It is commonplace for 21st-century Western Christians to over-spiritualize certain realities that should be a part of every believer’s life. Particularly as it pertains to everyday living, we don’t often read the Bible as literally as it’s meant to be read and applied. We often dumb down the events of the Bible into bite-sized principles (which can be a good thing!), but sometimes in doing so we lose the ‘realness’ with which the text should be understood.
For a case-in-point, take four short words from 1 Corinthians 15:31: ”I die every day!”
Now this is not Paul’s literal, earthly death; it is obviously less that that. Yet it is far more than just a general attitude of humility. Just because Paul is talking about a psychological reality instead of a physical one doesn’t mean his words are automatically figurative. A comfortable, Bible-belt Christian will read these words of Paul and understand “dying every day” to be the casting aside of one’s own agenda and adopting Christ’s agenda instead. Or distancing oneself from sinful desires, enduring that struggle painfully if need be.
These are accurate interpretations, to be sure. Dying every day certainly entails replacing one’s own personal agenda with that of Christ, and it certainly refers to a necessary attitude of humility in the daily life of a believer. But it refers to a heavier psychological reality than that alone. Remember, Paul had been shipwrecked, beaten, cold, naked, whipped, stoned, and hungry. He knew what it meant to be in need (Philippians 4). And when he says “I die daily” it means that he stared death in the face every morning and accepted it for that day. Not just by an attitude adjustment, but by a complete lack of concern for himself in light of his responsibility as a follower of Christ did Paul accomplish what he did for the eternal Kingdom of God.
Echoing the realness of Paul’s outlook is the story of a young British missionary who sailed from Liverpool to the African coastline many years ago. As he left the ship that had taken him from Liverpool to Africa, he boarded a coastal tugboat and told the captain his destination – a fever-infested region where he would spend the rest of his life. The captain, a local who was well-acquainted with the dangers of such an excursion, cynically looked at the young man and said, “If you go to that place, you will die.” Looking right back at him, the missionary replied, “I died before I ever left Liverpool.”
Christians, when we read and apply the Bible with the full weight of its power, our lives will be transformed and we will begin to carry out our purpose with the urgency that such a high calling demands. Don’t allegorize or over-spiritualize the directives of the Word of God – they are more literal than you think.