But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I know not.…
But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I wot not, etc. Dr. Samuel Davidson's rendering of this passage, which is as follows, is evidently an improvement on our own version: "But if to live in the flesh this is some fruit of work; and what I shall choose I know not. But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire towards departing and being with Christ, for it is very far better: but to abide in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes. And of this I am confidently persuaded, that I shall abide, and abide with you all for the advancement and joy of the faith: that in me your matter for glorifying may abound in Christ Jesus through my presence again with you." There are three loves in all human souls - self-love, which concerns itself with one's own interest; social love, which concerns itself with the good of others; and religious love, which concerns itself with the claims of God. Being constitutional, they are all good and designed to answer useful purposes in the full and perfect development of our nature. They, however, separately considered, are not of equal value. The second, social love, is greater than the first; the third, religious love, is greater than either - it underlies both, and is intended to be the inspiration and ruler of both. Society is greater than the individual, and God is infinitely greater than both. He is the all. Bishop Butler, if I recollect rightly, in one of his sermons on human nature, expounds the nature and relative importance of the two loves - the love of self and the love of society. These two are set forth in the text as working in the mind of the apostle.
I. Here is SELF-LOVE DESIRING EXIT from the world. "Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better." Observe two things.
1. Paul's idea of the nature of his death.
(1) He speaks of it as a departure; analusai, to loose anchor (2 Timothy 4:6). He seems to have regarded his mortal life as a vessel intended and fitted to plough the ocean and visit distant shores, fastened and confined to the port, and death as the unfastening of all that binds it down. A sublimely elevating idea of death is this.
(2) He speaks of it as being with Christ. "To be with Christ." This mortal life, he felt, kept him to some extent away from Christ, and that death would conduct him more immediately into his presence, and he expresses the highest delight. What greater joy can we imagine than to be with the object of our supreme affection? For this the heart is ever craving. Death, then, does not terminate existence, but gives it more freedom and a wider range; does not take us away from the Object we love most, but conducts us more consciously into his presence and fellowship.
2. Paul's idea of the advantage of his death. "Far better." Is not the noble bark better out on the boundless sea, with its sails unfurled, filled by the propitious breeze, and moving under the smiles of a sunny azure, than tied up in the dusky docks? Is it not better to gaze into the eye and listen to the living voice of the object of our chief affection than to be leagues away as a matter of consciousness? Hence Paul desired death; his self-love yearned for it. So far as he himself was concerned it would be in every way an advantage.
II. Here is SOCIAL LOVE URGING CONTINUANCE in the world. "Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." To promote the gospel amongst them, and to diffuse it amongst his contemporaries, was an object very dear to Paul's heart. But he felt that if he were not to remain in the flesh, but to depart into the great spirit-realm, his power in this direction would be at an end. And this I take to be:
1. A solemn fact. We can only serve our fellow-men while we are in the flesh. There is no proof that one of all the millions of departed saints has been able, by personal agency, to render any good whatever to any left on earth, however near and dear to his heart. All personal communications seem to cease at death.
2. A practical fact. This fact should influence every man to do the utmost he can to render spiritual service to his fellow-man during his life. When Paul departed, society lost the influence of his personal presence, and the personal presence of a good man is always most beneficent. And more, he lost his personal agency too - he delivered no more speeches, be wrote no mere letters, his voice was hushed, his pen was stilled for ever. Earth alone is the sphere in which we can serve our fellow-men. Pious parents can no more help their children when they are gone, pious pastors cease to serve their congregations when they have passed away. Hence any work we have to do must be done now and here. Here then, were the two principles, the love of self and the love of society, working in the mind of the apostle, one urging him to depart and the other to remain, so that he says, "What I shall choose I wet not." I am in suspense. "I am in a strait betwixt two," that is, between the aspirations of the two loves.
III. Here is SELF-LOVE OVERCOME BY SOCIAL, LOVE. "And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith." "I know." That is, it is my present feeling. The knowledge sprang from his desire, the wish was father to the thought. On the whole, his choice was to remain. In reaching this decision he felt assured of two things.
1. That he would have trying work. "But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor." "If I live, my life will be one continuous labor, productive of much fruit, keeping me back from my reward, but useful to you" (Lewin).
2. That he should render useful service. "And continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Christ Jesus for me by my coming to you again." Most heartily did he desire such a joy in their faith, that they might abundantly rejoice in the continuation of his presence and work amongst them. Conclusion. Paul's experience here is sublime and exemplary. His love of self was submerged in his philanthropy, his love for his contemporaries. He sought not his own things, but the things of others. He said, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh." It is the Christly spirit, the spirit of self-sacrificing love, and this alone is genuine Christianity. - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.