Small group, Mobberly Baptist Church, August 10, 2014
“Have you ever dreamed something so intense you were happy to wake up?” When was the last time you had a really scary dream? Okay, call that dream to mind for just a moment. Was your dream so vivid that when you woke up you wondered if it was real? Those types of dreams are both disturbing and frightening. What was your dream like?
Were you grateful to get up? The relief I experienced was exhilarating. In those waking moments, my priorities became quite clear to me. Now, the question is: Why does it always take a bizarre dream or a dramatic event to really get my attention? Why can’t I see what truly matters in this life? Do you ever feel like I do? When you wake up, do you ever choose the newspaper over the Bible? When you come home from work do you ever choose TV over your children? Do you ever choose the computer over conversation with your spouse? Do you ever choose relaxation over church? Do you ever choose to increase your standard of living instead of your standard of giving? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions and you’re serious about Christ, you know what its like to shake your head and think, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get my act together?” Philippians 1:18b–26 will challenge you to reexamine your priorities. Paul will exhort you to live to die, die to live. In this passage, he also provides two key motivations for you to rejoice in.
1. Rejoice in your future vindication (1:18b–20). In 1:12–18a, Paul rejoiced in adverse circumstances because he recognized that his best witness could occur in his worst circumstances. Now, he transitions and explains: “Not only have I been rejoicing, but I will rejoice in the future.”2 Paul puts it this way: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this [i.e., my seemingly negative circumstances, 1:12–18a will turn out for my deliverance [lit. “salvation”] through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:18b–20). The reason that Paul can rejoice is that he believes his trials are advantageous to his Christian experience. The phrase, “this will turn out for my deliverance,” is an exact quote from Job 13:16 in the Greek Old Testament. ‘Job, you must have done something terribly wrong, or else these business reverses, these family deaths, these health issues wouldn’t have happened to you.’ Then Job shot back to them: ‘You are all dead wrong! One day when I am standing before God, you’re going to see how wrong you are. You’re going to see everything “turning out for my salvation.” You’re going to see my vindication, my validation. God’s going to deliver me and put His stamp of approval on me.’ In this same sense, Paul uses the word “deliverance” to refer to his future vindication at the judgment seat of Christ. The immediate context supports this view because Paul’s salvation is not dependent upon the prayers of the saints. He is saved, once for all by God’s grace. The prayers of the saints and the provision of the Holy Spirit are those things that strengthen Paul in his times of adversity and which gave him courage to stand firm for the gospel. Since Paul doesn’t want his words and behavior to bring shame to the cause of Christ, he relies upon the Philippians’ prayers and the Holy Spirit’s filling to grant him boldness in the midst of his trials.
I love how Paul concludes this section by saying that he wants Christ “to be exalted in his body whether by life or by death” (1:20b). This is how you should think and live. Despite your circumstances you can exalt Christ. The word “exalted” (megaluno) means “to make great, to enlarge, to make glorious.” We get our English word “megaphone” from this word. A megaphone makes your voice big. Similarly, a magnifying glass makes print big. We are to make Jesus big with our lives and lips! The verb “be exalted” is passive, which means that Christ receives magnification by our actions. There are two types of magnification: microscope and telescope. The microscope makes the little seem big. That is not the picture here. The telescope makes the actually big loom big. This is what Paul is saying: Your task as a Christian is to bring the immensity of who Jesus truly is to the forefront. Do you want your body to be a magnifying glass for the Lord Jesus? Do you want to make Him big to the world? Not life-size, but King-size. If you magnify Jesus, people will be attracted to Him and embrace Him as their Savior. Folks will sit up and take notice of Him. By this you will enhance the world’s estimation of Christ.
But in order to exalt Christ whether in life or death, you must make one mental adjustment: You must adjust your expectations. Yes, good ole’ expectations! You have them. I have them. All God’s people have them! Think about it: You expect your spouse to love you and respect you. You expect that people will be nice to you, that you’ll have good health, a great marriage, faithful friends, and a successful career. But how do you respond when life doesn’t live up to your expectations? If you’re like most Christians, you become outraged. Yet, I figure since you can’t choose your circumstances, you might as well choose how you will respond to them. My motto is: If you can’t beat them, join them. Regardless of what you’re going through today, God can use your adverse circumstances for His glory and your good. Why not say today: “God, whatever comes I am going to trust You to grant me grace to persevere through my trials so that I can be vindicated when I stand before Christ. Live to die, die to live.
