Walk His way

One day, Frederick the Great of Prussia was walking on the outskirts of Berlin when he encountered a very old man walking in the opposite direction. “Who are you?” Frederick asked his subject. “I am a king,” replied the old man. “A king!” laughed Frederick. “Over what kingdom do you reign?” “Over myself,” was the proud old man’s reply. This old man was on to something. Each of us is “monarch” over our own lives. By that I mean we are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions. To make consistently good decisions, to take the right action at the right time, and to refrain from the wrong actions requires character and self-discipline. To do otherwise is to lose control of ourselves—to potentially destroy our witness or disqualify ourselves from ministry. When we are foolish, we want to conquer the world. When we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves. This begins when we do what we should, no matter how we feel about it.
Today, in 1 Thess 4:1-12 we will learn how to do what we should. It is important to recognize that we have arrived at the center of the book of 1 Thessalonians. To clearly see this, it will be helpful to return to the theme of the letter found in 1:9-10. In these two verses, Paul summarizes the three components of the argument of his book. He writes, “(1) For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols (2) to serve a living and true God, and (3) to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The first section entails 2:1-3:13; the second section deals with our present text (4:1-12); and the third and final section encompasses the remainder of the book (4:13-5:28). The structure of the theme verses in 1:9-10 point readers to the center of the letter: “to serve the living and true God.” Or as I shall suggest, “walk His way.” In the twelve verses of 1 Thess 4:1-12, Paul exhorts us to walk His way by being sexually pure, loving other believers, and working not meddling.

1. Serve God by being sexually pure (4:1-8).
In these first eight verses, Paul explains that God’s will is for us to become holy (“sanctified”) like Jesus. In 4:1-2 he writes, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Paul begins this chapter with the word “finally.” Have you heard the latest definition of an optimist? It is someone who believes the preacher is almost finished when he says “finally.” From a purely statistical point of view, it is interesting to note that in chapters 1-3 there is a total of 43 verses, and in chapters 4-5 there are a whopping 46 verses to add to the total! So the question is, “What does Paul mean when he says ‘finally?’” I would suggest it is almost like a change of gears as he moves into overdrive. He ups the ante. He raises the stakes. The word “finally” serves as the punch line. In chapters 4-5, Paul moves from the theological to the practical. Paul continually affirms believers in their position and encourages them in their practice. In 1 Thessalonians, he affirms that the Thessalonian believers are positionally chosen (1:4), yet he exhorts them to practically live out this positional truth by walking in obedience (2:12). In this passage, he encourages the Thessalonians with their present “walk”—their lifestyle of faith. The Christian life begins with a step of faith, but that step leads to a walk of faith. Christianity is not a sprint; it is a walk of perseverance along the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. The biblical metaphor “walk” is an appropriate term that most likely came into use because Christianity was originally called “The Way” in Acts. What is of particular interest here is that Paul uses the word “walk” to bookend this section. The Greek word peripateo (“walk”) is used twice in 4:1 and again in 4:12 where the NASB renders it “behave.” Hence, the thrust of this passage is that you and I would walk with God, which entails seeking to please Him by receiving His instruction and obeying His commandments. Will you make a conscious decision to walk His way? It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue to work through this passage unless you choose as an act of your will that you are going to obey God, whether you like it or not and whether you feel like it or not. I urge you with all that I am to walk His way.
Now the $6 million question is, “How do we please the Lord and walk His way?” There’s a simple answer—by doing the will of God. In 4:3-8, Paul insists that Christians must maintain their sexual purity. In 4:3-6a, Paul gives three specific instructions.
o Abstain from sexual immorality (4:3b).Paul bluntly states, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” The word “abstain” means “to keep as far away from as possible, to have nothing to do with.” As believers we should never ask how far we can go and not step over the line. Instead, we should attempt to do everything to stay as far away from the line as we possibly can. This leads to an obvious question: What does Paul mean when he uses the phrase “sexual immorality?” In brief, the answer is everything immoral! Sorry about that! I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s what the Bible says. The phrase “sexual immorality” comes from the Greek word porneia, which is a broad word that includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, and every form of pornography. This term covers sins of the mind, body, eyes, ears, and lips. Paul forbids all expressions of porneia because he is concerned with our “sanctification.” The word “sanctification” means “to be separate to God, to be distinct.” This word occurs in its various forms four times in 4:3-7. Sanctification does not mean saying “no” to anything that is fun; it means progressively growing to be more like the Lord who said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” In 4:3, Paul clarifies a very important aspect of God’s will: Christians are to avoid sexual immorality like the plague. Certain things in the Christian life are not open to debate. Many Christians ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” in the midst of practicing sexual immorality. I would dare say that God will not clearly reveal His will to those who are practicing sexual sin. If we want to walk His way, we will abstain from sexual immorality.
o Control your own body (4:4-5). Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Paul states that it is God’s will for us to be able to sexually control ourselves—to “gird up our loins.” In our flesh, our natural tendency is to say, “I just can’t help myself” or “I’m a guy or I’m a gal” or “I am in love.” Do you know what I find so interesting about these justifications? In the most intense heat of the moment, any one of us could bring our passion to a screeching halt. If a police officer walks up to your parked car and knocks on your steamed-over window, I bet you could stop. If an angry husband armed with a shotgun walked in on you with his wife, I would guess you could stop in a hurry. We can always stop what we are doing…the issue is one of motivation. Paul expects us to live in “sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Many of us have been far too hard on those who do not know God and too light on those who do know God. I don’t know about you, but I expect pagans to live sexually immoral lives. Sinners are supposed to sin, it’s a part of their job description. What’s unacceptable is when saints live sexually immoral lives. Our problem is not with our society; our problem is with our church and the church of Jesus Christ throughout our country. Many believers need to be told, “Either be pure…or stop calling yourself a Christian!” If we want to walk His way, we will learn to control our own body.
o Protect other men and women (4:6a).Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter.” The word “brother” in this context indicates any person. The point is, God cares for people. He doesn’t want us to take advantage of any of His creations. Sexual sin steals from others. It steals both from the person and from their present or future mate, parents and other family members, and present or future children. This is no different than stealing someone’s property. We have no more right to have sex with someone’s spouse because they are attractive to us than we have a right to steal their car because it appeals to us. This phrase is a sign saying, “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.” If we want to walk His way, we will protect other men and women.

