Years ago I was at an evening service in a church in Haarlem and the preacher that evening preached about sin.
I don’t remember a word of what he said, but what I remember was his enthusiasm and happiness with which he was delivering his sermon. A little odd I thought, because his whole attitude did not correspond with the subject of his sermon.
Of course we cannot expect from a preacher to mimic his personalty with the subject of his sermon, but a little bit of similarity between the two is normal. Imagine if I would be using the same Bible reading for a sermon one day for a funeral and the next day for a wedding (as it happened), it would at least require some difference in attitude of delivery.
But, in this case the sermon about sin was delivered in a hurray fashion. Later that evening during coffee after the service I learned that the preacher’s first child was born just that afternoon. Now I understood why he was delivering his sermon with such a happy mind-set, because he was more taken by his personal circumstances than by the subject of his sermon.
When I read these words from Paul in his letter to the Philippians, saying; ‘to die is gain’ and ‘having the desire to depart, and to be with Christ, for it is far better’, I’m under the impression that Paul’s words are somewhat influenced by the position he was in during the writing of this letter. Imprisoned and perhaps disillusioned by the restrictions of being in prison for having done nothing wrong. In such circumstances it is not a surprise that Paul would rather be with the Lord and free from suffering and imprisonment.
But Paul would not be the first in the Bible who would utter similar words in difficult circumstances.
Moses in Number 11:14-15 says; ‘I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”
And about Elijah, after the miracle of the burning of the sacrifices on the altar when God sent fire to consume the offering, it says in 1 Kings 19:4; ‘He sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
Not to forget Jeremiah who is also complaining about the bitter and difficult circumstances he finds himself in and says in Jeremiah 15:10; ‘Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me.’
In the light of all what Paul has experienced and all the difficult circumstances he went through and all the sufferings he met, his words wanting to be with the Lord are understandable.
Presumably we all have gone through difficult circumstances in our lives at a certain point and perhaps even lost hope in what this life could still bring us. But, then we can learn from Paul and from Moses, and from Elaiah and Jeremiah and from Jesus Christ. Because in all the difficult and challenging circumstances they were in, they kept their eyes on God and did not abandon their ministry.
When we look to the letter of Paul to the Philippains as a whole, it is still accounted for being one of the most encouraging letters of Paul. The letter to the Philippians is often called a happy letter, because it is full of praise although interspersed with admonition, but overall it is a letter of joy to the Philippians.
Even with the difficulties we might face in the light of the Covid-19 restrictions, God's support and encouragement remains. If we, like Moses, Elijah, Jeremiaha and Paul, find our lives on a hard place and start to moan about our circumstances we can be encouraged that God did not abandon them and gave them the strength to continue.
It is really true; in Christ we are more than conquerors, even in the most challenging circumstances, as Paul is our vivid example and encourager to remain loyal to Christ and walk daily with our God.