Once again, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Philippians 1. In 1993, Bill Jeracki got his leg pinned under a boulder while fishing in St. Mary’s Glacier, Colorado. Snow was in the forecast, and he was without a jacket, a pack, or communication. In a desperate attempt to survive, he used his flannel shirt as a tourniquet, and then he used his fishing knife to cut off his leg at the knee joint! He used hemostats from his fishing kit to clamp the bleeding arteries. He then crab-walked to his truck and drove himself to the hospital! (Amazing!)
In 2003, Aaron Ralston had a similar experience. While hiking in Utah, a boulder fell and pinned his right arm. After various attempts to get free, he amputated his right forearm with a dull multi-tool on the sixth day of being stuck there. Exhausted and dehydrated, he then rappelled down a 60-foot cliff and hiked eight miles before finding a Dutch family who guided him to a rescue helicopter. He eventually made it to the hospital and survived. He wrote an autobiography titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place. (An appropriate title!)
There are a lot of things we can learn from these two stories, and one of them is that humans will do remarkable things in order to live. We will spend money on the best doctors, take up disciplined eating habits, move to particular climates, and even cut off body parts. But there’s a big question looming: WHY? What are you living for?
Chained to a guard and writing from a Roman prison, Paul tells us about the meaning of life and the glory of death. In short, he tells us about a life worth living and a death worth dying. Follow along with me as we read Philippians 1:18-26:
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
“Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from Your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. Amen.”
These verses packed a little more of a punch (for me) this week, as Stanley Myers, one of my Citadel classmates, died suddenly after finishing a routine morning run. Of course, one of the immediate questions that everyone wanted to know was the cause. But not for me. The first question I pondered was: Did he know Jesus. Think about it. For the person that just passed away, the cause of their death is irrelevant. Honestly, whether it was a tragic accident or a long-lived life, whether it was a heart attack or a decades-long battle with cancer, whether they were young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated – the cause is irrelevant for the deceased.
Dr. James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, GA said it this way, “You aren’t ready to live until you’re ready to die, and you aren’t ready to die until you’re ready to live.” Jesus is the only person that can prepare you for both. So, this morning, I want to begin by asking you to fill in the blank.
Fill In the Blank
Paul resolved that he would live for Christ. How would you complete that sentence, “For me, living is __________”? Let me tell you; I know that you just filled the blank with Jesus, but that’s only because you’re in church. That’s only because the pastor asked you the question. In reality – and this is true for me too – there are very few of us in here that uttered the name of Jesus to a stranger this week. Oh, sure, we might have attended Bible studies or small groups or even prayer groups and spoke the name of Jesus, but how many golfing buddies heard us talk about Jesus? How many of our neighbors heard us talk about Jesus? How many coworkers or employees did we stop and pray with on the spot? How many convenient store clerks or grocery store attendants or restaurant waitresses did we talk to about Jesus? See, in reality (and again, I’m with you), the blank often gets filled in with cheap substitutes: money, sexual pleasure, power, beauty, entertainment, even family.
But using the logic of this passage, notice what fills the second blank, “Dying is __________.” See, if we filled the first blank with anything other than Christ, then the second blank is utter emptiness. If you say, “Living is money,” then the second blank read “Dying is being broke.” If you say, “Living is sexual pleasure,” then you conclude, “Dying is having no more pleasure.” What about power? The second blank would be, “Dying is being powerless.” What about “Living is beauty”? The second blank must be, “Dying is rotting in a grave.” If you live for entertainment, then your gravestone would read, “Dying is having no more fun.” What about something more altruistic like “Living is family.” Again, if you follow the logic then “Dying is being alone.”
What are we living for? Because the answer to that question will determine the answer to the second – either we gain or we lose. What will you die for? Don’t misunderstand me – money, sex, power, beauty, entertainment, and even family – these are gifts from God, to be stewarded properly, but they aren’t our aims in life. They often turn into idols. Instead, you want to spend your life on something that not only matters now but will also matter in eternity: Christ. If you say, “Living is Christ,” then you can joyfully say, “Dying is gain.” Living for Christ not only takes the sting out of death but it also makes death gloriously attractive.
Let’s consider just two things then: Paul’s ambition and his vision. We see his ambition of honoring Christ in verses 18-20. He expounds his vision of being with Christ, specifically in verse 23, as he relates his win-win situation in verses 22-26.
The Christian’s Ambition: Honoring Christ
Paul provides three ways the Christian should seek to honor Christ: by rejoicing in Christ, by relying on Christ, and by representing Christ.