Young people and singles are thinking, “What kind of sick humor is this? God puts this sex drive in us then says, ‘Oh, but you have to wait.’ It’s cruel.” This is kind of like buying your 16-year-old son a brand new Lamborghini, parking it outside, and then saying, “It’s yours. It’s paid for, but there are no keys, and you can’t drive it.” So every day he has to walk by and look at it, sit in it, but cannot drive it. He has the car but nowhere to go. Is God crazy? No, He is very smart. God understands there are consequences to premature oneness. His design is for you and me to have this beautiful thing called intimacy and oneness in marriage, where two become one for life. When we choose to ignore God’s design, there are consequences.
[Tear off a single piece of scotch tape, and begin sticking the tape to different people’s pants, shirts, and foreheads.] Each time I stick this tape on someone, when I pull it off, pieces of that person’s clothing stick to the tape. The more people I stick the tape to, the more adhesive was lost. This piece of tape is designed to stick things together, yet the more I use it on people’s clothing, the less sticky it becomes. The same thing happens with our sexuality. Sexuality is who we are. We want to be able to stick together through thick and thin so that we can enjoy the oneness waiting for us. When we go outside God’s principles, our stick-ability in marriage is diminished. Many of us are married and wonder why we don’t have the ability to have a cohesive relationship. This may be the reason why. God is not a killjoy. He’s just smart. He said oneness is what we are to pursue.

