The Joy of Living in Expectation
Read – Philippians 1:19-26
Key Verse – For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 NKJV).
Key Thought – Christ was the center of Paul’s life, and the gain he anticipated in death.
Paul is continuing to respond to the concern that the Philippians had apparently expressed through Epaphroditus concerning his state and welfare. He acknowledges something they must have been fearing – that dying for Christ was a real possibility he faced. But he also was convinced that that would not happen, and he would be released and see them again.
We see his thoughts concerning these realities unfold here. He wrote of some things he knew to be true. He wrote of a dilemma he faced as he pondered the possibility of his death. And he wrote of how he expected things to turn out.
Here’s what I know
Twice in this passage, Paul used the phrase “I know” (vss. 19, 25). Those verses are bookends to the section, as Paul twice says I know that I will be delivered and I know that I shall remain and continue with you. Even though there was the very real possibility of his prison sentence ending in death, Paul was confident, yea convinced that God was going to deliver him.
As I look down through this passage though, I see a few other things that Paul apparently was just as confident of… other things that Paul just “knew,” even though he might not have used the words “I know” in relation to them.
He knew that prayer works, for example. We can’t read vs. 19 without reaching that conclusion. In vss. 9-11 he had written to the Philippians about his praying for them, and now here in vs. 19 he writes of his confidence in their praying for him. He knew they were praying, and he was encouraged by that fact. And even more than being encouraged, he was convinced of the efficacy of their prayers. “You’re praying for me, and God answers prayer. I know prayer works.”
So many of us older believers have experienced this confidence. In the midst of a trial… sickness… fractured relationship… loss of someone we love… we were sustained and borne along by the certain knowledge that another or others were praying for us. I experienced it when my son was ill, and when my wife was taken home. I knew people were praying. I felt it, and heard it, and was encouraged and blessed by it. More than that, though, I was made confident by it. There was the peace that came over my soul and the certainty that came with it – God hears and answers prayer, and people were praying for me! (TALK ABOUT PRAYER MEETING)
Paul’s confidence was not just in the prayers of the Philippian brothers and sisters, though. He also trusted in the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. He knew the Spirit of God worked on his behalf, and was working in the hearts and minds of all those with whom he had to do. Those who sat in judgment of him… his jailors… his guards… those in authority… were ALL under the authority and influence of the Holy Spirit. That gave him confidence that he was in good hands. More than that, though, I think his confidence especially resulted from one particular ministry of the Holy Spirit – Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26 NKJV).
Paul knew not only that the Philippians were praying for him, but also that the Holy Spirit was praying for him! And no matter how fallible or imperfect the brethren’s prayers might have been, the prayers of the Holy Spirit were perfect. Have you ever gotten hold of this truth? Not only do your brothers and sisters pray for you, but the Holy Spirit of God is praying for you! Paul KNEW that prayer works, and that he was prayed for.
Something else Paul knew was that, as our brother Sonny Neff said some months before the Lord took him home, “Whether the Lord cures me of cancer and gives me more time, or allows it to take me home, either way I win.” Paul said in vss. 20-21, Christ will be magnified in me whether through life or death. He knew that he could not lose.
I’m convicted by what Paul described here as his overriding desire. Paul’s desire was always that Christ would be magnified, not himself… not Paul… Christ! And the way he stated it is very specific. He desperately wanted for Christ to be magnified in his body.
Let’s pause and think about that for a minute. Everything we do with our bodies should magnify and glorify the Lord. I wonder if that is my heart. Is it yours? It was the example of Jesus, Himself, Who said, And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him (John 8:29 NKJV).
In some ways I think I get this truth. Why do I dress up on Sunday mornings for worship? Because I believe we should magnify the Lord with our bodies. Why does the Bible tell women to dress modestly rather than coming to church like they’re going to the beach? Because we are to magnify the Lord with our bodies. There is some wicked nonsense that is commonly taught to young girls in our culture. I’ve read it even in the writings of godly Christian women, thinking they are properly counselling young ladies – “it’s your body, don’t let anybody tell you differently.” Oh, but that is such a LIE of the devil. It’s no different than the advice he gave the first young lady, Eve – it doesn’t matter what God says… you are free to do what you want with your body. But the Bible says so plainly and more than once that your body is not yours. Neither is my body mine. Even though this is an issue that seems to be a problem for women far more than men, it applies equally to both. For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:20 NKJV).)
Everything we do with our bodies should magnify God. Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31 NKJV). I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1 NKJV).
I’m so convicted by Paul, for he is an illustration to me of the mature believer… the true disciple… the one who is serious about his / her faith and not just, as so many are today, a nominal Christian. His Christianity permeated every minute of his life. There was no compartmentalization. He did not elevate career or sports (and his writings indicate Paul was a big sports fan) or entertainment or family or anything else above God. With ALL BOLDNESS, he said. ALWAYS (i.e. all the time), he said, he desired to magnify Christ IN HIS BODY.
