Did you make a new-year’s resolution to cut back and be more moderate in some area of life? Have you embraced the idea that balance (that is, no one thing is dominating) is the best way to live life?
Moderation and balance are generally good goals, but they’re not always a good fit for everything. Some things are just better when taken to the extreme.
Remember when “extreme” was the popular word, describing certain sports and makeovers, etc.? These “extreme” activities involve drastic changes and deadly risks. What motivates people to participate in these things?
I think people participate in them because they’re desperately looking for either a dramatic life-changing experience that will solve all their problems or for an emotional high that will make them feel alive and help life be more than mundane and routine. There may be other reasons, but I think these two are the most common.
But what price do they pay? What risk do they take? Is it worth it? And is it ultimately worth it?
Jesus did say that He came so we could have life and have it “more abundantly” (John 10:10b NKJV). The NIV says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The wording emphasizes “abundantly” and “full;” so to me, this verse speaks of thriving—not just surviving, of doing lots of things, accomplishing great things, of … just all those things I associate with a full, action-adventure, full-sensory experience kind of life. Living life to the max. Really living.
I greatly desire a full, adventurous life … but I’m not real big on the risks and sacrifices that could be involved. If I’m going to suffer, I want to make sure it will be worth it. So, which “extreme” activity do I choose?
If I’m going to suffer, I want to make sure it will be worth it.
Paul provides us with a worthwhile extreme and even provides examples of extreme living. First, Paul tells the Philippians (1:12-18) of how he is in prison for proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. And even though he is suffering the hardship of such a life, he’s excited about how it’s actually causing the gospel to spread even more! That’s pretty extreme.
Christ, of course, is the ultimate example. Paul describes our Savior’s extreme living in Phil. 2:8, saying that Jesus “became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (NKJV). Now that’s the ultimate extreme.
Paul provides more illustrations of wholly-devoted living, revisiting his own example in 2:17-18. Paul is humbly brief in describing himself simply as a drink offering being poured out, but we know from other writings some of the horrendous things he went through (see 2 Cor. 11:23-28, for example). Just the connotation of a poured-out drink makes me think of being drained of energy and life. Sounds extreme to me.
(Picture of a last drop coming out of a cup.)
Paul then talks about Timothy (2:19-24). At first, nothing here looks extreme since there’s no mention of life-or-death scenarios.
But look again. Verses 20-21 are clues that young Timothy willingly set aside all the things that a young man could aspire to do and become, and chose to follow and help Paul.
It is safe to say that Timothy endured some of those dangers that Paul went through, suffering either directly or indirectly (from secondary trauma). Unlike John-Mark (Acts 15:37-38), Timothy didn’t run home when being a “roadie” got tough.
This young man even endured delicate, sensitive surgery just to keep from offending people (Acts 16:1-3)! Even when he technically was not obligated to do so!
Here is a rare youth: thinking of and acting on behalf of others instead of self. I’d nominate him for an Extreme Living Award.
Paul’s third example of extreme living is Epaphroditus (2:25-30). Here is a man who gladly agreed to be his church’s Pony Express and deliver their support offering to Paul. I say “Pony Express” in order to convey the hardships he would have endured to just deliver a letter.
Travel was hard enough back then, and it only became worse because somewhere along the way he got sick—and not just a head-cold kind of sick. Paul says he nearly died! When most people would have turned around and gone back home or just stayed put and given up, Epaphroditus kept going! That is extreme living.
Why would these men live like this? Why would they endure pain and risk death!? What is worth this kind of living?!!
What is worth this kind of living?!!
Read Philippians 3:8-14. Paul says he would gladly give up all the good things he had and could acquire in life, and would willingly suffer just to “gain Christ and be found in Him” (vv.8b-9a, NKJV & NIV) and to “know Him” (NKJV) and all things associated with Him (vv.10-11).
I don’t know how best to rephrase those verses and do them justice, but I can tell that it’s all about Jesus Christ. Being found in Him and knowing Him are worthwhile reasons for living extreme. Jesus—and whatever He has for me—is my goal that keeps me going, even when life is tough. (For Jesus’ motivating goal, read Hebrews 12:2 [1-3] and contemplate what or who was/is that “joy.”)
Jesus—and whatever He has for me—is my goal that keeps me going, even when life is tough.
Examples are usually provided as real-life clarifications of instructions, and the Bible is full of instructions to live radically different from the rest of the world. Paul provides 4 examples of how to live the Christian (Christ-like) life to the extreme—to fully live it.
He even says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1 NIV). I think anyone who is a spiritual leader—actually, every Christian—should be able to say that as well. So, after reviewing this passage in Philippians, I now want to be able to say, “Follow me as I follow Christ, … and Paul, and Timothy, and Epaphroditus (for their example on how to follow Christ).” (Just hang in there, Raylene. Life’s hardships are worth Christ!)
PS: Thinking of extremes has made me think of the song, “To the Ends of the Earth” by Houston and Sampson. I like to change the hypothetical-sounding “would” in the lyrics to a for-sure “will.” I also like to keep in mind that “to the ends of the earth” doesn’t have to mean going overseas; it can simply mean going to the extreme.
Thanks for reading!
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. http://www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™