In 4:6b-8, Paul shares three incentives to pursue sexual purity.
o Avoid God’s judgment (4:6b). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” In the course of his ministry in Thessalonica, Paul has warned these new believers that they must be men and women of purity. For those believers who choose to be sexually immoral, Paul warns that “the Lord is the avenger.” The word “avenger” (ekdikos) is only used here and in Rom 13:4, where it refers to the governing authorities that bear the sword and will pour out wrath on the one who sins. The leading Greek dictionary defines this term as “one who punishes.” This is a very scary word! Paul probably has in mind the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) when Jesus Himself will elevate our sexual purity or lack thereof. It is also likely that God “gives us over” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) to the consequences of our sin in this life. Believers who cheat are often cheated upon by someone else. What goes around comes around! An immoral Christian teenager may learn the hard way that condoms fail 20-30% of the time. In today’s culture, this is playing Russian roulette with our lives. A gun will give you one in six. A condom will give you one in five, or less. Gals, you may get pregnant and guys you may get a venereal disease. Another severe consequence can be the memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There is a chemical called epinephrine in your brain. It is released during physical contact, and what happens is people get married to a wonderful person and all of a sudden the memories of previous encounters come flooding back. There is a term for this called “sex ghosts.” Can we get over some of these consequences? Yes, with God’s grace we can; however, in Gal 6:7 Paul writes, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” God is an ethical God. He keeps books on sexual issues and He is a very good accountant. These are all the laws of the harvest. If we want to walk His way, we will take the avenger dead serious.
o Fulfill God’s call (4:7). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] for God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” God “calls” us to both salvation and sanctification. He takes the initiative in both our everlasting life and our spiritual growth. We simply respond to His work in us. Throughout the course of our Christian experience, God issues an upward calling, a high calling, a calling to sanctification, to ministry, and to heavenly reward. We fulfill our destiny by heeding His call and walking His way.
o Honor the Scriptures and the Spirit (4:8). In the final verse of this first section, Paul issues a warning: “So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” Paul says, “If you don’t like what I’ve written, please understand that your “beef” is with God. You are rejecting Him and His authority. Likewise, if you do not like what I have said, your problem is not with me, it is with God. I am just the mailman…I deliver the mail. I am the doctor, I give the prescription.” Before you complain too much, please understand that sexual immorality was even more prevalent in Paul’s day. In the first place Thessalonica was a seaport, which meant that people from all over the Mediterranean world stopped there in transit from one place to another. The sailors and visiting merchants brought with them the usual desires for sexual gratification. More importantly, the Greek religions of that day practiced sacred prostitution. That involved hiring a prostitute at a pagan temple as part of your acts of worship. The famed orator Demosthenes described the moral climate of ancient Greece this way: “We keep prostitutes for pleasure, we keep mistresses for day to day needs of the body, we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guarding of the home.” So long as a man supported his wife and family there was no shame whatsoever in extra-marital relationships. Given the moral atmosphere of the day, there must have been enormous pressure on those young Christians to lower their standards to conform to the world around them. But Paul will have none of it. He orders them to abstain from every form of sexual immorality. Fortunately, 4:8 ends with a very hopeful phrase. It mentions “God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” The word “gives” is a present tense verb. In this case it means that God gives and keeps on giving the Spirit to you. You have the Holy Spirit always within you. Therefore, when God commands you to abstain, He also gives you the power to obey. What a wonderful thought. You are not in this battle alone! Your weakness is His strength. Do you need help? You’ve got it!
Perhaps, you’ve found yourself lost in the above instructions and incentives. If so, here are some other suggestions that may be helpful to you.
o Recognize your position in Christ. You are a “saint” who is dead to sin.
o Ask God for grace and mercy. Acknowledge “it” could happen to you. Plead the blood of Jesus.
o Saturate yourself with Scripture. Read God’s Word to shore up your strength.
o Pray when you are tempted. Satan flees when we pray.
o Have an accountability partner. Make sure he or she asks you brutal purity questions.
o Beware of raunchy music. Research proves that teens who listen to music with sexually graphic or degrading lyrics are far more likely to be sexually active (51% vs. 29%).
o Exercise with a vengeance. Cardiovascular workouts will so tire you out that your drive can be diminished.
o Refuse to live together before marriage. Data from Rutgers University now suggests that 90% of couples who live together before marriage will end in divorce.
o Invest in your marriage. Pour your time and energy into your spouse. This is the best distraction.
Before we move on, I really want you to hear that it is never too late to walk with God. Many of you have already sinned sexually. It is God’s will that you move on. God makes it clear that He will welcome you back and restore you to fellowship. As we trusted the finished work of Christ for salvation, so we trust His finished work on the cross for our sin (1 John 1:9-2:2). What Paul is saying in this section is that through our relationship with God, we can have the power and the discipline to stay sexually pure; or if we have already messed up, we can begin right now. God is simply waiting for you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and go and sin no more. Or, if you prefer, walk His way.
[Why should you serve God by being sexually pure? For the simple reason that God loves you and wants the best for you.]
2. Serve God by loving other believers (4:9-10).
The transition from holiness to love is not a difficult one (cf. 3:11-13). God’s love is a holy love, so our love for God and for one another ought to motivate us to holy living. The more we live like God, the more we will love one another. If a Christian really loves his brother, he will not sin against him (4:6). Paul writes, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.” In these two verses, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they should demonstrate “the love of the brethren.” The Greek word behind this phrase is philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” In the New Testament it is used exclusively of the love Christians are to show to each other. Outside of the New Testament philadelphia is used only of love for blood brothers or sisters. The idea seems to be that believers should have a fondness for one another. This only occurs when the agapelove of 4:10 is first implemented. The word “love” (agapao) in 4:10 is a different word for love than in the first phrase of 4:9. The word here is a self-sacrificing love produced by the Holy Spirit. This requires believers making a conscious decision of their wills to love and forgive one another. Paul reveals that the Thessalonians are exuding love for not only one another but all the brethren in their entire region. They are a model church, yet Paul urges these believers to “excel still more.” How can we accomplish this? First, it is important to recognize that the church is made up of individuals and families. Therefore, it is essential to love believers closest to you. If you don’t love those people closest to you, you won’t love the body of Christ at large. So if you are married, the most important person in your life is your spouse. You need to love your husband or wife with every fiber of your being. Obviously, you can do this by being sexually pure. But you can also listen to your spouse, verbally affirm your spouse, and support his or her dreams. If you have children or grandchildren, you must love those precious souls with unconditional love. One way I have found of doing this is adopting an area of their interest. If they like a sport, a type of music, or a particular hobby, do that with them—even if you don’t like it. If you are a student or a single, you are called to first and foremost love other believers in Christ. This means prioritizing your friendships with those in youth or college groups above those of your coworkers or friends. As a church, we are called to love people within our body. One of the most tangible ways you can do this is by simply reaching out to people on Sunday morning. This is as simple as greeting someone who looks new or lonely and seeking to befriend that person. Additionally, we are expected to love those believers outside of our church walls.