[How can you survive your trials? First, you must recognize that God uses the prayers of His people and the power of His Holy Spirit to help you grow in Christ. God’s work in and through you then allows you to rejoice in your future vindication before Christ. The second key motivation is for you to…]
2. Rejoice in your future ministry (1:21–26). Paul continues his life or death theme, but now applies it specifically to his ministry in the local church. His conclusion: The only reason to live is to minister. Paul begins this section by penning the ever familiar 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The word “me” (emoi) stands first in the Greek clause for emphasis. Paul is saying, “I don’t care what anyone else does. Ultimately, I don’t care if I am released from prison. MY passion is Christ! All I care about is Him.” For Paul “to live is Christ” means to live out the life of Christ, which includes His sufferings. This is confirmed by studying the lives of Jesus and the apostle Paul. Both men experienced poverty, slander, rejection, and abuse. Yet, in the midst of their adverse circumstances, Jesus and Paul continually exuded joy and walked intimately with God.
The natural transition in 1:21 is the underlying truth that you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.
Paul states that death is “gain.” He deliberately chooses the word “gain” (kerdos) because it means “profit or advantage.” Death is not loss; death is gain! Yet, this notion is foreign to most of our conversations. We talk about people “losing the battle” with disease. When a loved one dies we often say “we have lost them.” When treatments are exhausted doctors say, “There is nothing more we can do” in an attitude of defeat and resignation. We view death as the ultimate defeat. But this is not Paul’s attitude toward death. He sees it not as defeat, he sees it as victory. This should be your mindset as well. When the believer dies he or she leaves behind the suffering and groaning of this life, the rejection and persecution of unbelievers, and immediately enters the presence of God, where sorrow, sadness, and sickness do not exist. That is why death is gain! Our rewards are often not realized on earth—they are realized in eternity. This is why it can be said, “When a Christian dies, he has just begun to live.” So today, live to die, die to live. Live with the realization of your imminent death in mind; die to yourself so that you can experience the abundant life on earth and in eternity.
Philippians 1:21 is Paul’s life motto. It’s his abbreviated Personal Missions Statement. What is your mission? Why not make it your goal this week to write out a Personal Missions Statement? Just seek God in prayer and ask Him to reveal your Personal Missions Statement. It can be done in as little as an hour. I’d like to share my Personal Missions Statement with you. It may help you or give you some ideas of what you may want to write up. My PMS is this:
I will strive to serve God and grow in my relationship with Him.
I will love my wife as Christ loved the Church and gave (of) Himself for her.
I will love my children daily and strive to raise them to love and serve God.
I will work with an attitude of service and strive to find ways to share God’s love at my place of employment.
I will work to keep myself healthy and fit and commit to honor my body as God’s temple.
I will serve my church. I will pray for and support my pastor and staff.
I will seek to have fun every day and enjoy the life God has given me.
Here is what I have on my Linked In site:
Committed to God and family, mentor to faculty and students, lover of learning and life
I crafted this Personal Missions Statement carefully. My purpose is first, intensely personal. I want to know Jesus Christ intimately and passionately. I don’t just want to know about Jesus, I want to know Jesus intimately. I want to have a love relationship with Him. I also want to know Him passionately. I want to be obsessed with Jesus. I want to be energetic, enthusiastic, and excited about who He is and what He has done. But my Personal Missions Statement also includes my responsibility to others. After the Lord has worked in and through me, I then want to use my primary spiritual gift of service and my calling as a teacher to equip others to know Christ intimately and passionately to the same degree, and Lord willing, to an even greater degree than I do. That is my Personal Missions Statement. This statement is the reason that I wake up in the morning. It’s what I live for. Granted, I don’t always succeed at fulfilling this responsibility, but it is my aim. It is my calling. Do you have such a mission? If not, I challenge you to write one up. Just complete the following sentence: “I exist to…” Do it this week. It may just change your life.
