To Live is Christ
Mervyn Jones, Cardiff
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, he could say, "to me to live is Christ", Phil. 1. 21. Whatever life meant to others, to Paul it meant simply "Christ". Christ was his motive, his inspiration and his goal. All the apostle's energy, ability and time were consecrated to Christ. There is no doubt that Paul found his life, as lived for Christ, to be eminently satisfying.
One cannot read Paul's letters without being aware of the vitality, exuberance and joy which filled his Christian life and service. In the letter to the Philippians alone he mentioned "joy" or "rejoice" no less than 16 times! His joyful! outlook was fully shared by the other authors of the New Testament.
How different all this is from the commonly held view that a Christian is a dreary, cheerless kill-joy! It is really the adherents of the modern cult of "freedom", "permissiveness" and pleasure-seeking whose creed is letting them down. There is today an air of gloom and disillusion in so many of their novels, poems and songs. Many are being overtaken by a sense of despair as they fail to find either meaning or purpose in life. When viewed realistically it is, as Paul proved so long ago, the Christian life which has everything to offer.
No doubt many factors contributed to the full and satisfying life which Paul lived. Let us briefly consider three such factors, which we find listed together in 1 Corinthians 13, namely faith, hope and love (charity). Paul's faith rested, not in an ideal of his own devising, but in a glorious Person, the Lord Jesus. "The life which I now live . . .", he wrote. "I live by the faith of (that is, by faith in) the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me". Gal. 2. 20. His faith lay in One who had not only triumphed over every adversity in His life, but who had been victorious over even death itself. By faith Paul knew himself to be indwelt by the Risen Christ, and he appropriated the very strength of Christ to overcome all that was against him. "I can", he wrote, "do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me", Phil. 4. 13. Faith provided Paul not only with the guarantee of a future in heaven but with the power to live a satisfying and meaningful life on earth. By way of contrast, the unbeliever has nothing substantial in which to place any faith. Life to many young people is so uncertain that they find themselves an easy prey to cynicism and despair. In spite of their many efforts, they cannot find lasting satisfaction in any thing that earth has to offer. Life without Christ is life devoid of meaning.
Paul also enjoyed a solid hope for the future. This was not "hope" in the modern "maybe, maybe not" sense. It consisted of a real and certain prospect, based on the promise of God. Paul knew that, even if the Lord did not return in his lifetime, death would only serve to usher him into the presence of his Lord. He knew that to be absent from the body was to be at home with the Lord, 2 Cor. 5. 8. Hope enabled him to see that every trial and affliction could be turned to good account, Rom. 5. 3-5. The apostle had discovered that God had a purpose even in the unpleasant and unpalatable circumstances of life. He had found this to be true in connection with the illness which he called his "thorn in the flesh", 2 Cor. 12. 7-10. On the other hand, the unbeliever has no hope worthy of the name. When things go against him, he knows nothing but loss. Isobel Kuhn, who served the Lord among the Lisa tribesmen of China for 25 years, once wrote, "I don't know how people face life with its trials without Him. I know many just try not to think. That is so sad to me. When they could have this moment by moment fellowship and comradeship. I am so grateful He led me to Himself when I was young so that I could have this long earthly walk with Him". All the non-Christian's "hopes" are confined to the present life, and he has nothing at his journey's end ; he has "no hope", Eph. 2. 12; 1 Thess. 4. 13.
Finally, there was Paul's love. The unbelieving world of today sings much of "love", but more often than not it is a selfish and sensual thing. The love which Paul knew was the very love of God. This love was shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit. His love was directed first and foremost towards pleasing God. Then it went out to all those who belonged to the Lord. Lastly it extended to all men, whose salvation he unceasingly sought.
The Lord Jesus still offers the best life there is. He came that we might have life "more abundantly", John 10. 10. We are sincerely grateful that He died to redeem us from our sins and from hell. And so we should be. But do we ever thank Him for redeeming us from an empty, futile way of life ? 1 Pet. 1. 18. The Christian life is, of course, satisfying only in the degree in which it is lived for the Lord. The believer is challenged daily to exercise faith, to lay hold on hope and to show forth love. If he is truly doing these things, he will be able to say with the great apostle, "to me to live is Christ". Young person, such a life holds no regrets. John G. Paton went as a missionary to the cannibals of the New Hebrides in the middle of the last century. At the age of 34, and having been in his chosen mission field for less than 6 months, he had to bury both his young wife and his 5 week old son. He later met with untold difficulties and setbacks in his work, along with notable success. When he was 63, this man, whom C. H. Spurgeort once introduced as "the king of the cannibals", wrote, "I probably have had my share of abuse from the enemies of the Cross, and a not inconsiderable burden of trials and afflictions in the service of my Lord; yet here, as I lay down my pen let me record my immovable conviction that this is the noblest service in which any human being can spend or be spent; and that, if God gave me back my life to be lived over again, I would without one quiver of hesitation lay it on the altar for Christ", No other life is worth living !