Paul wrote some rather profound words. That happens when one is inspired by the Holy Spirit. But among them was simply:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21, NIV
I characterize this response like one that us usually attribute to Dienekes. Dienekes, when told by a fellow Greek that the Persian archers facing the Spartans at Thermopylae could put so many arrows in the air that they would blot out the sun, is recorded by Herodotus to have said, “Good. Then we will fight in the shade.” (And for those who watched 300, Dienekes was not included as a character, which is probably why in that version Leonidas said it.) This is basically Paul’s response. While he was alive, he was on the earth for a purpose and that purpose came straight from God above. And when it was time to die, that was fine, because that meant he went home to his Lord and Savior. Either way, there was joy. Either way, he won.
Here’s the catch: this just doesn’t apply to Paul of Tarsus. It applies to every single Christian who has been saved by grace and has his or her name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. That’s you. That’s me. That’s the Church. The world is unfair. A lot of evil people are doing a lot of evil things. Christians are suffering. Christians are dying. But we were warned that this would happen:
“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master ‘ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. – John 15:20, NASB
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:10-12, NASB
While we’re in this world, we have a purpose. There’s no reason to look for an early exit. We’ve got a job to do: to glorify our Savior and make Him known to all we can. There is a way to do that, however, and it’s spelled out here:
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:22-26, NASB
We aren’t to quarrel. We are to be kind. We aren’t to retaliate when we’ve been wronged. Rather, we’re to be patient and respond back with gentleness. It is not up to us to change the opinions and feelings of those who oppose us. We leave that to God. We just keep plugging along, remembering that we have a mission to complete, a spectacularly awesome mission because, as the Blues Brothers put it, “We’re on a mission from God.” And when He calls us home, we’re… HOME! The pain and suffering, the hurt and dying, it’s all gone. It’s no more for us. It’s now on to waiting for His kingdom to come to fruition and the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 to come down. Remember, our Lord could have fought back at any time. He could have had legions of angels go to war with those who sought to kill Him. He didn’t. His example of sacrifice was more telling that yet another bloody battle. And that’s what He expects of us, too. He’s not looking for combat heroes. He’s looking for humble servants willing to suffer whatever price is asked of them, so that others might hear the Gospel and believe. That is why Paul wrote, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” If we believe it and we live it, regardless of what else happens, we win.