Paul continues his life/death motif in 1:22–24 where he writes: “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Paul is in a quandary. If he lives, he wins; if he dies, he wins. This is a dilemma between two wins! It’s like someone offering to give you a BMW or a Lexus. The choice is up to you. You can’t lose! For Paul, the two alternatives are whether he should continue his work in time or see Jesus in eternity. If Paul continues to live in the flesh he writes that it will mean “fruitful labor.” Notice that in Paul’s mind there is only one reason to live in the flesh and that is for further ministry. It is not children, grandkids, hobbies, or pleasure; it is ministry! And not just mediocre maintenance ministry, but what Paul calls “fruitful labor” (karpos ergou). Paul knows that if God grants him life, He will bless him with more fruit. How can you have “fruitful labor”? In 1:19, Paul refers to the prayers of the saints and the filling of the Holy Spirit. If you want fruitful labor, ask a team of people to pray for you and your ministry and ask the Lord to fill you with His Spirit (cf. Eph 5:18). Fruitful labor is the result when your passion is to see Christ made big in your body. This means you wake up in the morning to serve Christ and to show Him off. It means you see all that you do as ministry.
As Paul envisions the possibilities of an even more fruitful ministry, he concludes that he doesn’t know which to choose. In 1:23, he writes that he is “hard pressed.” The word translated “hard pressed” (sunechomai) is used in Luke 12:50 where Jesus speaks of the baptism of suffering that He must undergo. Jesus says that He is “distressed” (sunechomai) and will remain distressed until His death is accomplished. In His deity, Jesus longs to go the cross; in His humanity, Jesus longs to bypass the cross. In the same vein, the decision of life or death is distressing and agonizing for Paul.
Paul confesses that his “desire is to depart and be with Christ” (1:23). The word translated “desire” (epithumian) seems like a rather mellow word. You may be thinking to yourself, “I, too, desire to be with Christ.” However, you may be surprised to learn that this word is used numerous times in the New Testament, but is only translated in a positive sense one other time (1 Thess 2:17). Elsewhere this word is rendered “lust.” Lust is a burning yearning for that which is forbidden. Now this may change your initial take on the seemingly tame word “desire.” The point is: Paul has a strong and intense desire to depart and be with Christ. Thus, you could say that one of the “lusts” of a godly man’s heart is to be with Christ. Paul had an obsessive compulsion, an intense longing to be with Jesus. The implication is that you must share his desire—live to die, die to live.
Another key word that is easy to read over at first glance is the verb “depart” (analuo). However, in the Greek Old Testament this term was used of breaking up camp and reflects the camp-life of the Israelites in the wilderness in contrast with their permanent dwellings in the promised land. Likely, Paul, the old tentmaker, resorts to the language of his trade. In this term, he sees camp-life is exchanged at death for home-life with Christ” (cf. 2 Cor 5:1–8). What a beautiful and picturesque concept.
Paul insists that the prospect of being with Christ is “very much better.” He uses three Greek words (pollo mallon kreisson) that could be translated “better beyond all expression.” This expresses the highest superlative Paul could think of. The bottom line is: It is far better for a Christian to die than to live, although few of us believe it. We want to live long and prosperous and then retire, vacation, and help raise our grandchildren. Yet, Paul’s mindset is far different. He actually yearns for death. He beckons his dying day. He is able to do this because he is absolutely convinced that the moment he passes from this life, he will be in the presence of Jesus. As he says in 2 Cor 5:8, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. What a comfort! Paul understood the truth that you are not prepared to live until you are prepared to die.
Can you say that you have the same confidence as Paul? If not, you can. You can be 100% assured that you will spend eternity with Jesus. Simply believe in Jesus to rescue you from your sins. Transfer your trust from yourself and your good works to Jesus Christ’s work and person alone, and you will live with Him forever. If you make this decision, please contact me and I would be happy to send you some materials that will help you grow in your new faith. The greatest joy on earth is the clear prospect of heaven.
