Phil. 2:17 " I joy, and rejoice with you all."

Christ, the Son of God with all power, had made an apostle of Saul, a former persecutor of the Church. Known by his new name, Paul, Saul went from city to city preaching repentance and faith in Christ, who had atoned for the sins of the world. He himself knew the joy of salvation, and he created such joy in the hearts of others who received the Gospel in faith. But although he created joy without using coercion or pressure, he himself was hated and persecuted. Paul well knew that mankind would reject its Benefactor. He himself had done the same.

Man's corruption is so deep?rooted that without the Holy Spirit he hates the Gospel. He does not want to hear the message of grace because he loves sin - let it cause him whatever kind of suffering it will. Man does not want to be a condemned sinner before God, but rather wants thanks for his sins from God. For this reason the good news of Christ's substitutionary atonement is not acceptable to him, at least not as it is revealed in the Bible. He changes it to suit his own desires - changes it to his eternal damnation. All of us are inclined to do so. We may love the Gospel and its messengers only because the Holy Spirit has through the Law and Gospel converted us.

So, it was no wonder that Paul was imprisoned because of his faith and put in chains while he was in Rome. From Rome he wrote his "letter of joy" to the Philippians. In this letter he analyzed the situation he was in.

Either a sentence of death or freedom awaited him. He wrote: "But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith" (Phil. 1:22?25).

A sentence of death would have meant a far better mode of existence for Paul. He could have gone to "be with Christ". That would have been a life of perfect bliss. This is not some sort of existence without any knowledge or sensation of any kind, because Christ lives. Paul's soul would not have ceased to exist in death, but could have been with Christ. This is the kind of a blissful state Paul longed to enter.

This type of longing is a sign of faith also in Christians today. Paul, however, had not yet completed the work God had called him to do. The congregations and missions still needed his preaching and teaching. For this reason "to remain on in the flesh" was still necessary. He was content with whatever God willed for him. "But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering... I rejoice", he wrote and added: "And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me" (Phil. 2:17,18).