Being with Christ or working for Christ... which is better?
Most of us are guilty. I am guilty. We read the Bible and as our eyes skim over the verses our brains fill in not what the text says, but what we think the text says. Sometimes our brains fill in what we have heard others say. Sometimes our minds fill in the context with what we have heard repeated.
In Philippians 1 Paul says that he has a desire to depart this life and "be with Christ; which is far better." The typical preaching point is usually like this: "I can't wait to go to heaven and leave this ol' world. We'll see mama again, we'll see the Lord, and we won't face the devil anymore." The usual comparison is that going to heaven is far better than being in this world. Seeing Jesus and our loved ones is far better than fighting the devil and living in this rough world. That's what goes through the mind when we read that verse. We think Paul is comparing the best of the next world with the worst of this world and calling it "far better.”
Yesterday, however, I noticed that the comparison normally in my mind wasn't correct. I realized that Paul isn't referring to the worst of this world when he says that being with Christ is "far better." He is actually referring to his work and labor for the Lord among the Philippians. So, this was my next thought: "Did I just read that right?! Did Paul just say that being with Christ is far better than working for Christ?!" The more I read it and thought about it the more I realized that Paul isn't saying being in heaven with Jesus is far better than being in prison. He is saying that being with Jesus is far better than being free to labor and be fruitful among the Philippians.
Now here comes the obligatory caution. I am not saying we shouldn't work for the Lord. Paul wouldn't say we shouldn't work for the Lord. No clear thinking person can read the book of Acts and get the impression that Paul didn't labor to spread the gospel. We would conclude that he worked more abundantly than everyone else. But there it is. Paul says being with Christ, fellowshipping with Christ, enjoying the presence of Christ is far better than any fruitful labor he could perform.
Now how could Paul have such a desire to be with Christ and know that it is far better than his great missionary activities? I think I am right to conclude that the hope for Paul's desire for future heavenly fellowship with Christ in eternity was built on the foundation of his (then) present earthly fellowship with Christ in time. He longed to see Christ in heaven because he had already seen him by faith below. He wanted to be with Christ in heaven because he had already been with Christ below. He longed to fellowship with Christ in a neverending day in heaven because he had already had times and days of fellowship with Christ below. Paul is stating that his desire to be with Christ in heaven (which didn't begin at his death but at his conversion) is far better, far better, far better, far better than any work and labor and activity that he could do, even if that work and labor and activity was being the most significant missionary ever to live. Was his activity needful? Yes. He will mention that next. But what fueled Paul wasn't his desire for activity. It was his desire for Christ.
So what is the potential consequence of making our main ministry priority and foundation people, or methods, or souls, or soul-winning, or preaching, or teaching, or building, or changing, or reaching, or singing, or contributing, or mentoring or any other good thing? The potential is that we (that I, Tony Walker) could build and build and do and do and preach and preach and teach and reach and go and give... and one day have it all come crashing down. Crashing down because I built on the what instead of the Who, on the principles instead of the Person, on a cause instead of Christ. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. Our fellowship is with Jesus Christ. Our desire is for Jesus Christ. The foundation is Jesus Christ. The foundation is Jesus Christ. The foundation is Jesus Christ. What is the potential consequence of decades of daily laboring for Christ without decades of regular fellowship with Christ? What could happen when the motivation becomes the labor itself and not Jesus Christ Himself?
And my mind goes immediately to the story of two more fallen preachers. I'll leave their names out. One is locally known(about four hours away), and one is nationally recognized. Both have been in the news recently. It is heartbreaking to read what happens when pastors keep up an appearance of working for Jesus when it is now apparent they stopped fellowshipping with Jesus long ago. A ministry may fall overnight, but it usually isn't destroyed overnight. It is generally destroyed a day at a time. Every single day that Jesus Christ is a means to an end and not the end Himself the ministry is being destroyed. These ministries appear to prove what is inevitable when a minister's chief desire is the labor in the name of Christ instead of the desire to be with the Person of Christ.
As we build, may God help all of us, may God help me, to examine ourselves daily (not yearly, monthly, or weekly, but daily) to see to it that Jesus Christ is indeed the foundation for all that we do. Though the work is needful and necessary, may it not be our chief desire. That role belongs to Christ alone.
Being with Christ or working for Christ... which is better?
Being with Christ. By far.
"Our first great need is not seeking to minister to others, but ourselves being ministered unto by the Lord. Our highest privilege is not that of being engaged in service for Christ, but of enjoying daily communion with Him. Our first obligation is not that of being concerned over the welfare of our neighbors, but making our own calling and election sure. Our first great task is not to serve our fellowmen, but to serve our God by studying His Word, learning His will, and then doing it. Our first circle of responsibility is not towards strangers and distant acquaintances, but our own home. Our chief ambition should not be the proclamation of Christ with our lips, but the preaching of Him by our lives. If we have not learned to worship God in the secret place, we cannot do so in public assembly. If we are not ourselves really following Christ, walking and communing with Him, it is but mockery to speak of Him to others. If we preach Him in words but deny Him in our works, then we are only a stumbling block to those who hear us. If our “service” for Christ is robbing us of the time so urgently needed for the cultivation of our personal “vineyard,” then it is a snare and a curse to us."
“Exercise thyself unto godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). “Take heed unto thyself” (1 Tim. 4:16). “Keep thyself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22). “Study to show thyself approved unto God” (2 Tim. 2:15)
~The Apostle Paul to Timothy