What does it mean that our love should “excel still more?” It means that we should increase in our sympathy for those in need, patience for those who are struggling, and tolerance toward those with whom we disagree. We can’t be satisfied with our past performance. We must excel still more in our love for others. Research shows that when the unchurched are asked what they are looking for in a church, the answer is always the same: They are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church, a relevant church, or a church with plenty of programs for the kids. As good and essential as those things are, they don’t touch the deepest heart cry of this generation, which is for a place where they can be loved truly and deeply. When the people of the world find such a place they stand in line to get in. This was the primary attraction of the early church. They had no buildings, no fancy programs, no large budgets, no radio, no TV. They had none of the things that we consider essential for success. Yet nothing could stop them. In just three centuries, Christianity conquered the Roman Empire. How did this happen? It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.” If we want to walk His way, we will love other believers.
[Why should you serve God by loving other believers? It pleases God and serves as a witness to the world.]
3. Serve God by working not meddling (4:11-12).
In this third and final section, Paul argues that our work is a witness. People are watching. We are witnesses! He puts it like this: “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave [“walk”] properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” These challenging words should be understood in the context of 4:13-5:11, which teaches Christ’s return. Furthermore, in 5:14 there is yet another warning against slackness.
o Lead a quiet life. Paul states “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” It is a life that does its best to avoid unnecessary contention and to be at peace with all men insofar as it is humanly possible. The word translated “make it your ambition” (philotimeomai) can also be rendered “aspire.” Paul’s point is: There is a time to share Christ, but more often than not, it is better to listen and draw others out. Don’t have pat answers for all the suffering in the world. Seek to learn from others. Have a pleasant demeanor. Do not have fits of anger or jealousy.
o Mind your own business. Do not be a busybody. Don’t meddle in other people’s affairs. Say no to gossip and slander. You don’t need to know the latest and greatest news on someone else. You have enough to be concerned about yourself.
o Work with your hands. The upper classes of Rome and Greece despised manual labor. That’s why they owned so many slaves. They hated to work with their hands. But Christianity brought in a new ethic based on personal responsibility and hard work. Jesus was a carpenter and Paul himself was a tentmaker! It’s important to understand that Paul isn’t being metaphorical here. He literally worked with his hands as a tentmaker whenever he could so that he could support himself while he preached the gospel. Even though he was highly educated, he didn’t mind hard work in the least and he didn’t find manual labor embarrassing. So Paul says “work with your hands” so that you can provide for the needs of your own family and not give the gospel a black eye. If you’re looking for true welfare reform, it begins right here.
The point is this: God longs for us to use our work as a witness. He wants us to represent Him in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. As we do so, we will see others drawn to Christ.
Let me say it again: Walk His way. When you walk His way life is not usually easier but God is glorified in and through you, and eventually the world sits up and takes notice. Will you be a Christian who is characterized by sexual purity, love for the brethren, and a godly work ethic? If so, you can change your world. For when you learn to conquer yourself and allow God’s Spirit to reign in and through you, your life and the lives of others will be changed for eternity. Walk His way.

Living confidently

There was once an elderly gentleman who loved playing golf. But he was almost eighty, and his vision was not very good anymore. He always had partners with him when he went out to play so they could watch his ball and tell him where it went. One day his buddies did not show up. It was a beautiful day for golf, and as he waited at the clubhouse he got more and more upset that he wasn’t going to get to play his round. Another elderly man in the clubhouse saw him and asked, “What’s wrong?” The man explained his predicament: “I was really looking forward to playing golf today. But I don’t see very well anymore, so I need someone to watch the ball after I hit.” The second man was even older than he was, but he said, “That’s no problem. I’ll be glad to ride around with you. I’ve got 20/20 vision. I can see like a hawk. You just hit the ball, and I’ll watch it fly right down the fairway.” So they went out on the first tee, and the old man hit the ball right down the center. He turned to his spotter. “Did you see it?” The man replied, “I saw it all the way until it stopped rolling.” “Well, where did it go?” The older man paused for a moment and then said, “I forgot.”

Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out—that’s a reality we all have to face every day. So how should you live when you’re not sure how things are going to turn out? Solomon says, “Don’t play it safe—take risks.” In other words, you have to live confidently. You can’t hide just because life won’t cooperate. Don’t avoid blessings because of the concerns that come with them. Don’t say, “I can’t get married. What if difficult struggles come up between me and my mate?” Or, “I can’t have children. How will I know they won’t be born with a birth defect?” Or, “I can’t start a business. What if it folds?” Or I can’t join the military. I might get deployed.” God wants you to step out in faith and take risks. He yearns for us to stop playing it safe. In Eccl 11:1-6, Solomon will pass on two insider tips that will help us to take some risks and avoid playing it safe.

 

  1. Diversify your investments (11:1-2).

It may surprise you that Solomon offers financial counsel as he nears the end of Ecclesiastes. Yet, this book is down and dirty, nitty-gritty relevant to our earthly lives. Thus, in these first two verses Solomon says, “Since life is so uncertain, spread your financial investments out.” In 11:1 he writes, “Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.” What in the world does this peculiar verse mean? Perhaps you’re like me and in your mind a number of thoughts arise. Cast your bread on the surface of the waters…and it will return to you soggy or moldy…and the seagulls will eat it…and your mother will be mad at you for playing with your food. These bizarre notions should cause us to ask the question, “What is Solomon’s point?” I would suggest that the word “cast” is better rendered “send” (NRSV). This verb refers to the commercial enterprises of sea trade. Furthermore, the term “bread” refers to grain and wheat from which bread is produced.

 

Solomon was deeply involved in international trade with countless merchants. Then as now, one of the main trade commodities was grain. The merchants of Solomon’s day would load their grain ships and send them off. The Israelites were “casting [their] bread upon the water.” But notice that with Solomon, the word is plural: “cast your bread on the waters.” In other words, don’t put all your grain in one ship. Put your wheat in several ships, and send it out in a diversified way so that if one of the ships should sink, you’ll not be ruined.

 

In others words, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Diversify your portfolio.

