Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on January 25, 2015
Open your Bibles to Philippians 1:18-30. Today, I am preaching on my favorite verse in the Bible, Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I believe this simple statement should be the heartbeat of every Christian, in every moment.
To begin today, I want to start where we left off last week, joy. Last week we discussed the joy found in the Gospel. Once again, the gospel being the good news that we are saved from God’s wrath and receive eternal life if we place our faith in Christ alone. Paul, despite being imprisoned, was rejoicing because the name of Jesus was being proclaimed and preached. Despite Paul’s chains, the gospel was advancing, in fact Paul being chained was giving people courage to speak Christ more boldly. And this made Paul rejoice. Why? Because Paul was loved Jesus more than anything in all the Universe. The mention of his name brought him joy.
We see this expression of joy in our first verse today, verse 18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” However, Paul does not stop there, and neither will we.
Paul continues to express his joy by saying, “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.”
With this statement Paul continues to express his joy, but transitions to another source of his joy and that is living and dying for Christ. And this is what I am going to be talking about today. The title of my sermon is “The Joy of Living and Dying for Christ.” This sermon may be difficult for some of you, not because it is theologically difficult, but because it is radically counter cultural.
Honor Christ in Your Body in Every Moment
The goal for every Christian is to honor Christ in your body in every moment. As a new creation our new orientation is to exult Jesus with every fiber of our being no matter what your circumstances are. Over the last month we have been soaking in this truth. Four weeks ago we examined Romans 12:1 where it says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The next week we examined Philippians 1:1, and we looked at what it means to be a servant of Christ, which in Greek is doulos, which is actually best translated as a slave of Christ. And then last week we read about Paul’s four year imprisonment and how even his significantly dire circumstances were God ordained means by which Paul was to fulfill his calling. The over-arching theme of today’s text is Paul’s hope to honor Christ in everything he does.
As you recall, Paul is imprisoned, and as he sits there chained to a Roman guard, life and death hangs in the balance. There is no guarantee that he will make it out alive. In verse 19, Paul says, “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” Many of us assume that deliverance means released from jail and ongoing life, but that is not how Paul is thinking. Paul sees deliverance to include deliverance through death. Paul’s life truly hangs in the balance, the Romans were not known for their mercy, at any moment the command could come down to kill Paul. If you want an example, just think about John the Baptist.
Paul’s mindset as his life hangs in the balance a desire to honor Christ through it. This is his primary concern, to make the name of Christ great, no matter how bad it gets, and it does not get any worse than the threat of death. Is this easy for Paul? Absolutely not, let us not worship Paul, he is flesh and bone just like you and I. He saw himself as wretched and the chief of sinners, recognizing that he was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. He was a person who depended upon the prayers of his brothers and sisters and the power of the Holy Spirit to produce in him the full courage necessary to exult Christ in midst of the valley of the shadow of death. So how does one magnify Christ in their life? Let us start with the statement, to live is Christ.
To Live is Christ
The statement by Paul, “to live is Christ” is, in my opinion, the most profound yet simple reality every to be expressed. You cannot summarize existence more succinctly than this. What is life? Christ. What does it mean to live? Christ. What is my purpose? Christ. What is the point of the Universe? Christ. Paul says the same thing, yet more completely in Colossians 1:16.
So what Paul is saying is that to live is Christ is to live in such a way that everything you do matches the reality you have been saved from Hell and your citizenship is in Heaven. You live as if this is not your home. When people meet you, they think, “You are not from around here are you.” You talk different, you work different, you love your spouse different, you raise your kid different, you spend your money different, you dress different, you respond to problems different, you spend your free time different. Everything about you screams different. Everything about you screams follower of Jesus. This is your new orientation. As the world revolves around self, we revolve around the hope we have in Christ.
And make no mistake that this life that is completely, and entirely oriented around living for Christ is a life of faith. This faith is a backwards and forward faith. It is backwards in that we place our faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We believe and trust in his completed work on the cross. Our faith is also forward in which we have assurance in our salvation and that on judgment day we will not be sent to Hell, but will be invited into the presence of the living God, where there is abundance of joy and pleasures forevermore. We believe that through the blood of Jesus we are God’s adopted children, and therefore will receive and inheritance that is unfathomable and dwarfs the dust of this world.
To live is Christ is a life of faith. In fact, the greater the faith, the greater the honoring, the magnifying, the making Christ look great in your body. And the more and more and more you truly believe in the reality of what Christ did and what awaits you through Christ the greater your joy.
To Die is Gain
Satan hates the gospel. For the gospel is the good news of His defeat. The gospel is the story of Christ crushing his head. It is the gospel that reminds Satan that Christ now has all authority on heaven and on earth and the clock is ticking until the end comes and Satan is thrown into Hell.
Because of this Satan goes to all extents to stop the gospel from being proclaimed. He begins very subtly. Perhaps he will tempt you with the cares of this world. When that doesn’t work he will give you some social persecution, such as glances or jokes at work about your faith. When that doesn’t work he will resort to name calling, intolerant, unloving, bigot, hate monger. When that doesn’t work he gets physical. He may burn down your house or church, lock you up or beat you. However when that doesn’t work, and you still persist to proclaim Christ, he reaches for the last straw and he threatens to take your life. What happens when even that won’t work? What happens when you stare Satan in the eyes and say, make my day, for to live is Christ and to die is gain? What happens when even God takes the wages of sin, which is death, and uses martyrdom to magnify and make great the value of Christ in your life? I’ll tell you what happens, it makes Satan shutter.
The song we sang today, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” is based upon the last words of a man in northern India who was called to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. He began to sing “Though no one joins me, still I will follow." His wife was killed, and he was executed while singing, "The cross before me, the world behind me." This is what it looks like to magnify Christ in your death. It is said that the display of this man's faith led to the conversion of the chief and others in the village.
The very last conversation that Peter had with Jesus is found in John 21. The Wednesday night small group discussed this passage last week. In the conversation, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter says, “Yes.” Then Jesus ends the conversation by saying this:
If you can't, then you don't know my Jesus, for He is worth it. He is better than anything this world can offer, and I encourage you to know Him more.