To Live Is For Jesus Christ, But to Die Is Gain
[Philippians chapter 1, verses 18-30]
When we concluded last week’s study of the first half of Philippians chapter one, the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi expressing his concern about various congregations competing with each other instead of being united while spreading the Gospel of Christ. Some preached and taught with complete devotion to Jesus, while others preached and taught for selfish or corrupt reasoning as well as what amounted to vanity or pride. Evidently some were founding and administrating the churches and ministering to their members out of a desire to serve Jesus Christ, while others were doing so because they saw founding and administrating their churches as being what we would today call being a vocation or a career choice. Being in the ministry is a calling, but more than that – ministry is a passion to serve the One who performed the ultimate service for all of us by dying on the cross for our sins, only to rise from the dead on the morning of the third day! Under no circumstances should going into the ministry be considered to be a professional career move, as this amounts to being a pastor and leader of churches for all the wrong reasons (such as an easy paycheck). As we begin today’s study, the apostle Paul takes up where he left off, setting a good example for us all by being thankful and grateful no matter who was leading any given church at that time. So let’s get underway beginning at the second half of verse 18.
“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ but to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what will I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” (Phil. 1, verses 18-26, NIV)
You will no doubt recall from last week’s study that Paul was “in chains” for Christ, and his comment that “all the palace guard” had become keenly aware that Paul was a man who lived his life as a living testimony to Christ. This is the equivalent to what we would term today to be leadership by example. Back in Paul’s day and time living conditions were very primitive by today’s standards, and there was no internet or any other form of long distance communication except for what we would call snail mail. These letters would be carried by couriers who likely worked for ultra-low wages by modern standards (on second thought, wages today are just as bad, if not worse). “Through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ”, Paul wrote, “what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” It is a proven fact, based on my own experiences plus that of countless other believers, that God can and does take bad persons, places and situations and turn them into good for all those who love the Lord and have an intense desire to serve Him. Remember that serving halfheartedly, or serving out of feelings of obligation, does not measure up to God’s standards. One of the best quotes from the Bible in this regard – and a personal favorite of mine – comes from the book of Revelation chapter three, verses 15-16, which says “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
“For to me, to live is Christ but to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” These two sentences hearken back to one of the teachings of Christ Jesus. He said, “He who loves his life will lose it, but those who sacrifice their lives for my sake will find it.” It’s all about priorities, everyone! Does anyone love their earthly life, their possessions, and themselves more than anything else? Then that person will not see the kingdom of God or spend eternity with Him! People such as these are too attached to their homes, cars, boats, airplanes, big screen TV’s and especially their investments, and they will lose everything when their lives are over. You can’t take anything with you when you die, nor have I ever seen a funeral procession in traffic with a rented truck following behind it. Do not store up treasures on earth, Jesus said, store your treasures in heaven instead. “Wherever your treasures are”, he said, “there your heart will be as well.” (Matt. 6: 21) Make Christ your treasure, recognizing that life is really short, so you will have the fruit of your labor and your heart in the right place.
“I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith…” Despite being jailed for the Gospel, Paul was determined to remain on earth and in the service of Christ Jesus. I find Paul’s complete absence of selfishness to be inspiring and most admirable. There was no question whatsoever in Paul’s mind that he would go to be with the Lord for all eternity when his life here on earth was over. We all need this kind of assurance, and it can only be obtained by complete and unshakable faith in Christ. I don’t mean the fist-bumping high-fives kind of assurance that come from selfishness, pride or vanity. That would be an emotional reaction. I’m writing about assurance in the Spirit, which is knowing that we have lived our lives for Christ to the very best of our abilities, and that His shed blood on the cross makes up the rest of the difference. That would be a Spiritual reaction devoid of human vanity, conceit or ambition. Finally, let your joy in Christ, meaning his salvation and eternal life, be evident to all those you come into contact with so that all our joy in Jesus Christ would be overflowing for all to see. In other words, be a good example through leadership by example. And now let’s finish up the first chapter of Philippians, starting at verse 27.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one Spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggles you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Phil. 1, verses 27-30, NIV)
“Stand firm in one Spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” Be united in the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, all for one and one for all! Let there be no disunity, conflict or strife within any congregation, but instead be resolute and uncompromising in your faith. Contend as one body, whether male or female, because there will be no gender, race or ethnicity in existence once we have entered the Kingdom of God. There is gender and race in the flesh, but never in the Spirit. Never be frightened by those who oppose you or who try to bully you with their point of view, because that is the very antithesis of the Holy Spirit. If God is for us, Paul wrote in one of our earlier studies, then who can be against us? Also, we are not to rely on our own abilities in our acts of selfless service to the Lord. “Lean not on your own understanding”, the Bible admonishes. God doesn’t need our help, but it is we who need His help instead. This is the hallmark of true devotion to Christ, and real Christians are not intimidated by those who presume to dominate our thinking and micro-manage our lives for us (I have seen this occur in too many of the churches I have been a part of in the past). And we are most certainly not intimidated by Satan, who has no power over us once we surrender our lives to Christ. So, if you find yourself beset by circumstances and people who work against you and who make themselves your enemies, and if there seems to be no way out, remember that God will provide us with sufficient strength so that when we are caught in the middle of bad things, people and circumstances we will be strong enough to endure all kinds of avarice and temptation. Remember that God is always with us, and so is our guardian angel (yes, everybody has one of those without exception). Since He is constantly with us, we believers need to make that a 2-way street, constantly making ourselves available to the Lord no matter what. Those who do this will lead victorious lives with a lot more pluses than minuses, and it will show in our way of living, and especially in how we treat other people. That, fellow believers, is the trademark of every devoted Christian, and it’s always an admirable goal worth attaining.