Instead of putting your grain in a boat and sending it off, you could keep it and make bread. That would be a safe bet since you would retain control of your grain and your bread. But that’s all you would have. Obviously, when you send grain that you own across the sea you are taking a risk. You may never see it or any return again. There are various risks like pirates, shipwrecks, and unscrupulous traders. Yet, there are also prospects of receiving back a dividend. It has been said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” The truth is, any kind of investing requires faith. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. No risk, no reward. So Solomon says, “Don’t play it safe—take risks.”

 

The thought of 11:1 is repeated and unfolded in 11:2. As is often done in the Scriptures, the case is first stated in a figure to grab our attention, and then a plain literal statement is given to avoid all possibility of misunderstanding. So 11:2 is a commentary on 11:1. Solomon puts it like this: “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.” Here Solomon clearly encourages us to diversity our investments. The phrase “to seven or even to eight” is the Old Testament pattern of x + 1. Solomon speaks of trying every avenue there is and then adding one more. The reason for dividing your portion is “you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.” The stock market could drop, the value of your house could plummet, Social Security could run out, and Medicare may be insufficient. Any number of financial misfortunes could, and most likely will, occur. In light of this, you and I must prepare to the best of our abilities. The phrase “you do not know” is found four times in 11:2-6. This has been a common theme throughout Ecclesiastes (cf. 1:13; 3:10, 11; 8:17). God and His works and ways cannot be completely known by fallen mankind, but we can trust Him because of what we do know!

 

God’s expectation is that we will invest our money wisely. Perhaps all of your money has been in the bank and you are barely drawing interest. You may need to consider purchasing stocks or a rental home. You may need to enroll your kids in the GET program (Guaranteed Education Tuition). Do not commit all of one’s possessions to a single venture. Look for the best means of investing the money that the Lord has entrusted to you. But don’t fall for any get-rich-quick schemes or multi-level marketing businesses. Before you know it, you’ve spent all of your money.

 

The biblical view comes down to this: Since God alone knows the future, we ought to make our plans, use our brains, study the situation, take all factors into consideration, seek wise counsel, do the best we can, and then leave the results to God. Don’t be reckless—that’s the path of certain ruin; but don’t sit on your hands either. Invest your money, take your chances, sleep like a baby, and let God take care of the future. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

[Why should you diversify your investments? Because you don’t know what will happen in the future. This reality will be especially drawn out in the following section where Solomon says…]

  1. Seize your opportunities (11:3-6).

In this section, Solomon says that we cannot delay our course of action. We must “seize the day”—Carpe Deim. In 11:3-5, Solomon gives observations concerning the way things are, while in 11:6 he gives the practical application—the “so what” of the passage. In 11:3 Solomon writes, “If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.” Humans experience, but cannot predict or control, the events of their lives (a recurrent theme in Ecclesiastes). We need to distinguish between those things about which we can do nothing and those about which we can. Since we cannot stop nature’s patterns (when it rains or where a tree falls), we had better work on finding something else to do. The point is simple: Don’t waste your time with God’s affairs! “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps 24:1 KJV). Let God be God; He can concern Himself with His responsibilities. When we do that, we will realize all that we have to concern ourselves with.

 

In 11:4 Solomon writes, “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.” This proverb criticizes those who are overly cautious. The farmer who waits for the most opportune moment to plant, when there is no wind to blow away the seed, and to reap, when there is no rain to ruin a ripe harvest, will never do anything but sit around waiting for the right moment. And so, the seed stays in the barn. Solomon exhorts us not to be like this farmer. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect, because that will never happen. It is true that the wind and rain might come and destroy the harvest. Today’s work might be ruined and you might have to do it over again tomorrow. But that’s okay. Today’s work might succeed as well as tomorrows. And if so, then you will be able to reap the rewards for both. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

 

There is no time better than the present to step out in faith. So stop procrastinating! Be diligent constantly. If we wait until we “have time” to do something we never will. The “perfect opportunity” begins now—while we still can. Don’t put what God has placed in your heart off another day. There is no perfect time to have kids. We never have enough money, energy, or patience.

Once you have children, don’t wait for the right time to spend time with them. Before you know it, your kids will be all grown up.

Don’t wait for your husband or wife to be all that you want. Begin pouring your life into your spouse now.

Don’t wait until you have spare time, more money, or better health.

Don’t settle for settled-for Christianity. If you are not currently ministering, get involved today. If we wait until we’re less busy, until we feel right, until just the right moment, we will never witness, never serve, and never see results. Don’t play it safe—take risks.

In 11:5 Solomon continues with two more analogies: “Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.” Life is unpredictable and mysterious. Solomon says life is just like the wind. The wind operates sovereignly. Humankind cannot create or control it, for the wind is unseen and unknowable. We perceive its presence by its effects. Likewise, we cannot understand how God forms bones in the womb. This is far beyond our comprehension, so we have to take this by faith. Yet, in doing so, we adhere to the most intelligent option available to us.

 

It is clear that the creation of the human body couldn’t have happened by itself. Scientist Fred Hoyle says this would be akin to a tornado in a junkyard taking all the pieces of metal lying there and turning them into a Boeing 747. So, of course, since we cannot know God’s activities, we take it in faith that He is the one who makes all things.

