WORD STUDY – FAIR TRADE FOR PROFIT
Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live [is] Christ, and to die [is] gain.”
I have heard this verse all my life but I never really studied it out in its context nor examined it in the Greek and Aramaic. When I did I discovered the secret to finding peace in a very trying situation.
Pierre-Auguste Renior the great impressionist painter spent his life painting a certain flower. It was so beautiful, yet he could not understand why it was so beautiful, what made it beautiful and why could he not recreate that beauty in a painting. He died at the age of 78 and the day he died his housekeeper brought him his lunch as he sat before his easel once again painting his beloved flower. His housekeeper over heard him mutter to himself: “I think I am beginning to understand it.”
I asked a number of art historians just what he meant. I got many different answers but the one I like best is that he must have been aware of the fact he was going to die and his mind turned to God and then he realized he could never recreate the beauty that God had already created.
I am 66 years old facing a crisis right now. All my life when I faced a crisis I sought the peace of God but often was very unsuccessful in finding that peace until God finally put things together. I determined that this time I would find that peace before God put things together. As always I would put faith and trust in God. I would tell myself: “Come, we shant be worried, God has it all together. I will trust Him.” That would last for a few minutes and then all the fear and worry would come flooding back as if a dam burst.
I thought about a friend of mine who is a missionary in China. He has no mission board behind him, he just trust God to meet his financial need. He works with the underground church and many times faces dangerous situations. He reminds me of the Apostle Paul. I wondered how he could face such trials and test of faith. That was when Philippians 1:21 came to mind. The Greek is very revealing. Paul is saying that to live is Christ to die is gain. I found that word a gain a little troubling. Our immediate understanding is that heaven is better than anything on earth. But the idea of heaven is no comfort for me right now while I am living. Sure for me to live is Christ and believe dying means I won’t have these problems anymore so that is real gain. But I and still alive and I still must face these problems and I want that peace right now not in the sweet by and by. That word gain in the Greek is very interesting. It is the word kerdos. This is a gain through a fair trade. How can you gain or profit from a fair trade?
Remember as a kid during lunch hour you opened your lunch to find your mother gave you a salami sandwich. You hate salami. You notice your class mate making a face at his tuna fish sandwich. He hates tuna fish. But you love tuna fish. Come to find out your classmate loves salami so your agree to a fair trade, a sandwich for a sandwich and you both profit because you end up with something much better. That is kerdos. That is when I had my Renior moment and after all these years I realized I was just beginning to understand it, to understand why my friend in China finds such peace in his work. He traded his life for the life of Christ. A life for a life except he profited from it. His life and comforts were no longer his, they belonged to Christ and if he suffered discomfort, it was not his life that was suffering.
When I realized this I knelt before God and said; “I gave you my life many years ago but I sure don’t act like it. Forgive me. Whatever happens in this crisis it is going to be according to you will and desires and if it turns out to be my worst fears, so be it. I gave up my right to have things the way I want them years ago. It is time for things to be the way you want them.” With that attitude, I instantly found peace, because, it is not my life I am playing around with anymore, it belongs to God and by faith I will let Him do whatever He wants to do with it. If it is sunshine or rain, poverty or wealth, fame or humiliation, it is no longer my call. If I don’t like it, tough buttons, I made a fair trade and in return I got the life of Jesus which is eternal and filled with joy.
But wait, let me share with you a deeper truth in the Aramaic. This was the native language of Paul. Scholars do not find Paul’s Greek to be that good but he did used the best Greek word for the Aramaic word he used or most likely thought. It is the word yatar which is found in the Peshitta, the Aramaic Bible. It’s meaning is identical to the Greek word kerdos with one caveat. Tracing this word to its Semitic root it has the meaning of joining together to become one. In the Aramaic I would render or paraphrase this verse as: “For me I am living the life of Christ and when I die I will become one with Him which is a gain because I will not longer be subject to these human, fleshly problems.”
I often wondered about this dying business where we are instantly made perfect, no longer sinning, no longer doing things to displease God. How can that be so instantaneous? But now I understand, as long as we live in this flesh, we are still subject to the wants and desires of this flesh. Jesus faced the same desires so he understands how the strong the lust of the flesh can be, but He overcame it because he was one with the Father. That is something we cannot accomplish here on earth living in the flesh. Even Paul admitted that he did things in the flesh he did not want to do. He talked of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit Romans in 7:15-20.
This gain is not a mansion in heaven, not peace and joy and pearly gates, it is finally shaking off the flesh and becoming truly one with Jesus. Sharing in all the peace, joy and power that He possesses because the two shall become as one. I think I am finally beginning to understand it.