We all know that to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves are the 2 greatest commandments.
But what is love? Saying this, I sound a little like the alien women in episodes of the original Star Trek series, in which they are always asking things like, “What is love?” and “What is kiss? Show me kiss.” (Naturally, Captain Kirk then fulfills his galactic duty to seek out new life forms.)
We all carry around some notion of what love is, but isn’t a large part of it simply this: doing what is best for others? If we truly love someone, we will do what is best for him. Not what’s easiest or costs the most money or attracts the most attention or tastes the best in the short run. But what’s best for them, body, mind, and soul.
If this is the definition of love, then once again St. Paul has become the incarnation of love for us and an incandescent example. Behold what manner of love the Father has poured out through His Son Jesus Christ, who is in St. Paul! We know what love Paul must have for God because he is writing to the Philippians in chains, chains he has earned because of his love for God, and chains which he says are chains in Christ (verse 13).
Paul’s love for Christ is evident in every pore of his body and speech and action. In spite of the various threats and persecutions he was constantly undergoing, Paul always preached the gospel, that is, he proclaimed Jesus Christ. Though it landed him in jail, and even, especially, in jail, Paul would not shut up about Jesus Christ! Paul has a uni-focus: Jesus Christ and Him preached throughout the world to all men.
Unlike many people today who make their bodies not the Temple of the Holy Spirit but a narcissistic idol, Paul used his body in such a way that Christ was magnified through it. I picture St. Paul as a huge magnifying glass walking around, so that when people look at him, or through him, they see Jesus Christ, who would otherwise have been invisible to them. Paul has so submitted himself to his Lord that he has become an instrument in the hand of the Lord, to do the Lord’s will.
In the end, Paul can’t lose because no matter what he does, he has dedicated it all to His Lord Jesus Christ. If he dies from persecution or other causes, then he will rejoice because it is far better to be in the presence of the Lord. If he lives, then he wins because for him to live is Christ. His life, suffering and persecution and all, was Jesus Christ. Therefore, whatever Jesus Christ brought to him was welcome and a reason to rejoice.
This love of Paul for Christ, in keeping the 1st Great Commandment was so great that it bled over ineffably into the 2nd Great Commandment. Out of his love for Christ, Paul loves the Philippians. How much did Paul love the Philippians, and how did he love them?
He loved them in his chains. Not the kind of gaudy chains that gangsta wannabes wear but the godly chains of being a slave for and to Jesus Christ. The chains he wore were not just for Jesus’ sake but also for the sake of Jesus’ Body, the Church. By choosing to accept the chains of Christ, as the slave of the Lord, Paul’s confidence in the Lord was multiplied in the lives of other disciples. Whenever we boldly and confidently proclaim Christ and live for Him and nothing else, then other brothers and sisters in Christ become confident by our chains and are much more bold to speak the word without fear (verse 14).
Could it be that one of the reasons the Church is so weak today in America and seemingly growing more impotent is that we have chosen a life of ease in Zion over chains for Christ? Where are the bold and confident preachers of Christ in our lives? Where are those who live only for Christ?
Paul’s preaching and his life of love produces more Christians who preach and live for Christ in love. This is how Christians are made: by other Christians faithfully living for Christ and preaching Him at all costs.
Paul’s love for the Philippians is most evident in the difficult choice he makes for them. Paul imagines that he is being offered a choice. He can take Door #1 and exit this life and be with Jesus Christ, which is a far better thing. Better in what way? Better because immediately the chains and imprisonment, the dark, cold, musty prison would vanish; better because he would have peace of mind and not have to worry about who would assault him next; better because there would be no more stonings and imprisonments and scourgings. Better because He would be with the Lord Himself. Could there really be any other choice?
Behind Door #2 stands Paul’s life on earth, which means more of the same. More pain and suffering, more concern for the churches and the lives of wandering sheep. Paul has these 2 choices before him.
And then he does the most startling thing: he chooses to stay on earth. Now why on earth would Paul choose earth and the Philippians over heaven and Christ! He’s either out of his mind . . . or he’s filled with the love of Jesus Christ. Why did Paul choose earth and the Philippians? Yes, it was far better for Paul to leave and go to heaven. But it was far better for the Philippians that Paul stay.
Here it is: love in its most concentrated form, love as a choice, love as sacrifice of good of self for the good others. Here is love most true because it is, in fact, the love of Jesus Christ. Isn’t this what Jesus Himself did? Didn’t Jesus give up the bliss of heaven for the suffering of earth – out of love for you and for me? How is Paul able to make such a sacrificial choice? Out of the love of Christ, from a life that is entirely in Christ.
Why does Paul choose earth? Because “to remain in the flesh is more needful for you,” he tells the Philippians (verse 24). Paul gave up what was better for him for what was better for the Philippians. This is love. Remember it. Study it. Imitate it.
Why does Paul choose love? “For your progress and joy of faith,” he tells the Philippians. So that the Philippians may more surely and confidently live for Christ, Paul chooses the chains of earth over the liberty of heaven.
Now I have a question about all of this. It is simply this: how well are you living for Christ and in Christ? How often and how seriously do you choose to do what is best for others, in spite of the cost to you? This is the central question of your life. How you answer it, not in your mind or lips but in your life, will be the answer you give to your Lord when you finally do meet Him in heaven.
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today in which I can more lovingly proclaim Jesus Christ to someone or one specific way in which I can give up my good for the good of someone else. When I do this, I will do it for the love of Christ.
Prayer: Lord, I pray that by the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ I will not be ashamed to proclaim Jesus Christ today and all the days of my life. Fill me with the Spirit of boldness and encouragement that Christ may be magnified in my body, that I may choose those things which are needful and good for others, and so that others may make progress in their lives with Christ and be filled with the joy of faith. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
1. How do you suppose that St. Paul got to the point where he could endure chains for Christ and choose earth over heaven for those he loved? What first step could you take in your life to follow St. Paul in love?
2. What godly examples of courageous proclamation has God given you in your life? What keeps you from having such a similar courageous life?
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day