"I want you to know that what has happened to me has served to advance the good news of Jesus!". These were Paul's words in a letter to the Philippian Christians. Paul had devoted himself to travelling city to city, proclaiming Jesus in each place.
Paul made plans for these journeys, he had a sense of strategy to reach whole areas. Yet Paul sat light with these plans - he knew that God might have different plans! He knew that every next city would only come about has God would enable. His plans took him back to Jerusalem, despite clear warnings of danger. It was no surprise that he was then set upon by a mob. Roman's soldiers intervened, and kept Paul prisoner to save his life - the mob wanted him dead! Now under arrest he was led through months of waiting and inconclusive trials, which led him to make the ultimate appeal: to Caesar! So to Rome he went, albeit in chains.
Yet for Paul this was yet another opportunity for the gospel. All along he had wanted to get to Rome. Okay he couldn't go to preach openly in the marketplace but he could preach to the guards and every official he was dragged in front of. The local Christians in Rome were able to visit and were encouraged by him, going out and boldly preaching. For this Paul rejoiced.
But Paul knew that his life was on the line - his imprisonment might not turn out well. Note he didn't pray for the obvious 'set me free', but for the greater Kingdom work to continue as God saw fit. For Paul had learnt to see things differently, with spiritual eyes, viewing from Christ's heavenly throne perspective rather than human/earth perspective. His relationship with Jesus and his prayer life was such that often for Paul while in prayer was already in the heavenlies. For him any barrier between earth and heaven was removed, any gap between the two shrunk down so that it seemed wafer thin.
For Paul eternally being with Jesus was just a short step away, enabling him to write 'To live is Christ, to die is gain' (v21). He knew that step was a one-way ticket - it meant to physically die, leaving the earthly body behind, yet it also meant being raised with Christ in glorious eternity. For Paul death was very real, but in fact just a blip. He asked which was better: to live here means more gospel work, to step across means to be fully with Jesus? Which would you choose!
These past 3 months I've had the sabbatical chance to find a depth and intensity in my own prayer life, for which I am massively grateful. I want you to know that what has happened to me I hope will serve to advance the good news of Jesus. Of course my experience doesn't match Paul's - he was in chains, I had 3 months off duty including an extended family holiday! Yet I feel my experience has given me a fresh & renewed ability to pray with I think glimpses of being in the heavenlies.
It has given me a fresh fire for v21 'to live is Christ, to die is gain' (a favourite of mine). So I want to be with Paul, living myself with the line between life here and ultimate life with Jesus appearing wafer thin. I want to be with Paul in not being ashamed of Christ & His work; having courage no matter what so that whatever happens to me the glory is all for Jesus; to live in a manner worthy of the good news of Jesus; to stand firm in Jesus by His Spirit; to strive for the good news message; to not be frightened by any opposition that might come.
We have talked before about already being raised with Christ, and so able to get a sense of the heavenlies. Christ through His death/resurrection/ascension has gone ahead of us and is seated with God in heavenlies … but by His Spirit He is present with us here on earth. We are clearly still here on earth living in these physical bodies, but nonetheless by His Spirit can now also taste what it means to raised up with Jesus in heavenlies – which gives us heavenly perspective which changes our priorities, our outlook, how we want to live.
My question is: will you be with me with Paul? Living without any need of apology, courageously such that Christ is exalted in our bodies whatever pans out? Will you conduct yourselves in a manner that is a credit to God's grace and desire for everyone in this city? Will you stand solid in the one Spirit, contending for gospel without being frightened? Will you live, seeking Christ and persisting in prayer: effectively stretching that membrane between earthly life and the heavenlies, stretching it thinner & thinner until it feels like from physical life here on earth to eternal glorious life with Christ is but just one step away?
I know I am not asking for an easy thing. Verse 29 Paul writes to the Philippians noting they too have been chosen to suffer. To go with this means putting your hand up and saying 'If it comes to it, I'm ready to suffer too'. Hardships will inevitably come your way through this choice.
Yet this is the calling of Christ, and is the stuff on which Jesus will build His church.