Living and Dying

Sitting in prison, perhaps on death row, St. Paul had plenty of time to write a letter to the Philippian congregation. In this letter, he says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

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Hearing this statement, you might say this sentence must have come from some saint who had never tasted of the real world. St. Paul would not have agreed. In fact, he called himself “the worst of sinners.” He had committed murder, which was not the sin of most people. But his sins had been forgiven by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, and so all guilt had been taken away. Let’s take a look at the early life of this man.

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Saul (Paul) was born into the upper-middle class. His father and mother were Jews of the tribe of Benjamin. His father was an influential Jew and a Pharisee. Paul was born in the affluent and academic city of Tarsus, and he was a Roman citizen. Tradition says that when he was a child, Paul was sent to a boarding school in Jerusalem to learn the Jewish Law and later returned to Tarsus to study under the famous theological teacher, Gamaliel. Paul was not only well-educated, but also zealous for his religious convictions and destined to become a leader in Judaism.

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But then came the day when life changed for Paul. The Bible tells us that he went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice from heaven say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

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“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

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“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

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So he was led into the city blind, and he did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus he met a disciple named Ananias. The Lord had told Ananias to go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He was to then place hands on Saul to restore his sight. Ananias went and immediately Saul received his sight, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and was baptized.

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Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus and preached in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All of this astonished the people. The Jews tried to kill him, but we are told in the book of Galatians that he soon left for Arabia and spent up to three years maturing in the faith.

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Saul had been converted and later wrote to the Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away and the new has come.” He was a new man and called by God to be his Apostle to the Gentile world. Later Paul described his life in this way: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

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This did not mean that Paul lived an easy life. Through the years he was stoned in Lystra, imprisoned and beaten in Philippi, beaten and thrown out of other cities, afflicted with poor health, and shipwrecked in the Mediterranean to mention only a few of his hardships. And yet he said that for him to live was Christ.

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What did this mean? Paul was telling the people that life was not easy, but whether in good days or bad days, Jesus was always at his side, and His grace was always more than sufficient for Paul.

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If Paul had his choice, he would rather die and be with Christ, for there he would see Him face to face and all his questions pertaining to his life and his relationship with the Father would be answered. Now he only knew in part, but when his earthly tasks were done, Paul, a good and faithful servant, would be taken in death under the hand of Nero, the godless emperor, to be with his heavenly Father.

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Now, let’s see what this part of God’s Word says to us. Can we make the same confession Ð “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”?

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The answer is yes. Millions of believers have and do make this confession. Let me illustrate.

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In 1945, Bishop Hans Lilje of Hanover, Germany spoke to 10,000 youth in Minneapolis. The bishop had been in one of Hitler’s concentration camps during World War II. He was punished for making statements such as “The future of the German people is not in the hands of Adolph Hitler, but of Almighty God.” After his release, Lilje visited the United States and spoke to a youth group. In his address he said, “The days were difficult in prison, but always were the promises of Christ sure. He never failed me, but comforted me with His presence and His promise, ÔI am with you!'”Ê

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The bishop could say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

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Let me tell you of a woman who was afflicted with a serious illness. As she lay on a gurney waiting to be pushed into the operating room, a nurse, sensing the tense situation, asked, “Would you like to have a chaplain?” The patient, replied, “No, I am alright.” She was at peace wanting to live because she loved life, but assured that, whether she lived or died, she belonged to the Lord, and He had prepared a heavenly home for her.

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A third example of the many who can say “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain,” are those who live in a retirement center but are assured of a place in heaven. I often hear a person say, “No life supports for me! I have enjoyed my life, but now I am ready to go when Christ calls me.” Isn’t this the Christian attitude of St. Paul?

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Our Lord has blessed us with his presence while we live on planet earth, and he has assured us that the best is yet to come.

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