 

There are many times when we look at things that go on in the world and we don’t have a clue as to what God is doing. But we have to trust Him because He is the one who makes and sustains all things. Too many Christians freeze because they don’t know what God wants them to do. They suffer from a paralysis of analysis. When facing a decision in their lives, they want God to tell them exactly what their choices should be. Does God have to tell you what to do? Will God tell you what to do?

 

There is a difference between right or wrong decisions and right or left decisions. In the Bible, the will of God always refers to moral choices—decisions where one path leads to sin and the other to righteousness. For these right or wrong decisions, we can know the will of God. It’s found in the Bible. We need to pray and pursue the path of righteousness. For right or left decisions, God is under no obligation to reveal His plan to us. More than likely, He will not. That’s why in Ecclesiastes Solomon says you just have to be bold and act. Too often, Christians are looking for a no-fault deal. We try to do insider-trading with God to get some information that will show us which choice is best for us. But God doesn’t do insider-trading. He does not reveal His plan to men. In the Bible, there are men who wanted someone to tell them the future. Basically, they wanted someone to be their fortune-teller. God won’t tell you your fortune; He has already told you your duty. Don’t get your Tarot cards read or read your horoscope to find God’s will. Don’t turn everything into a mystical decision about what you “feel” God wants you to do. If it’s a right or left decision, pray about it and then boldly follow your heart.

 

Our passage closes in 11:6 with the “so what:” “Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.” Solomon issues a command: “sow your seed,” which is used metaphorically of giving (cf. 2 Cor 9:6). He wants us to have confidence and leave the results to God. The key to this passage is found in 11:6, “do not be idle.” The terms “morning” and “evening” form a merism (a figure of speech using two polar extremes to include everything in between) that connotes “from morning until evening.” The point is not that the farmer should plant at two times in the day (morning and evening), but that he should plant all day long (i.e., from morning until evening). That is what Solomon would have for us. To represent God in all that we do, with all that we have.

 

What types of risks can you take? Actor John Wayne (1907–1979) once said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” So how will you step out in faith today? What will you do in an attempt to stop playing it safe? Will you take some risks for the kingdom of God?

Danny Cox, a former jet pilot turned business leader, tells his readers in Seize the Day that when jet fighters were first invented, they “flew much faster than their propeller predecessors.” So pilot ejection became a more sophisticated process. Theoretically, of course, all a pilot needed to do was push a button, clear the plane, then roll forward out of the seat so the parachute would open.

But there was a problem that popped up during testing. Some pilots, instead of letting go, would keep a grip on the seat. The parachute would remain trapped between the seat and the pilot’s back. The engineers went back to the drawing board and came up with a solution. The new design called for a two-inch webbed strap. One end attached to the front edge of the seat, under the pilot. The other end attached to an electronic take-up reel behind the headrest. Two seconds after ejection, the electronic take-up reel would immediately take up the slack and force the pilot forward out of his seat, thus freeing the parachute. Bottom line? Jet fighter pilots needed that device to launch them out of their chairs. The question is, “What will it take to launch us out of ours?”

Giving and going

One of the most familiar plays in basketball is called “give-and-go.” The “give-and-go” is a basic offensive play in which a player simply “gives” the ball to a teammate and “goes” to the basket. The goal is to break free of one’s defender, receive a return pass from a teammate, and score a basket. The great thing about the “give-and-go” is that anyone can run it, regardless of size, strength, or experience.

The “give-and-go” is not only a great basketball play, it is also an excellent play for the church to run. If we are to score for the kingdom of God, we must master a critical “give-and-go” play. Coach Paul is going to the chalkboard to design a “give-and-go” play for the Corinthians to utilize. I would like us to imagine that we are in a locker room while Coach Paul draws up this play. As we listen to his words, may we prepare to execute the “give-and-go” play that he has designed to score points for God’s kingdom? In 1 Cor 16:1-12, Paul will challenge us to “give-and-go till glory.”

 

  1. Give to the Lord’s Work(16:1-4). In these first four verses, Paul shares his practical philosophy of giving to the church. He writes, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.” In these four verses, Paul provides six guidelines as to how we should give. But before I share with you these biblical guidelines, you must accept the Bible’s premise: you and I don’t own anything! Our home, cars, possessions, and money all belong to the Lord. We are merely stewards of the resources that God has entrusted to us. If you accept this premise, you will not have any problem with anything that I will say. If you do not, this could be a very long message.

 

Guideline #1: Biblical giving is not optional but mandatory (16:1). The word translated “directed” is a strong word that is frequently translated “command” or “order.” Paul is speaking with apostolic authority and calling for the church in Corinth to do what he has already directed the Galatian churches to do. Generous financial giving is one of the key characteristics of a mature Christian. This ties in rather nicely with the previous verse (15:58), where Paul commands the Corinthians to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” It’s like he’s saying, “Speaking of giving yourselves fully, let’s talk about financial giving…”

 

Guideline #2: Biblical giving starts with meeting the basic needs of believers (16:1, 3). Typically, when a pastor preaches a message on money, it’s in order to generate pledges for the annual budget, buy land, or build a new building. This is to be expected. Such matters concern most congregations at some point in their church history. But that is not where biblical giving begins. It begins with a heart that cares about the basic needs of other Christians for food, shelter, and clothing. That’s what the collection here in 1 Corinthians 16 is all about—sending a gift to Jerusalem so the believers there can survive (16:3). Their financial plight was due to famine, persecution, and economic sanctions against them, making it difficult for new converts to hold anything but the most menial jobs.

