“And, if I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful work for me, but which I will choose, I do not know.”
Here is the simple message of the Christ-focused life. God gives us work to do; we must do so to His glory and by reflecting the fruit of the Spirit. How often we live lives that are marked by distraction. How often we live our lives focused on ourselves, our reputations, our goals, and our own ends, not on the glory of God. How different our lives would look, would they not, if we to embrace and pursue Christ instead of self.
The idea of “choosing” in the Greek is rooted in the notion of that which is more desirable for our lives. In a world where different schools of theology debate the nature of human free-will, people sometimes excitedly declare, from a passage like this, “Look! The Apostle Paul is affirming his absolute freedom of will when he speaks of choosing one over the other.” As a Calvinist, my response is to say, “Look at the text.” Paul is speaking about life and death — yet, scripture also teaches that God numbers our days (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16), surely Paul understands that there is nothing that he can do to even add an hour to his life (Matthew 6:27). So how is it that we are to understand the “choosing”?
To begin with, though God is sovereign, we are not unthinking robots. We make real decisions in a way that is relatively free…at least free in the sense that our decisions are consistent with our character. Note, God’s freedom is constrained by his character as well (he cannot lie, sin, cease to be God, etc…), so this notion of our freedom constrained by character should not throw us much.
So, by Paul’s character, what is it that he will choose? What will be most desirable for him? We have just spent verse after verse seeing the intensity of Paul’s focus on the glory of God. What Paul wants, what he desires more than anything, is exactly what God wants for him. And this Paul does not yet know. Will he soon die or will he live? He will speculate some in the verses that follow, but above all else, he wants his desires to be aligned perfectly with the desires of God himself. Everything else is secondary.
What a remarkable model for us to follow. How different our culture would be if Christians were committed to God above all else. In a world where pluralism has crept into many people’s theology, how different our churches would be if everyone would be as committed to the scriptures and their authority in life as the Apostle Paul presents himself. Jesus said that if you love me you will obey me (John 14:15)…that means not only obeying the commandments that we like, feel comfortable with, or are acceptable in the community around us, but all. That means embracing not only the parts of scripture that you appreciate or happen to agree with, but all of the scriptures as one unified book of God. As Paul will later write, they are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Let us throw to the wind our hinderances and pursue Christ. May we love him in every sense of the term and serve him. And may our desires for our life be found to be in tune with God’s desires for us…not just in some things, but in all areas of life and thought.
“Take my life and let it be,
Consecrated, Lord to thee,
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.
Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall by thy Royal Throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store,
Take myself and I will be,
Ever, Only, All for Thee.”