words "for me" like Paul did. [For me to live is Christ...]. That is why he hung on the cross and forgave our sins. We were redeemed to become truly the belongings of Christ. There is nothing to do but display the glory of Christ with our forgiven and redeemed bodies [or selves].

 
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