By Rejoicing in Christ Consistently (1:18b)
Paul concluded the previous section with “I rejoice,” but now he turns his eyes to the future, “Yes, and I will rejoice” (emphasis added). Paul’s plans for the future include rejoicing in Christ. He’s confident and joyful despite his situation because his sufferings can’t drown his joy. “So, what are your plans for the future?” Have you heard this question lately? Maybe you have great plans. Plans for a special trip. Plans to go on a drive in the mountains and look at the changing leaves. Plans to attend a ballgame with friends or family. Plans to go out to eat at that new restaurant. Plans to go over to a friend’s house or visit your children and grandchildren. Whatever it is, make this part of your plans for the future: “I will rejoice in Christ all my days.” Number one in honoring Christ is consistent joy.
By Relying on Christ Completely (1:19)
In verse 19 Paul speaks of the source of his joyful confidence. He’s relying on the prayers of the Philippians and the sufficiency of the Spirit of Christ. In fact, Paul sounds a lot like Job here. You might recall Job utters these amazing words in the midst of his own ordeal, “Though He [God] slay me, yet will I hope in Him… Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance” (Job 13:15a,16a, NIV).
But what exactly does Paul mean by deliverance? Does he mean release from prison? Or does he mean deliverance in the sense of final salvation? Arguments exist for both, but I don’t see any reason that it can’t be both. Paul believes that his current distress is only temporary. That’s the key. It’s temporary; that’s the point. It isn’t going to last. “I will be delivered from it. Maybe I’ll be vindicated at my second phase of the trial. Maybe I will be released from prison. Maybe I will go to heaven to be with Jesus Christ, and therefore be delivered in the sense of ultimate salvation. Maybe my well-being will be at last the issue.” Paul doesn’t know the specifics. He’s not God. Rather what he’s saying is, “I do know that what I’m presently going through is temporary, and the future holds my deliverance, whether it’s vindication in court, release from prison, well-being, or eternal heaven – I’ll be delivered out of this.”
We, too, will endure hard times and ultimately arrive at our final destination in the same way: by relying on the sufficiency of the Spirit of Christ. How can you honestly say, “For to me to live is Christ”? Only the Holy Spirit can bring you to a place of saying this and living this. Otherwise, you will live for something else. So, number one is consistent rejoicing, and number two is completely relying on Christ. Number three is courageously representing Jesus.
By Representing Christ Courageously (1:20-21)
Look at verse 20 again, “…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored…” When Paul uses the word “hope,” he doesn’t mean it the way we often mean it. “I hope the Braves make it to the World Series.” “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” Paul isn’t uncertain; rather, he’s confident that he will represent Jesus because of the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit and the sovereignty of God.
His goal is quite simply to honor Christ. His desire is to represent Christ both in his living and in his dying. This is how you honor Jesus above all things: you care more about His glory than your own glory, and you live this way with courage. Again, imagine the scene. Paul is chained to a guard…
Guard: “Hey, Paul, we don’t like you and your Messiah. We’re going to kill you.”
Paul: “That’d be great! Dying is gain! Bring it on!”
Guard: “On second thought, we’re going to allow you to live.”
Paul: “Fantastic! Living means fruitful, joyous labor!”
Guard: “Well, we’re going to let you live, but we’re going to make you suffer.”
Paul: “Hey, guys, I consider the sufferings of this present world not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed. It would
fill me with joy to suffer for Jesus’ name!”
Do you see the power of this perspective? Kill me? I’ll be with Christ. Let me live? I’ll live for Christ. Make me suffer? I’ll experience joy and get rewarded by Christ. This is the unstoppable mentality of the apostle Paul, and it can be ours as well if we treasure Christ above all things. It’s all about Jesus – rejoicing in Jesus, relying on Jesus, and representing Jesus. It makes me think of the oft-quoted prayer of St. Patrick, an evangelist to Ireland, who represented and relied on Jesus in the fifth century:
As I arise today, may the strength of God pilot me, the power of God uphold me, the wisdom of God guide me. May the eye of God look before me, the ear of God hear me, the word of God speak for me. May the hand of God protect me, the way of God lie before me, the shield of God defend me, the host of God save me. May Christ shield me today. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. Amen.
Is that your ambition? It was Paul’s. Now let’s close by considering Paul’s vision – being with Christ.
The Christian’s Vision: Being with Christ
It’s truly a win-win situation. He found a love greater than life itself, and this vision of being with Christ inspired him to endure. Let’s consider it in three parts.
Paul’s Dilemma (1:22-23a)
Look at verses 22-23. He’s torn between the options. Paul’s rhetorical question demonstrates the value of both. This is why he is “torn” or “pressured.” This is an interesting term. It’s used in a variety of ways to convey strong feelings, like the pressure of crowds, the controlling power of a fever, or fear (Luke 8:45; 4:38; 8:37), and being compelled by love (2 Cor 5:14).
