In week 5 of our study on Philippians, we looked at Phil 1:21-30. We spent quite a bit of time on verse 21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul’s perspective on death was radically different than the way most of us think of death. All of us have experienced pain by the passing of loved ones – it was not glorious and we would not have chosen it. But in this passage Paul is showing us a healthy perspective on how to approach our own death. Not an easy conversation, but an important one.
For most people what does having a great life look like?
A big house, plenty of money, a good job, health, leisure, no struggles.
How would you fill in this blank? For me, to live is ___________________.
If the answer is money, then to die is to lose it all.
If the answer is possessions, then to die is to leave it all behind.
If the answer is health and fitness, then to die is the ultimate failure.
Anything that can go in that blank will end up a loss. Anything but Jesus.
What about Paul?
Paul defined a great life by the words “fruitful labor”. The only life that winds up with gain is a life of fruitful labor for Christ.
For most people what does death look like?
For some it looks like fear, an end, defeat, something to avoid, something to fight against. For others death looks like an escape. We never want to glorify death or take it into our own hands. “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) God holds the keys to life and death – we need to leave the timing of these things to Him.
What about Paul?
Paul viewed death as a departure (“I desire to depart and be with Christ.”) The word “depart” is a nautical term for a ship lifting its anchor and sailing home. Paul saw death as more of Jesus, which was better than anything this world had to offer. Is it any wonder that heaven looked good to Paul? “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked….” (Read the rest in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29.)
Paul saw death like this:
1. We lose everything we don’t need (troubles, tears, fears, weaknesses, sin).
2. We keep everything that matters (our personality, the Word of God, people).
3. We gain what we never had before (face to face with Jesus, heaven, angels).
What was Paul’s dilemma?
He was torn between the two possible outcomes: life, which was a temporary mission for Jesus, or death, which was an eternal gain with Jesus. For Paul, it was a win/win situation.
His first choice, his greatest desire, was to depart and go be with Jesus. But Paul settled for his second choice — stay and continue to serve the church. His own personal desires were superseded by the needs of the body. What an example for us! What if the needs of my local church came before my own personal desires? Wow. As Steven J. Cole said, “If everybody had this mindset, we’d have a waiting list to teach Sunday school.”
What was not an option for Paul?
DO NOTHING. The possible third choice of continuing to live without fruitful labor was not even on the table. As long as he had a physical body, Paul figured it was to be used for the sake of Christ. Spending his last days at a Mediterranean resort was not a consideration.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (verse 27)
The word “conduct” implies a citizenship. When people become citizens of the United States, they pledge allegiance to the country. They receive all the rights of an American and are responsible to uphold the law of the land. Their conduct when traveling abroad is a reflection of their homeland. Foreigners judge America based on the behavior of its citizens.
A friend recently went through boot camp and became a U. S. Marine. He has pledged to conduct himself worthy of the U. S. Marine Corps. Even when he’s not on base. Even when he’s not on active duty. He is expected to represent the USMC at all times.
It’s not enough for us to be Christians at church. That’s easy. We are responsible for our conduct outside those walls, as representatives of the gospel of Christ. What happens to the reputation of the good news of Jesus when we don’t conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of it? If we easily cave in to culture over and over, if we compromise our values on little things, then when we are in a situation to have to stand firm for Christ, we won’t have the courage to do it. We need to be unashamed, in any company, to be identified as followers of Jesus. We must not laugh at dalliance with sin or join in behavior that smudges the reputation of our great God.
Lord, may we grow in our faith and in knowledge of truth so we can say with Paul, “to live is Christ, to die is gain”. Amen.
What gave Paul joy? Helping others progress in their faith.
What do mature believers look like? They put aside their own desires for the sake of the gospel, the Kingdom, the church.
How can we shine like stars? By keeping an eternal perspective and conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of His gift of salvation.