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To Die Is Gain

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Think of a time when you were filled with joy. Cheerful. Happy. Deep down inside.
I’m guessing it was a very exciting occasion. The day the Lord saved you. Graduation. A new job. Wedding day. Baby born. Your sports team won a championship.

Did any of you think of your joy during a time of suffering?

If you read in Acts 16, you can read the very beginning of a new church in a Roman city called Philippi. The Apostle Paul went there on his second missionary journey to tell people about the most important news the world has ever known.

The “good news”. The gospel of Jesus Christ. How eternal life and forgiveness before God and gaining entry into heaven comes from only one source: Through the person and the work of Jesus Christ: his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. And through faith in him. Paul went there to preach this message.

One wealthy business woman, Lydia, heard it and believed. Her entire household did. And they were all baptized. .
Then a slave girl who was demon-possessed was set free by from the demon through Paul’s rebuke in the name of Jesus. And that set off the slave girl’s owners, who then illegally and unjustly had Paul and his friend Silas beaten severely and thrown in jail. Think of that: thrown in jail for setting a girl free from a demon!! What’s not to like about that?

While in prison, Paul and Silas were singing and praying to God, and through a miraculous earthquake, the prison doors flew open. In the end, Paul was set free, but they forced him to leave Philippi.

For the next 7 Sundays, we are continuing to read through a letter that Paul wrote later on to the church that started way back when he was forced out of town. He wrote this letter from prison. Because more than 10 years after imprisonment in Philippi, he’s thrown in jail again for preaching the gospel, this time in Rome.

If I was in Paul’s shoes….err, his sandals….I wonder, “Would I simply quit? The pain isn’t worth it?” Would I grow bitter and angry. Angry towards the persecutors. Perhaps even angry at God?

Or would the word “JOY” be part of my conversation? Strangely, this is Paul’s attitude. Joy.

In our passage today in chapter 1, we are going to read Paul’s very personal look into his suffering and into his heart. It’s rather remarkable.

Philippians 1:12-26
Turn to Philippians 1.
This letter is one of the warmest and most personal in the Bible. Very intimate. Tender. Joyful. Open. Honest.

Last week, Matt read through the first 11 verses. And Paul told them of his love for the people, and what he is praying for them. Now in today’s passage, Paul changes topics. He offers up a testimonial, of sorts, telling them of his prison experience and how he views it. It’s rather remarkable.

Vs. 12-13
Philippians 1
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,
13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

So Paul is unjustly, unfairly, and illegally in prison. Sounds horrible to me. He is in chains. I suspect he has few comforts there. Poor food. Sleeping on a hard floor. Perhaps critters like rats and lice crawling around him.

But Paul doesn’t even mention any of that kind of suffering. In fact, he’s quite optimistic. He seems to be reassuring the Philippians that his imprisonment is OK. “Don’t worry about me. Don’t be distressed or frustrated.” He tells them, “This bad experience is working out for good!” How so? The gospel of Jesus is advancing. It’s moving forward. All kinds of people are hearing about Jesus!

Stop for a moment? Where is Paul’s whining about the conditions?
Where is his anger and frustration for being treated so unjustly? Where is his appeal, “Get me out of here?” Where is his depression and hopelessness?
I get upset about lame things. Like when I’m driving my car and stuck behind someone driving 5 mph below the speed limit.
Paul doesn’t seem to be upset about being unjustly held in a prison!

We won’t find any discouragement or anger from Paul in this letter. Perhaps he was tempted in such things often.
Perhaps he had some very trying days. But the general pattern of his life is quite the opposite. Paul is encouraged. Even joyful. Why? Because more people are hearing about Jesus.

He is likely in Rome, and is being guarded by “the Imperial guard.” It’s quite possible that these are Caesar’s own elite troops in Rome. And Paul is impacting people who are near to the ruler of the great Roman Empire!
So instead of being depressed or discouraged or angry, Paul is pleased! What is with this man? Was he simply born as some extraordinary Optimist? A born “Positive Thinker”? Not at all. We are going to see what his thinking was founded upon.

Vs. 14
14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Not only has Paul been bold and unashamed about Christ even while in prison, other brothers in the faith have been emboldened by Paul’s boldness. One would expect Paul to be embarrassed or ashamed of being in prison. I would think, “Well, people are going to think I did something wrong.” Instead Paul knows that persecution is a normal part of the Christian life. If you follow Jesus long enough and speak out for him often enough, at some point and in some way, you, too, will be persecuted.

A few years later, near the end of his life, Paul wrote this to his son in the faith, Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:12 ESV “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
Instead of the gospel bringing health, wealth, and prosperity, as some would say today, it can bring persecution. Unjust, unfair, illegal suffering for Jesus’ sake.

So the Christians in Rome who know Paul are actually encouraged and inspired by Paul. They see his boldness. His lack of shame. And they are inspired to be like that, too.

Billy Graham said, “Courage is contagious.”

Each fall for many years, we have invited evangelist Tom Short to come to the Iowa State campus. Every time I go out there and hear his boldness in the face of some students’ hatred, I am emboldened. I find courage.