If you’re a Christian, then you share in this dilemma (to some degree). Again, quoting pastor James Merritt, “Our desire to be with Jesus there [heaven] is directly related to the degree that we love Jesus here.” We know that life is about fruitful, meaningful, and joyful labor. But we know that death is better. That’s why it’s a win-win situation. It’s like saying, “Would you like a filet or a rib eye?” (Yes, please.) That’s Paul’s dilemma. Second is Paul’s desire.
Paul’s Desire (1:23b)
Ultimately, Paul desires to die because it meant being with Christ, and that was better. Paul doesn’t mention desire for reward, but for Christ Himself, who is the ultimate reward. That, by the way, is really what heaven is. Heaven isn’t a place as much as it is a person. The thing that makes heaven, “heaven” is Jesus Christ. Heaven isn’t heaven if Jesus isn’t there. And that’s why some people never desire heaven – because they’ve built a pretty comfortable life here without Him.
The Greek word for “depart” (v. 23) was a nautical term. It was used to describe a ship setting loose from its mooring. In that sense, death is like a boat; it takes you where you want to go. Have you ever been on a cruise? Setting sail from the port you see the skyline and the lights in the distance slowly fading away. You find yourself in the dark and before you know it, it’s time for bed. The next morning you look out the window and discover the amazingly crystal-clear blue water of the Caribbean and a beautiful island. Death is kind of like that – only better (if you’re a Christian).
The person dying sees the light slowly fading away, and then it’s gone. But the best is yet to come because when Christians die, they awake to see something more glorious than the Caribbean: they see the Galilean, Jesus! They experience the glory of God in a way that they have never experienced it. Paul knew death was better, but not just better – “far better!” It’s far better in every way. Do you long for this? Endure with hope, my friends. Soon the war will be over, and we will see Him. We will be with Him. That’s Paul’s desire. Let’s conclude with his decision.
Paul’s Decision (1:24-26)
Even though Paul knew that Christ’s eternal presence was better, he resolved to live out his days for the sake of the church. Even though
death is better, Paul decided that he should stay for the benefit of the body of Christ. He doesn’t tell us why he has this confidence.
On a human level, perhaps he knew that Rome had no real reason to punish him. From a spiritual perspective, he believed God had more work for him to do. There was a necessary and unfinished task, and part of that involved laboring for the progress and joy of the Philippians (v. 25) and for their boasting in Christ (v. 26). He must do these things before going to be with Christ.
With this in mind, let me ask you, are you serving others (v. 24)? Paul says that it is “necessary” for the Philippians that he stay alive. Is it necessary for you to stay at your church? If you left, would people really miss you? Please understand, Paul isn’t saying that the whole world will fall apart if he leaves, and the world won’t fall apart if we leave either. Jesus is Lord over His church, and we believe in the sovereignty of God. But I’m asking: are you serving others?
And then, are you serving for their progress and joy (v. 25)? This is why Paul wants to stay: so people can grow in their faith and grow in their joy. He says something similar to the Corinthians, “We are not bosses who tell you what to believe. We are working with you to make you glad, because your faith is strong” (2 Corinthians 1:24, CEV). What a wonderful way to think about ministry: striving so that others may rejoice in Christ. Can you identify? Do you think about living daily for the benefit of others’ progress and for the increase of their joy? This is another way we make much of Jesus.
Are you serving so that others may boast in Christ (v. 26)? The ultimate purpose of Paul’s reunion with the Philippians had to do with their growing in their confidence in Christ. Through his ministry, he wants them to make much of Jesus. Put this together. What’s life about? It’s about fruitful work. What does that mean? It means doing our part. It means helping people grow in their faith. It means helping people have more joy in Christ. It means ministering so that others glorify Jesus more and more. That’s why Paul wanted to stay around a little longer. He was willing to postpone ultimate joy for the joy of serving others.
How can you have this life? How can you have a life filled with meaning like this – honoring Christ by rejoicing in Christ, relying on Christ, and representing Christ? And how can you have a death like this – dying with the great joy of knowing you will forever be with Christ? How did Paul get this passion? He met Jesus and was changed. He was previously a religious person – an extremely religious person – but he didn’t know Christ. When he traded religion for the righteousness of Jesus and the new life that Jesus gives, he found life. Consequently, everything else was inferior to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.
This is the good news. If you don’t have meaning in life, and if you don’t have this outlook on death, grace is available to you in the person of Jesus Christ, who came to us, as Philippians 2 says, and humbled Himself. He died the death we deserved, paying the penalty for sinners like us. Then He rose on our behalf, and He’s now reigning over all things. He says, “There is a righteousness that depends on faith not works – My righteousness. Turn away from your own efforts and trust Me alone; I will forgive you, give you My righteousness, and change your current passion and your eternal destiny.”
Everyone wants to live. And one day everyone will die. But there’s only one way to have a life worth living and a death worth dying, and that is to look to the One who conquered death, the One Paul desired to see above all things. If you see Him as He is, you, too, will say, “To be with Christ is far better.”