Recently a friend posted on her blog that she had been diagnosed with incurable cancer. “Yes, I might have incurable cancer,” she wrote. “But I also have incurable life—I had life before cancer, I have life now with incurable cancer, and I will have life after cancer.” Her words reflect courage. But more than that, they reflect her faith. She shares the conviction of the apostle Paul that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (v. 21).
Despite the challenges posed by his circumstances, Paul was confident that the outcome would be “deliverance” (v. 19). This is the word for salvation. Commentator H. C. G. Moule explains: “This word includes in its widest reference the whole process of saving mercy, from the giving of the savior to the final glory of the saved.” Because of this, death is no threat. God would be glorified by Paul’s death as much as in life. For the apostle, both prospects were appealing. To die was to be with Christ, and to live meant that he could continue to serve Christ. Between the two, the apostle felt that to depart and be with Christ was “better by far” (v. 23).
Although the apostle felt torn between the two, this choice was not Paul’s to make. Need for his ministry suggested that he would continue to live and serve God (vv. 23–24). Our future is linked to God’s larger purposes. He is working out all things for the good of those who belong to Christ. At the same time, He is also working out the details of His plan for the church. We do not always understand God’s timing in these matters. Some seem to die too soon, while others wonder why they remain.
>> Even though the Philippians supported Paul through their prayers (v. 19), God alone can save. Yet, our prayers do make a difference. We do not have to understand how these work together to pray.
How we wish to emulate Paul’s contentment in Your will, even when his life hung in the balance! God, help us to pray with endurance, faith, a fervent desire for Your exaltation, in the assurance of our salvation.