Vs. 15-17
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.
16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.
17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.

This is shocking to me. He says there are preachers of the gospel…fellow Christians…who are also proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. But they are doing it with wrong motives. Even EVIL motives. They do it out of envy. Competition. Rivalry. With a selfish ambition. And they want to cause Paul more problems. To deliberately and maliciously make his life more difficult.
Over the years, whenever I’ve read this, I’ve found it incredulous that someone could preach the gloriously good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with a selfish, hateful spirit. How could that happen?

But this week, I thought of a scenario that I could actually imagine happening in my world. Say there is a pastor down the street at Church X. That pastor is more successful than I am. More well known. And I am jealous over his church that is growing more.

So when he gets thrown in jail for preaching the gospel, I have this warped joy. And I convince myself that he really did do something wrong. He probably has some secret sins, and God is judging him, I think.
So then I go out to proclaim Jesus to my neighbors, and at the same time I also bad-mouth that pastor because I am jealous of him. I don’t LOVE him. I am selfishly jealous. I can see that happening. It’s tragic, but I get it.

How does Paul respond to this very sad story?
Vs. 18-21

18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense [false motives] or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,
19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,
20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

First, in vs. 18:
It’s bad enough at war when your enemy shoots at you. But to get shot by “friendly fire”… by your own army….THAT is even worse! Paul is getting shot at by a fellow preacher of the gospel.
Not only is he stuck in prison because he obeyed the Lord and loved people, now his own family—the family of God—is attacking him. Is he vindictive? Bitter? Frustrated? No.

Paul rejoices! He does not rejoice in the preachers’ sins, for they are sinning against God and Paul by being so envious and selfish. But he rejoices that the good news of Jesus is going out. He is happy for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of lost souls who need Christ.

Talk about an unselfish attitude!!

Then in vs. 19-21:
First of all, Paul believed strongly in the impact of prayer, that God would hear and answer. And he also believed strongly in the work of the Holy Spirit to watch over, protect, and guide.

Second we ask, what “deliverance” is Paul looking to? He seems primarily to refer to his release from prison, from some verses below and from Chapter 2. But there seems to be more, for he speaks of both life and death as real possibilities, so deliverance could also refer to deliverance unto death and into Christ’s presence.

So he seems to realize that being martyred is a real possibility.
(By the way, Paul knows well about martyrdom, for he was an accomplice to the murder of disciple Stephen in Acts 7:58-8:1.)

Paul’s greatest point is not about getting out of prison. It’s about being unashamed of Christ, who died for him. It’s about honoring Christ and giving his entire life, even unto death, for Christ. Being unashamed and courageous and bold to speak of and live for Jesus.

Then in vs. 21, Paul says something that for many years reading this confused me.
He says, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
What is he talking about ?? For years I tried to make Paul’s statement more complicated than it is.

When Paul says, “To live is Christ,” he is saying, “My whole life is wrapped up in Christ. Everything about my life.”
If we were to compare our lives to a house, we give Jesus access to every room in it. The kitchen. The Living Room. The basement. Even the closets. No secrets. In fact, more than that, I sign ownership of the house over to him. “To live is Christ.”

The expression is also found in it converse form, “Christ is your life” (Colossians 3:4).

Someone put it this way: “Jesus Christ was the sun around which Paul’s life orbited.” That is challenging.

I have to ask myself, “Is my life orbiting around Christ?”
Or, “Is my life orbiting around something else, and Christ is merely like another planet beside me?”

Then Paul says, “To die is gain.”
What does that mean? Simply, he means that to die in Christ and enter into glory is gain. It is profit. Better.
He is in prison, and the possibility exists that he will be killed.

Instead of being terrified of death, Paul anticipates it. Paul is saying, “For me, death is the very best option of all. Living for Christ is glorious, but death is more glorious.”

Now Paul blows my mind even more.
Vs. 22-26
22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Paul’s life orbits around Jesus Christ. This is far more than jargon. Or nice religious words. Or simple church attendance.
Paul is laying out two possible outcomes.
1. He will live. OR,
2. He will die.

Yet it’s much deeper than that.
While in prison, he is facing possible martyrdom. Death. And upon his death, he is convinced he will be in the presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Paul says this option is FAR better. Much superior. From the Greek, we could literally translate the words as, “Much More Better.” Bad grammar, but it helps us get the point.

Some have read Paul’s words here and cynically claimed that he was suicidal. But how absurd to say that! A suicidal person is usually filled with despair. Depression. Hopelessness. Self-centeredness.

But when we actually read the letter we see that Paul was completely the opposite. We read it and see joy. Contentment. Love. Selflessness. He is a man who loves life and loves people.

But he loves Jesus even more, and he simply sees that being with Jesus would be unimaginably better.
It’s like a soldier off at war overseas. While he is there, he is absolutely loyal to his fellow soldiers. He will die for them. But he knows that getting sent home and being with his wife is unimaginably better.

Paul here has such an intense love for Jesus Christ that he knows being in his presence would be the best way ever.

