If I am to live on in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. (1:22).
For this article, we are considering the passage in Philippians 1:21-26. These verses state in no uncertain terms the commitment that the apostle Paul had made to the Lord Jesus. His encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road had transformed the fire-breathing Pharisee into a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and now he can say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).”
It is hard to imagine a more radical declaration than this. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul was a man who saw life through a Christ-focused lens. His life belonged to Christ, and as long as he drew breath, his purpose was to serve Christ and to proclaim the gospel of Christ’s glory. Heaven with Christ was guaranteed (“to die is gain”), so now, while he was “in the flesh (1:22),” he would serve Him with his whole life.
But a radical declaration (“To live is Christ”) necessitates a radical commitment.
The apostle has made a radical declaration, but what does “to live is Christ” look like in real-life? Paul answers that question in the next verse. “(But) if I am to live on in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. (1:22).”
Fruitful labor is the key! Seeking to live a life in fruitful labor puts shoe leather on the declaration “to live is Christ.” So, when Paul said, “To live is Christ,” he not only made an explicit declaration of what defined his existence, but he also made an implicit commitment to manifest that declaration in fruitful labor.
This commitment to fruitful labor is everywhere evident in Paul’s life. In this very passage to the Philippians, we see that Paul considered it “more necessary” for him to remain and continue with them for their progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:25). In Acts 14, after being stoned by the crowds in Lystra (14:19), Paul got up, dusted himself off, again entered the city, went to Derbe, and then “returned to Lystra (!) and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:21-22).” Paul was all about fruitful labor.
My purpose is not to exalt Paul but is to exhort us. I think that, as radical as the statement of Philippians 1:21 is, it is the statement of the normal Christian life. Elsewhere, the New Testament declares that we have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). We have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5). We have lost our life for His sake (Matthew 10:39). We have left everything and followed Him (Mark 10:28). In other words, “To live is Christ.” And since that is the case, the disciple’s “spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1)” is to give himself or herself to a life of fruitful labor.
WHAT IS YOUR “FRUITFUL LABOR?”
If we have made the commitment to seek to live in fruitful labor, then we must take the time to think through what that looks like for us. The details will be different for each disciple because the Lord has called us into different roles and various vocations and diverse circumstances. For Paul, fruitful labor included writing thirteen New Testament books and proclaiming the gospel as a pioneer missionary over the known world. For most of us, our fruitful labor will be more modest. Nevertheless, I believe we need to consider how we can make the most of the time (Ephesians 5:16) and spend our lives in ways which manifest our commitment to Christ in Christ-honoring labors.
Here are some ideas for where to start in finding your fruitful labors.
- Your current roles and relationships will define some of these labors. In your spheres of influence you can “let your light shine before men,” you can “let your speech be gracious, seasoned with salt,” you can be an ambassador for Christ, a fisher of men, a sower who went out to sow, etc.
- Consider Ephesians 2:10, which states that God has prepared our good works beforehand (in eternity past), that we would walk in them. Meditating on this verse may give some direction on where you might find your fruitful labor.
- Be intentional and keep the idea of fruitful labor consciously in your mind. Develop a “fruitful labor” mindset.
SDG rmb 11/12/2020