In spite of Paul’s godly lust for his heavenly home, he states in 1:24 that “to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” The word “necessary” (avagnaioteron) speaks of Paul’s need to be alive so that he can minister to others. God still has more work for Paul to accomplish in the lives of the Philippian believers. They need Paul more than he needs to go to heaven at this time in his life. Paul is willing to temporarily forestall his desire to go home to be with Christ in order to fulfill their need. The principle here is that as long as you are alive on earth God has a purpose for your being here. Therefore, you must ask, “Why does God have me here on earth?” The only reason Paul longed to stay behind is for the purpose of ministry.
This ties right into Paul’s conclusion in 1:25–26: “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.” After weighing all the evidence, Paul figures that he will probably live a little longer. He evidently believes this because the case his accusers had brought against him was not strong (cf. Acts 23:29; 25:25; 26:31-32). This conclusion is confirmed by the evidence in the Pastoral Epistles and the early church fathers, which points to Paul’s release from Roman imprisonment in A.D. 62 and several additional years of ministry until his second Roman imprisonment. Paul is saying he is “convinced” (pepoithos) that if he lives on in the flesh, he will do so for the Philippians. He says he will “remain” (meno) and “continue” for their “progress and joy in the faith.” The word for “progress” (prokopeen) means “to go forward and advance” (cf. 1:12). Paul desires not only the progress of the gospel but also the advancement in maturity by those who had responded to the gospel (Col 1:28). This is the reason God has Paul upon earth.
So I must ask the question: What are you doing to advance the faith of others? How are you presently bringing about others’ joy in the faith? Your answer to these questions is critically important, for this is why you’ve been left on planet earth. Have you ever considered that your marriage is ministry? Did you know that the most fulfilling fruit you can achieve is in your spouse? Another great ministry must be your children. If you impact and influence each of your children, you won’t just see individual lives changed. You may eventually see generations transformed.
Did you know that your work is your ministry? You are in full-time ministry whether you know it or not. You don’t have to be a teacher at a Christian university like I am. You may be a doctor, an engineer, a mechanic, a secretary, a housewife, or a retiree. It really doesn’t matter what you do. God has called you into the ministry—full time!
Of course, your church can also be a place of ministry. You can perform countless acts of service. You can work in the sound or video ministries, greet, usher, teach children or adults, serve in the nursery, or work on the grounds. Furthermore, you can also volunteer to cook meals, transport people in need, write letters to encourage others, use the phone to minister to those who suffer, pray, and give financially. The goal is that each and every person serves in one small way with excellence. Remember, the reason that you are still here is to serve God and others. Live to die, die to live.
There’s a ritual that takes place at the beginning of every professional ball game called “the pre-game speech” or “chalk talk.” Before the players take the field or court, the coach gets everyone together and reminds the team of the basics of their game. Typically, these speeches take place in the locker room with a dry erase board that allows the coach to draw up some plays. He then makes statements such as: “You guys have worked hard and prepared for this moment. I believe in you. You just need to play your game and take it to them!” Every week the coach says the same stuff but one way or another he gets the team focused and fired up for the game.
Like the apostle Paul, I consider myself a coach who is called to rally a team to victory. I want you to know that I believe in you and have high hopes for you. I also want to pump you up! Tragically, you may wrestle with this type of “emotionalism.” You may say, “Just give me the truth of God’s Word. I don’t want a lot of emotionalism that will fade by Sunday evening or maybe Monday morning.” While I can appreciate this, I believe one of the grave dangers in Bible churches is truth delivered without passion. This results in dry orthodoxy and can lead to arrogance. However, God calls you to a passionate pursuit of all that He is in exchange for all that you are. So what do have you to live for? What is your ruling passion? I’m confident that if you live to die, die to live, like Paul, you too may be used by God to affect the entire course of human history. If your church adopts this mentality, she can touch the world for Jesus Christ. Today, will you live your life for Jesus Christ with the expectation that He may come today or you may pass from this life? Will you deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Christ? This is the only way to live—live to die, die to live.