If you took notice of today’s bulletin you know that our sermon theme for this coming year is expressed in the words of Paul in Philippians 1:21 – For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.
This will be a study through the book of Philippians. But our purpose is not simply to investigate the book as such. We will be focusing our attention primarily on the mind of the author and his relationship to both the Philippians (his audience), and especially to His Savior.
I think we would all agree that the apostle Paul was an extraordinary man. When we first meet him he is the Lord’s most ardent enemy. His conversion stands as an eternal testimony to the power of the gospel and the grace of the Lord. His life is chronicled more than any other apostle. From the text of the scriptures we would conclude that he was responsible for telling more people about Jesus than anyone else. He planted churches in the most popular and pagan cities of his world. He preached to the poorest peasants and the most powerful potentates. His fame preceded him to every city and made him the target of some of the most influential leaders of his day. The apostle Paul was a man for his time.
But despite his extraordinary life, and accomplishments, even his spiritual ones, his life story is not contained in the words of an acclaimed autobiography or chronicled in the archives of the world’s heroes.
If we follow him through the book of Acts we find a man whose passion for his mission leads him down a path of suffering and persecution. He is hated by his own brothers, and chased from city to city. In the end, he is imprisoned unjustly and, as far as we can know, was executed for his faith.
If you were called to write about his life what would you say? How would you summarize and characterize such a one as Paul? Well we might be drawn to consider what he says about himself. There is no clearer picture of the character of the apostle than the words of Philippians.
I. So as we introduce our theme, let me express my intentions as we open the book. I want us to view the world and ourselves as Paul did.
A. I want us to study some of the specific admonitions contained in the book. He tells the Philippians how God wants them to think and what God wants them to do.
• Let your conduct be worthy (1:27)
• Work out your own salvation (2:12)
• Shine as lights in the world (2:15)
• Rejoice in the Lord always (4:4)
• Let your requests be known to God (4:6)
• Meditate on these things (4:8)
We will consider the context of these commands, and learn not only the what, but also the how, and the why behind each one. These are essential to the development of the character and perspective that God wants.
B. We will also look at the person of the apostle himself. Paul encourages and motivates the Philippians through the example of his own life. What he tells us about himself is what God wants us to learn for ourselves…
• His Priority – These I have counted loss (3:7)
• His Ambition – I press toward the goal (3:12)
• His Peace – I have learned… to be content (4:11)
• His Strength – I can do all things through Christ (4:13)
II. A few weeks ago we studied from Philippians 1 and considered Paul’s words in 1:20 where Paul speaks to his ultimate ambition, even in the prospect and expectation of his own death. …so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. I got ahead of myself, not knowing that our theme would come from these passages. I could preach that lesson all over again right here, and it would serve my purposes well. I won’t do that now, but let me mention a couple of things from the text that help us see the character of the apostle.
A. Paul’s passion for his mission was unmistakable and powerful. He never lost sight of the work God had placed before him. He even viewed his present suffering and imprisonment in the context of his mission:
• Phil 1:12 – But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Paul is certain that God has used his suffering to further the goal of the gospel.
• Phil 1:15-18 – Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
• Paul says he is rejoicing even though others are attacking him, but can we notice WHY? He does not rejoice because he knows they will get what’s coming to them in the end, or because he feels no personal pain from their words. This rejoicing has nothing to do with him. He is rejoicing because the gospel is being preached. He relishes in that fact, even when the motives of the preachers are not right. He is focusing on the message and the mission. Can we see how selfless that perspective is?
B. “In nothing I shall be ashamed” – Paul goes on to say that he has a real expectation and hope that God will not let him down. The phrase “be ashamed” means to fell shame for oneself. Paul understood that, even though others might be ashamed of who Paul was, and where he was, he did not have to be ashamed, because God’s mission would be accomplished in him. He would be bold and confident.
C. “whether by life or death” – even if he died at the hands of his enemies, God would be glorified in the mission. Paul was unsure if he would live or die. What kind of outlook can you have in such an unsure and difficult position in life?
• Phil 1:21-26 – For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
D. “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” – Paul trusted God. He remained focused on the mission and because of that was able to put his own life in proper perspective. We noticed these verses before, but consider again Paul’s boldness…
1. To the elders from Ephesus, who met him on the beach near Miletus, Paul declared unequivocally, “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
2. A short while later he said to the believers in Caesarea who were distressed by Agabus’ prophecy of Paul’s impending arrest: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
3. As Paul contemplates the two destinies before him – living and continuing to preach the gospel (which he says is better for them) or dying and being with the Lord (which is far better for him) he says… “what I shall choose I cannot tell.” (Phil 1:22) Some suggest that Paul is not perplexed, but he is simply refusing to make a choice. He will let God do the choosing. Again, we are impressed with such a selfless perspective.
4. We also mentioned earlier that the Greek phrase rendered to live is Christ and to die is gain contains no verb. It literally reads “to live Christ, to die gain.”
• Paul knew that living is Christ, because Christ was the mission, and the mission was all there was. If he lived on. He would preach Christ.
• He also knew that dying would be gain because for him because Christ was the goal, and he would be with Christ.
Conclusion: Is Christ everything to you? You are everything to Him. He went all the way FOR YOU. To Jesus the mission was the most important thing. (not My will, but your will be done). This is the spiritual perspective we hope to explore and cultivate this year. Will you join us?
Come to Christ in obedient faith – He that believes and is baptized will be saved.