I want to address an important distinction. Paul is saying much more than “I want to go heaven so that my suffering ends.” And he is saying much more than he wants to get to heaven to see old friends and family. Those desires may be true.
But he is saying much, much more than that. His first and greatest desire is to be with Jesus Christ. In Christ he sees a beauty and glory and power and love. And so he desperately, passionately longs to be in his presence.

I think of the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Knowing Jesus and to be in his presence is “much more better” than anything else in life.

But then Paul says if he doesn’t die martyrdom soon, he has a second-best option. To help people in their faith. To bring lost souls into a relationship with Christ. And then to help them grow up into Christlikeness.
Vs. 25, “I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.”
He is saying, “It’s not about me. It’s about serving others and bringing good to them.”

To Live is Christ

So what do we take out of this passage??
First, we note there are no commands in these 15 verses. Paul is not commanding us to do something here. At least not explicitly. Paul is telling us his life story. His passion. His heart. He is wanting us to see his example, though, and follow it.
In fact, he tells us twice later in the letter to follow his example. His heart. His passions.

So I want us to consider vs. 21 for our own lives: “To Live is Christ, and to Die is Gain.”

First, let’s look at “To live is Christ.”
What does that look like for us? What does it look like to have our lives orbit around Christ?
This is really one of the great questions of the Christian life. It’s foundational.

Examine our Hearts
First, reflect on Paul’s example.
Does my life orbit around Jesus? Or does it orbit around something else? Career? Comfort? A life of ease? Even family? Even…ministry? Sometimes things that steal our hearts and distract us are very subtle. And it takes a humble, quiet heart to let the Lord prompt our hearts.

Second, pray for Paul’s heart.
The Lord wants you to know him and be close to him. Pray that you would love him with all your heart and soul and mind.
The Holy Spirit will help us here.
Pray that for your family. For your Life Group. I know you pray all sorts of things for your family and friends. Keep praying those things. But please do not neglect praying for our hearts.

Place everything in front of Jesus. Every day.
Every day you wake up, consider your day. Consider your agenda. Consider your heart.
And place it all in front of Jesus every day in prayer.
Tell him your life is his. Give him your day. Your job. Your school. Your time with family. Ask him to strengthen you.
Tell him you want to know him better. Seek wisdom for your day.

This really is what our Renew Campaign is talking about as one of our goals. That each of us would walk every day with simple faith and expectation that God wants to work in our lives and in our ministry and in our church and in our city.
Commit each day to Jesus in simple faith and prayer.

Seek Fruitful Labor
Paul said, “As long as I am alive, I want to have fruitful labor in your lives.”
He wanted to help the Philippians make progress in their faith.
He wanted to help them grow spiritually.
He wanted to serve Christ by serving others.
This topic is huge. So let me just say (tied in with “Place everything in front of Jesus”) to take everything you are doing and commit it to Jesus that it would bear fruit for eternity. That everything you do would honor God. That everything you do would be out of love for people.

Your 8-hour a day job.
Your school work.
Your conversations with co-workers and neighbors.
Your service to your children in the home.
Your meal times with friends.
Your opportunities to talk about Jesus with the grocery store employee.
Your moment to serve your neighbor.
Ask the Lord to bring good, holy, eternal fruit out of everything you are already doing. Everything.
As a simple example, my wife is going to China for some intensive medical treatment. She had a stroke 2-1/2 years ago, so she is going on a big adventure to see if her health can improve.
We are praying and thinking about more than just her health.
We are wondering how God can bear fruit over there. Fruit in her kindness for others. Fruit in her joy. Fruit in her prayers for people. Fruit in conversations she might have about Jesus.
We’ve been having conversations about considering herself as a “missionary to China” while she is there.
“To live is Christ.”
Seek Fruitful Labor in everything you are doing today.

To Die is Gain

What does it mean, “To die is gain”?
How do we get to a place where we know Jesus Christ so well that we see to be in his presence is more wonderful than even the very best things in this life?
This is a journey.

Two things:
First, believe.
Believe in Jesus Christ. That he descended to earth to take on humanity.
Believe that he lived a sinless life.
Died a cruel death in our place.
Rose from the dead victoriously.
Ascended into heaven gloriously.

The only way to heaven after you die is through Jesus.
If we do not believe in him, death is NOT gain.
In fact, death becomes your absolute worst option. And worse than your greatest nightmare.
For the one who rejects Christ, God’s wrath will be upon him forever.

That reality is what drove me to Jesus Christ nearly 39 years ago when I was in college. Jesus Christ gave me eternal life.

Second, seek to know him better.
Once you enter into this eternal relationship with him, do everything you can to know Christ better.
To know him more intimately.
To know his love. Power. Holiness. Kindness. Patience. Mercy.
To know his fond affection for you.
How do we do this?
Pray. Worship. Read God’s Word. Be in rich fellowship with God’s people. Cry out to him in your trials. Run to him when you sin, instead of running from him and hiding.
Only when we know him and know him intimately will we be able to say, “Death is gain.” Dying and being in Christ’s presence is the best joy and the greatest pleasure imaginable.

Make your life’s goal, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”