Editor’s Note: this is a revised version of a comment that I posted for Wednesday, October 14 in error. Thank you for bearing with me as I refine this blog.
The Word of the Day is “flesh.” In our reading of Philippians 1:20-27, we find that St. Paul’s life is suspended while he waits for his trial before the Roman Emperor. Paul continues to proclaim the Gospel with such power that the whole palace guard and others know about his suffering for Christ. Moreover, his example has emboldened his associates and even his opponents to preach Christ freely.
Torn Between Life on Earth and Life in Heaven
But Paul cannot see too far ahead, because at any moment the guards might take him to his day in court—maybe to his death. Thus, Paul is torn. He does not know whether he will live or die. And he is unsure about what is better. He says that he is “hard-pressed between the two.” “He yearns to leave this world and to be with Christ. But he knows that his followers need him. The former would be better for him. The latter would be more helpful for his flock (v. 23).
If we put ourselves in Paul’s place, we would confront the question, which is better for us? To most of us, the answer would be immediate. We would cling to life on this earth. We want to live a “full life” and then depart to be with Christ to await the resurrection. Why would we say this? The answer has to do with our “life in the flesh” as Paul puts it. Our fleshly life is not necessarily evil though it is susceptible to temptations. But “flesh” refers to the material physical body as contrasted with immaterial soul. It is, therefore, our base, “lower nature.” It is natural but weak, created by God but subject to death (Strong’s #4561, 224).
Life in the Flesh
In Romans, Paul compares the life of the spirit with the life of the flesh: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds of the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5). The flesh is of the earth. It ties us down to this material world and leads to the sins of our carnal nature (Colossians 3:5-6). The Spirit is of God and releases us from the bondage to sin and death. It leads to righteousness.
Then too, the Epistle of 1 John warns us not to be attached to the “flesh.” It teaches, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life– is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). The Apostles adds, “The world is passing away, but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17).
We Too Are Suspended
Hearing these verses, do we have a different answer about what place would be better for us? Do we realize that, like Paul, we are suspended between our life in eternity with Christ and our life here on earth? How then shall we live here in this world when what we should love is for the Eternal God? St. Isaac the Syrian suggests an answer. He says, “: …the Saints that while alive they were dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not live for the flesh.” As long as God wills it, we will live here on earth in this fleshly body. Nevertheless, we can live for our eternal life in heaven. We can “seek those things which are above, where Christ, sitting at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).