 

The above guideline indicates that we who are wealthy (every American, from a world perspective) have an obligation to help the poverty-stricken believers in the inner city as well as the persecuted church in foreign lands. Such support should never be treated as optional. Instead, the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ should be an essential part of our financial giving. When you think about giving to others, think about all God has given you. This ought to compel you to give generously to those who are less fortunate. May you “give-and-go till glory.”

 

Guideline #3: Biblical giving is the believer’s #1 financial priority (16:2). Notice that giving is to be done “on the first day of every week.” This implies that people got paid once a week in the first century, and that’s why they are encouraged to give once a week. If you get paid twice a month I’m sure God will accept your giving twice a month. The important point is that you give on a regular basis.

Tragically, many Christians don’t give at all, and often those who do give do so sporadically. They might give two months in a row, skip three months, give one, and skip two more. Some people don’t give when they are on vacation, sick at home, or snowed in. Some don’t give if they miss the offering plate. Imagine standing before the Lord and explaining why you disobeyed His command to give: “Lord, I could never find a pen before the plate got there.” That’s crazy! We don’t think that way about anything else. If my house payment comes due while I’m on vacation, I don’t say, “Well, that’s no big deal, my mortgage company will understand. I’ll pay my mortgage next month.” No way! Those of us who are wise pay our house note before we go on our vacation. If we are that serious about our house, should we not be equally serious about the God of the universe?

 

Today, you may need to reevaluate your financial giving. God’s Word is clear from cover-to-cover, we are to give to the Lord first, not last. This implies that giving to the Lord’s work should take place before other obligations are met. Every once in a while I hear someone say, “Well, I had to take a pass on giving for a couple of months because we had some unexpected medical expenses, house expenses, etc.” I don’t think Paul would buy that. If we would give the first part of our paycheck, then maybe we wouldn’t get into those tight spots in the first place. That’s the point of the Old Testament prophet, Haggai, who told the poverty-stricken Israelites that God was putting holes in their pockets because their financial priorities were amiss. Giving should come before bill paying, before pursuing hobbies, before eating out, even before repaying debt. Does giving have this priority in your life? If so, I can assure you that God will meet all of your financial needs.

 

Guideline #4: Biblical giving is every believer’s responsibility (16:2). Still in 16:2, we read “each one of you is to put aside and save…” Notice that Paul doesn’t excuse the poor, the slaves, the pastors, or the large family with three kids in college. Giving is every believer’s privilege and responsibility. We are all to be involved in giving regularly, whether we have a lot of money or we’re impoverished, whether we’re children or the most senior adult.

 

I believe that we must help our children learn when they are very small how to give back a portion of what they have to the Lord. We gave our kids an allowance to teach them to tithe, not to just give them money. Our children give at least 10% of the money that they earn. Karen and I committed to this at the beginning of our marriage and we have never thought about giving less than 10%. Furthermore, it is important to communicate the importance of giving to your family. We want our children to understand where our money is going. We also want their input because we value them and want them to have ownership in the giving process. As parents, we bear a huge responsibility in raising our children in the Lord. Since Jesus talked about money more than any other subject, how can we fail to instruct our kids in giving to the Lord? If they learn to give, they will be blessed in every sphere of their lives. More importantly, they will please the heart of God.

Unfortunately, many of us have erroneously assumed that if we don’t have a lot of money or are in debt, we don’t have to give. Nothing could be further from the truth! The greatest examples in Scripture of sacrificial giving come from those who are in the midst of poverty and persecution. God wants and expects us to give in spite of our circumstances or lack of wealth. A while back, a student approached me and said, “I am in a truckload of debt. Should I give to the Lord even though I am in debt?” “Absolutely,” I responded. “The quickest way to get out of debt is by giving to the Lord, not by holding back what is rightfully His.” I then explained to this young man that the Lord will honor even a meager attempt to prioritize giving.

A man once said, “I don’t believe in giving. I can be a good Christian without giving. After all, the dying thief never gave anything.” To which his friend replied, “Well, there is one difference between you and the dying thief: he was a dying thief; you are a living one.” Are you a living thief? If so, don’t continue to rob God. Begin giving to the Lord’s work today. Don’t delay; give today.

Guideline #5: Biblical giving should be proportionate (16:2). Paul says that a believer’s giving should be “as he may prosper” or “in keeping with his income” (NIV). In other words, the more we are blessed, the more we should give. There are two ways one can approach this matter. If you are giving a set percentage of your income, let’s say 10%, as your income rises your giving will automatically rise proportionately. But a more generous approach to proportionate giving is to increase the percentage of your giving as your income increases. In the case of a substantial raise, you will still be left with more than you had before the promotion. The issue is: where does your heart lie?

 

“What do you think of the tithe?” Since I know that there are questions on this subject, let me attempt to answer this debated question. The New Testament does not advocate flat 10% giving. The tithe was an income tax system in the Old Testament. There were three tithes—two tithes per year for two years and on the third year an additional tithe of 10%, making it 30% for that year. The tithes for the third year were for the poor. Tithes are always in the plural, not the singular. In addition to this you are to give “offerings.” Israelites gave both tithes and offerings. All this was done for the national entity of Israel. A national entity needs an income tax system, so that was the purpose of the tithe. The New Testament does not command tithes for the church. The idea for the church is an offering of proportional giving or as God has blessed the believer financially. There is no percentage in this system of giving.

