"Hard-Pressed" Paul's Perspective in the Face of Real Adversity
Updated: Apr 26, 2018
For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again." PHILIPPIANS 1:19-26
The book of Philippians and this particular portion of scripture is a marvel to me. It hit me so hard just this past week, to the point that I had tears in my eyes reading it. Paul's life and ministry, as a whole, has the ability to really kick you in the pants. Such was the case as I read this passage and allowed it to soak in. I'd like to break down this scripture and point out how amazing it is, with the hope not that we applaud it as some distant, dusty relic of a Christian stand, but rather a mindset that we can put on and practice.
The reader should conclude not long after digging into Philippians that Paul is writing from a jail cell. While he writes, he's been unfairly prosecuted and jailed for no illegal act at all. He is guilty only of preaching the Gospel. If we put ourselves in the shoes of Paul, in light of our present cultural tendency to shout, protest, defend, and contend for what's fair, I think many of us might not carry on the way Paul did in this letter. In verse three, despite his circumstance, he actually thanks God for the Philippian church. He's not complaining. He's not defending himself. He's not even concerned necessarily about getting out of prison. He's thanking God for those with whom he writes, and he's explaining why his imprisonment is proving to be beneficial to them.
If we were actually in Paul's sandals, what would our attitude be like in jail? Would we have the gumption to write our neighbors letters that would guide them and the rest of the early church? How would we act with the prison guards, who were likely harsh, demeaning, and abusive? Here is what Paul decided to do with that set of circumstances. A) We know that he did write letters that did guide the early church, and they're in our Bibles today to encourage us also. We indeed have the book of Philippians, which means instead of sulking Paul was penning transformative correspondence to other Christians throughout Eurasia. B) We know through scripture [see the verse below] that Paul had an effect on the prison guard, where he was being held. Instead of seeing a demoralized man, sunken by circumstance, the scripture says "it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and everyone else that I [Paul] am in chains for Christ." Scholars write the footnote that "whole palace guard" might mean more comprehenisvely the "whole palace" in general. And if that's not exhaustive enough, he ends that line with "and to everyone else." That basically means everybody! They all knew that he suffered for the Gospel of Jesus, and that probably meant, too, that as a result, a number of them began to acknowledge if not believe in Jesus.
"12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear." PHILLIPIANS 1:12-14
Hard-Pressed for What?
When I think about being hard-pressed I think of an inconvenience, a proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place scenario, but certainly not anything too difficult to handle. Modern definitions of hard-pressed construe it as being "burdened with urgent business," or something of the like. Paul's position of being hard-pressed was literally a life-and-death situation; that was his urgent business! "For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you." This verse, this entire section of scripture, and the whole book of Philippians, for that matter, owns this tone, and none of it is focused on Paul. Zero. Nothing about this conundrum, of perishing or continuing, has anything whatsoever to do with his own welfare or his personal wishes or preferences. He is NOT concerned with how comfortable he is. When his circumstances are brought up, it's in light of how it affects others, and when pondering life or death, the decision is ultimately made to land at the lesser of the two options in order to edify others. That. Is. Incredible.
The Goal is Love
How did Paul reach such a level of spiritual maturity, as to not balk at the prospect of jail and death, but rather to lay his life on the line for his friends? He loved like Jesus loved. He goes on in Philippians to talk primarily about unity and humility, among other benedictions and exhortations. And how does one become like-minded, having the same love, and being of one spirit and mind? (see the passage below) The answer, I think, is dying to self. Paul had mastered this spiritual skill, so much that he penned this completely selfless letter even in the face of the gravest of circumstances. Paul is effectively inviting the Philippian church to imitate him by pouring themselves out, and not loving their own lives, even against the very clutches of death. How can we begin to master this brand of love? I'm going to counter that question very simply: ask for that brand of love. Believe that it's possible. Let Jesus' words about following Him and replicating His works take root, and see and be inspired by people like Paul who took a hold of that thing and didn't look back.
"...then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind." PHILIPPIANS 2:2
I thank God for His word. I thank Him that the pages of the Bible are filled to the brim with examples of faith, love, and courage. I thank God that they're true and that they're attainable. I thank Him that these hallowed words are but a click, tap, or page away. I thank Him that there's not a question, issue, or quandary in life that can't be answered in the 66 books of the Holy Bible.
- JF D'Orsie - Communications Director