Death and Life of Paul
“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.” -Phillippians 1:21-24 ESV
Every man who has ever seen the movie Braveheart knows the line “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” This line is said by William Wallace, a hero in the Scottish war for independence, moments before he is brought out to be publicly tortured. Every man also remembers being riveted by the scene that follows when Wallace’s torturer promises his life will be spared if he begs for mercy. Wallace, barely able to speak at all, summons every fiber of energy in one last defiant scream… “FREEDOM!”
The history of William Wallace is mostly legends and tall tales that have been passed down through generations. Likewise, the ultimate death of the apostle Paul is not recorded in scripture. Legends of his death are recounted by early church fathers like Clement I, Ignatius, Tertulian and Eusebius of Caesarea. According to the tales Paul was martyred in Rome at about the same time that Peter was. While Peter was crucified upside down, Paul was beheaded. Legend has it that Paul’s head bounced three times after being severed from his body, and each time it hit the ground it created a source of water. This place is called “San Paolo alle Tre Fontane” or “St Paul at the Three Fountains.”
Whether this story of Paul’s death is true or not, we know with certainty what Paul believed about death and life. While in prison Paul wrote these words to encourage the believers in Philippi: “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.” -Phillippians 1:21-24 ESV
We learn two key things through this passage. First, the end of our life here is the beginning of eternity with Christ. I imagine Paul on the headsman block, unflinching and defiant, awaiting his reception by the Lord. Second, the purpose of life is to provide service to others and to be fruitful in God’s name. Paul is very clear that the life of a Christian here is purely for others to come to know God through you, because the most edifying thing for you is to be with Christ in death. We learn so much more about what death means by the way Paul lived, and not by what actually happened to him.
Spend time in prayer today and allow God to reveal to you what you are truly living for. Is it wealth? Power? Sex? Worldly possessions? Entertainment? Your career? Your family and friends? All of these are false purposes. As a warrior your oath of fealty is to serve people in a way that points them towards Christ and toward salvation. Also, take comfort in the promise that if you are in peril and close to death, eternity with Christ waits for you on the other side.