And by the way, what exactly does it mean to “magnify Christ”? I mean, there is nothing we can do to make Him greater than He is, or to enlarge Him in any way. So what did he mean by that phrase Christ will be magnified? I think he was using it in the same way we would use it of something like the stars. There is nothing we do can make them any more powerful or make them shine any brighter, is there? But we can point a telescope at them. A telescope magnifies that brightness so it is more easily seen. Paul wanted to be such a telescope, so that more and more would see Jesus through him. And he wanted everything he did in his body to keep the lens of that telescope clear and focused in on Jesus.
Here’s my dilemma
Even though Paul believed he would be released and reunited with his Philippian friends, he acknowledged here the sentence that hung over him. There was that real possibility that his life would end in this imprisonment. And recognizing that, had him thinking through a personal dilemma. It had him thinking about which he would prefer. would it be better to live on, or to go and be with Christ?
He knew that living on would provide him with more fruit. He would see more souls saved. He would be able to provide additional service to and for the Philippians and other believers. And he would have opportunity to accrue additional rewards at the Judgement Seat of Christ.
But he also knew that departing would put him in the very presence of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He would be with Christ (vs. 23), a place and a state which he knew was far better. That phrase is actually stronger in the original Greek than in our English translation. We might paraphrase it as “far far better indeed.”
So he wrote that he was hard-pressed between the two. “My dilemma is, I want to be with Christ, but I also want to continue to serve you and the church.”
I’ll never forget visiting with Bob Miller, who was one of only two men who attended this church when I first came on as pastor 12 years ago. Bob was elderly and had been diagnosed with the cancer that would soon take him home. In his living room, I prayed with him, and asked him how he and God were getting along. I asked if he was ready… if he was confident of his relationship with Christ. He looked at me with a stern look and said, “Yes, I’m ready. I know where I’m going. I just don’t want to go today!”
I’m guessing Paul’s thinking was somewhere along those same lines, although for different reasons. There was not a hint of fear or trepidation in Paul’s thinking. He truly saw both options as good – staying had it’s attraction, but so did leaving.
By the way, he used a very encouraging word in vs. 23 – “depart”. Soldiers used this word. It meant “to take down your tent and move on.” Sailors used this word. It meant “to loosen a ship and set sail.” What a picture of what death is to the believer!
Here’s my expectation
We could paraphrase Paul’s words here as, “I expect to remain, and that joy will result from this, and I expect to come and see you again.”
I visited a man in the hospital once. He was seriously ill and facing death. As we talked and I expressed concern over his state, he looked at me with all seriousness and said, “Don’t worry about me. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be fine.” In his case it was false bravado, for he was a lost man and had no such certainty to fall back on. It was denial. It was avoiding the issue of eternity and death.
Paul’s words are just the opposite. This was not denial but reality. This was not false bravado, but rather the certainty of faith. It was the confidence a Christian can have in the face of any trial. In Paul’s case, it was a very specific confidence – “I will be released from this imprisonment and see you again.” But no matter what trial, we can have the same kind of confidence. God is in control here, and everything is going to be fine.
Well, let’s conclude by revisiting one verse that we’ve so far skipped in this discussion – vs. 21. I saved this verse for last because I believe it is the key verse in the section – For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 NKJV).
In his commentary on Philippians, James Boice wrote that this verse “cuts like a surgeon’s scalpel to the heart of Christianity.” Yea, it might be considered the very definition of Christianity. I can frankly think of no better – For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 NKJV).
I like short pity definitions. Before social media became such a problem and a distraction to people, I used to use Twitter a lot. I still have an account, but can’t remember the last time I used it. I liked Twitter above other social media platforms because of its brevity. You couldn’t post a message longer than 128 characters. It forced you to think and be brief. It’s hard to be both brief and accurate. It’s hard to pack a lot of truth into a tiny number of words.
Mark and I have been going through some training related to discipleship in the local church. Many of you know that the thought of discipleship has been heavy on the hearts of the elders for a couple years now, and “making disciples” in an increasing number and to an increasing degree, has been a goal for that same couple years. In the recent sessions Mark and I have attended, we’ve been tasked with coming up with a definition of a disciple. My definition, after much discussion and thought, was “one who hears, follows, learns from, obeys, is totally immersed in the Master, and shares that same focus, both verbally and tangibly, with others.” Could it have been any wordier? Our instructor’s definition was “An apprentice living like Christ.” I LOVED that one for its brevity and word use. I had not thought of that word “apprentice” and it certainly fit. But then in our last session, he gave us an even more concise definition of a disciple – One who is “maturing and multiplying” – just three words.
One of the greatest speeches ever given was the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” It consisted of 272 words and he delivered it in under 3 minutes. There was another speaker that day, who spoke prior to Lincoln, named Edward Everett. His speech took 2 hours, and contained somewhere over 13,000 words. What he said was good, but nobody remembers it.