 

With that said, my personal conviction is that 10% of one’s income is a good place to start for most people. Yet, I acknowledge that some people may need to build up gradually before taking a step of faith. That’s fine. Giving is ultimately a matter between the individual believer and God. However, I believe the tithe is one of the greatest misnomers in Christianity today. Many well-meaning Christians assume that if they are giving 10%, they are doing great. I would suggest that the vast majority of American Christians can and should give far more than 10% of their income to the Lord. Sadly though, many Christians are more concerned with their standard of living than their standard of giving. For many of us, prosperity has become a greater test of character than poverty. So the issue is: how has God prospered you? To what degree do you want to express your gratitude to Him for all that He has given you?

One Sunday afternoon, a family was driving home from church. The father was complaining, “That church service was awful. The sermon was too long, the music was too loud, and the building was too hot.” His son in the back seat replied, “I don’t know, Dad, I thought it was a pretty good show for a buck.” This illustration would be far funnier if it wasn’t so true. Often, those who give the least complain the most. There are at least two reasons for this: (1) God will not let stingy Christians experience joy and contentment. (2) Those Christians who give sense great ownership and personal responsibility for the church and their own lives.

Guideline #6: Biblical giving should not be motivated by pressure (16:2). Looking again at 16:2 we see that the apostle is asking that the collection be made each week so that there doesn’t have to be a fund drive when he arrives. He is in Ephesus as he writes this letter, and he has plans to come to visit Corinth in the future. He knows that his credibility and charisma is such that he could generate a huge offering with his personal presence. But he doesn’t want them to give under that kind of pressure. He says in effect, “Do what you’re going to do before I arrive.” Pressure, of course, works. Countless churches and ministries have funded vast building projects through high-pressure fund-raising efforts. But everything that works isn’t necessarily right.

 

In addition to the above six guidelines, there is a concluding principle that has more to do with how offerings are handled than with how they are given.

Biblical givers have a right to expect integrity and accountability from those they give to (16:3-4). Verses 3-4 explain that it is the responsibility of every congregation to entrust its funds into the hands of trustworthy members. Paul doesn’t say, “Give your money to me and I will handle it for you.” Instead he urges the church to choose their own representatives to disburse the gifts.

In light of all that we have considered, I challenge you to either continue or begin giving generously and cheerfully. Not only does gracious giving please the Lord, but there are also legitimate personal blessings as well.

[We have seen that we are called to give to the Lord’s work. Now we will be exhorted to…]

  1. Go to the Lord’s People(16:5-12). In this section, Paul shares his own travel log and that of two of his coworkers. These verses explain how Paul and his ministry partners were willing to go to minister to believers and unbelievers alike. Paul writes, “But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. So let no one despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren. But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity.” There are at least five observations worth making from these eight verses. First, Paul had plans and goals to share the gospel with unbelievers and build up the church (16:5-9). Even before Day Timers, Palm Pilots, and Blackberries, Paul had a schedule mapped out. He didn’t just trust God and sit on his hands. He took initiative and moved forward with holy ambition. Do you have a plan to share Christ and build up His body? If not, why not? Today, make a holy resolution and write down the names of three unbelievers and three believers. Then develop a game plan to share Christ with these individuals.

 

Second, Paul submitted his plans and goals to Christ. Words and phrases like “perhaps,” “wherever I may go,” and “I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits” reveal Paul’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Although he had plans and goals that he wanted to accomplish, he was always striving to make sure that he was doing what God wanted him to do. Are you willing to relocate and change jobs if God calls you to? Would you be willing to take on a new ministry? God longs for willing hearts.

Third, God eventually opens a door of ministry for faithful believers. Admittedly, sometimes it takes many years but God has a way of blessing our meager efforts. In 16:9, Paul writes “for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” This “open door” in Ephesus brought great evangelistic fruit. However, with the fruit there were many adversaries. This is to be expected. Where there is light there are bugs. When God pours out His blessing, Satan sends adversaries to destroy God’s work. If you are a pastor, elder, deacon, or ministry leader, you must learn to expect opposition. It is important then to recognize “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:13).

Fourth, Paul values ministry partners. In this section, he spends three verses talking about Timothy and Apollos (16:10-12). In the passage that follows he will mention five more valuable coworkers. The point is: Paul recognized how important other ministry leaders were to his ministry and to God’s kingdom.

God uses teammates (brothers and sisters) to help us to accomplish His purposes for our lives. More importantly, He uses the purposes He works in us to accomplish His kingdom agenda in the world. Have you expressed gratitude to God for all that He has accomplished in your life? Have you said “thank you” to your Christian teammates?

 

God wants us to work on the “give-and-go” play He has designed for us. Today, will you commit yourself to fulfilling God’s plans for your life? Will you submit yourself to Him in the areas of giving and going? Will you seek to ensure that your life will make an eternal impact?


 

A Win-Win situation – Philippians 1:18b-26

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.