During the summer I meet regularly with some of my students to translate Greek together. Our goal is two-fold: stay fresh in Greek and prepare for the next class in sequence. To accomplish that we are working through Philippians at present, and last week among other verses we translated Philippians 1:20-26:
My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, so that what you can be proud of may increase because of me in Christ Jesus, when I come back to you.
What struck me as we were working through this passage is what Paul ultimately desires as the outcome of his situation is not based upon what is best for him; instead it is based upon what is best for those believers whom he serves, who constitute the body of Christ. This goes entirely against the grain of our natural human selfishness, to be sure, but it also goes against the grain of much of the self-actualization and self-help ethos of contemporary Christianity. Paul's choice and desire in this instance are not driven by what he prefers or what will work best for him personally. Instead they are driven by what helps the body of Christ and thus ultimately magnifies Christ. Certainly what benefits the body will also benefit the self, so often the two paths don't diverge that much. But when they do, Paul helps us see what is the more important standard for choosing. Let us always remember that we serve the body of Christ, not the other way around.