Paul managed here, in just 12 words, to convey the very heart and essence of what it means to be a Christian. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 NKJV).
For to me, to live is Christ. Again, let me quote Boice. “Christianity is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. All that is rightly associated with Christianity finds its center of gravity in him. John R. W. Stott has written correctly, “The person and work of Christ are the foundation rock upon which the Christian religion is built.… Take Christ from Christianity, and you disembowel it; there is practically nothing left. Christ is the centre of Christianity; all else is circumference.””^[James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians: An Expositional Commentary” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 74.]
For me, to live is Christ. Can you say this?
The essence of Christianity is not seen in other Christians, who are fallible sinners, or in the church, which is filled with fallible sinners. The essence of Christianity is relationship with a Person – Jesus Christ. If you haven’t come to that conclusion, it does not matter what church you attend, or what creeds you can recite, or what Bible you read, or what other Christians you fool with your outward observances and piety. If you haven’t come to know the Person, Jesus Christ and made Him the center of your life, then you are lost and still in your sins. You are not a Christian.
For to me, to live is Christ. Paul said, “I live with Him as the center… the focus… the goal… the everything in my life!” One man wrote, “Whatever life, time, and strength, I have, is Christ’s; Christ is the sole object for which I live”^[Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible”, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 362.] In another letter, his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote, I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20 NKJV). That was the expanded version of this simple phrase, for to me, to live is Christ.
For to me, to live is Christ. Can you say this?
Maltbie Babcock, author of my favorite hymn, “This is My Father’s World”, once said, “Life is what we are alive to.” When Paul said, “for to me, to live is Christ,” he was saying that Christ is what I am alive to. Can you say that? What is it that you light up to… that you come alive concerning? For some it might be your work… for some, it might be some particular hobby (my wife is currently obsessed with butterflies and lights up everytime one crosses her path)… for some it might be money or camping or (fill in the blank). For Paul it was Christ. I’m convicted by that.
For to me, to live is Christ. Can you say this?
To die is gain. Now with these words, he was not referring to the act of dying, but rather to the state after dying. I mentioned my friend Bob Miller earlier, and how he was ready to go but didn’t want to go today. As I tunneled a little deeper into his thoughts, I discovered he had no fear of what lay beyond death, it was the act of dying he wasn’t looking forward to. None of us can honestly say we look forward to the reality of DYING. It is a fearful unknown. Billy Graham once wrote in a letter to a friend, “I long for heaven, but I dread getting out of this old body.”^[Herschel H. Hobbs, “My Favorite Illustrations” (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1990), 75.]
Paul was not talking here about the act of dying, but of the state of the believer after death. And the state of the believer after death is in no way negative and in every way positive. Such a simple way of putting it… “to die is gain.” So much truth packed into 4 little words. Only 11 letters!
To die is gain. Do you believe this? Are you encouraged by this?
To die is gain. It is so very true for the Christian. And sadly, it is so very untrue for the non-Christian. If you are still lost and in your sins, then death for you is too horrible to contemplate. Think of it. If you are a Christian, then this life you are living now, is the worst you will ever experience, and then there’s heaven. If you are not yet a Christian, this life you are living now is the very best you will ever experience, and then there’s hell. Paul’s words in vs. 21 are true for the Christian, but not for the non-Christian.
To die is gain. Do you believe this? Have you done business with God so you CAN believe this? Have you ever come face to face with the fact you are a sinner in need of the Savior? Have you ever talked to God about it? Have you ever prayed and believed something like this, “Lord God, I’m a sinner, and I’m sorry for my sin. I believe Jesus died in my place on the cross so that I might be forgiven my sin. Please come into my life and save my soul. I want to receive Jesus as my Savior and my Lord.”
What about you, unbeliever? ONLY when you have done that, can you say with Paul, For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 NKJV)? If you haven’t yet prayed such a prayer, I encourage you to do it today.
And what about you, Christian? Can you say with Paul, For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 NKJV)?
One writer suggested, “If we cannot share Paul’s desire, it is because we have not seen as clearly as he has the wonder of what Christ has done. Verse 21 constitutes a powerful test for us all. Put a blank after the phrase ‘to live is’ and another blank after the phrase ‘and to die is’. How would you fill in the blanks? If you say ‘to live is money’, you must say ‘to die is to leave it all behind’. If you say ‘to live is fame’, you must say ‘to die is to be forgotten’. If you say ‘to live is pleasure’, you must say ‘to die is to lose it all’. But if you can join Paul in saying ‘to live is Christ’, you can also join him in saying ‘to die is gain’.”^[Roger Ellsworth, “Opening up Philippians”, (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2004), 28–29.]
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 NKJV).
Is that your heart? Can you say it?
We’ve said throughout our studies in Philippians that the theme of the letter is joy. How could there be greater joy than in being able to say with Paul, For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 NKJV)?