Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The tension between now and eternity

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
Philippians 1:21-24

Paul is not suicidal in this wistful expression. He is passionately worshipful... confident in his hope and love for Christ. He was equally torn between his love for the Lord and his love for the people of the Lord. At its root this longing is a tension between worship and discipleship. Both were attractive options for the apostle. His heart's cry was to be caught up in the beauty of eternity with his Lord. His life's passion was making Jesus known in the world through His church. This was really a tight squeeze for him to admit to feeling.

And I notice that there is a lot from Paul's passion that challenges me. Paul was an interesting person with powerful drives. He had a passion for eternity. He longed for the presence of his Lord. He was ready to leave this world for the presence of Christ and he realized that being with Christ forever is ultimately the will of God for all Christians. But he also had a passion for community with God's people while in this life. He saw the work of building up believers in the church as necessary, even a form of worship. It was necessary to encourage the community of believers so that the church could experience its eternals joys with Jesus. And though eternity with Christ "felt" like the more pleasant personal option, community with the followers of Christ was necessary for the sake of the gospel and the world. Paul was willing to keep serving because there was great joy in the ministry done with that eternal perspective in view. Jesus was at the finish line either way!

This presents questions for me that direct me toward thinking about my main motivators in life. Am I truly moved by a passionate vision of eternity with my Lord? Does that excite me? Do I really live like death is always the personally better option? Christians have hearts with a longing. It is knowing that we are aliens far from our home. We were made for a better country. We are looking for a city whose builder is God. And this world, at its very best, is far from the joy we will know in the presence of Jesus forever!

Am I really living for the joy of service in the community of Christ? Do I dread the ups and downs of living within a little society of sanctified sinners who are still being redeemed? There is a joy that comes in the "necessary" experience of serving Christ with my fellow believers in the church. But it comes through the co-laboring, the endurance, the confrontation of wrong in myself and others, the commitment to the rightness of God's truth as the gospel changes us, and the mutual passion we are following in following Jesus. It is only a taste of heaven and it leaves our hearts wanting more together... yearning to be together with Jesus. And while I am in this world it is essential that I be there... living my live in and with the followers of Jesus... loving a sometimes unlovely church... living for my Lord.

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