“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.” (Philippians 1:21-22) In other words, Paul’s ready to go. Just give the order and he’ll gladly fly away. The last part of the verse uses a little outmoded nomenclature. “I wot not” just means “I don’t know”. He doesn’t know what to do. He continues: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” (23-24)
So he lays down his “desire to depart and be with Christ” and literally takes again the mantle of Jesus’ proxy to the church, specifically the Christians at Philippi. I’m sure that took all the guts of Heaven to hold on and hold out so that Christ could be formed in a fuller measure to those who needed a little extra attention.
From the 1961 novel of the same name, a Catch-22 is a situation where you’re basically “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. In the book, it’s explained thus: a pilot must be declared insane in order to remain grounded. However, the only way to determine whether or not one is insane, is to personally request an evaluation. And requesting the evaluation necessarily requires–and therefore proves–that one be sane. Sane enough to fly. In Paul’s case, neither option (of staying or going) made much difference. He had so sold himself out to Jesus and the preaching and expounding of His gospel and to his mission as “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13) that both options presented an equal reward. See Christ face-to-face or literally be the face of Christ to the fledgling believers.
The term lieutenant comes from the Latin phrase “locum tenens” which means to act as the representative for. Paul was authorized by God to act on His behalf toward the church. Think about that for your own life. Who has God placed in your life for whom you literally act as an older sibling in Christ? It’s a high honor and even higher responsibility to be able to hold that position for another. Jesus did it for everyone and He does it even now (“there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” Proverbs 18:24).
In the novel, Joseph Heller sought to explain away the fruitlessness and fecklessness of the American military and of it’s internal workings. And while there’s a lot of that to be sure (as, I’m sure there is in any large governing body), the same should not be said for the church.
“If we say that we have no fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7)
Under God, the Christian church should be the most far-ranging and wide-reaching example of cohesion-in-spite-of-radical-individuality–if that makes sense. Each of us is, a little piece of God, wondering around and aspiring to world-changing greatness and distinction–crazy. And yet how does this flow with Jesus’ manifold exhortation to lay down our life and our aspirations and plans and dreams to serve Him and others? Because it does. As a child of the Kingdom, you have unfettered access to God’s throne. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace…” (Hebrews 4:16a) But unless we do that very thing–lay down our life for others, God cannot integrate us into one like He wants (see John 17). Life is too complex (and too hard) for all of us to function independent of God and one another. The snarls resulting from such shenanigans make the red-tape of other systems look pale in comparison.
When I was twenty-two, a book came out entitled When They Were 22. It profiles three-dozen or so people from all walks of life and from many different eras in history–whose lives changed at that age. It’s a great age to find yourself and while I’m not an adherent of astrology or numerology or any of that stuff, there seems to be a special burden placed on the shoulders of those who find themselves in that strait. Press through. Paul didn’t know what to do and, perhaps, neither do we. But God does, rest assured. And if you find yourself struggling within the confines of a life-paradox, know that God has your answer. Actually, you’re right where He wants you. Because unless He provides that way out, you’ll ever be leaning on others to represent Him when He wants to see you face to face. And fly.