Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Living and Dying as a Christian

Part 3 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 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. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (1:18b-21). 

Thanksgiving in Prison

[This sermon was delivered on the Sunday before Canadian Thanksgiving.] 

Thanksgiving is a day on which we give thanks for our blessings.

But how is it possible to be thankful when life is difficult?

The apostle Paul’s life was often difficult. When he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi, he was in prison. And he was awaiting a trial that could result in his execution. Yet in the midst of those circumstances, he writes, “I rejoice” (1:18; cf. 4:4). Paul was a man who didn’t just talk about being thankful in all circumstances; he lived it. He says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (4:11).

The persecution of Christians still exists in our world today. Right now in Kazakhstan, a pastor named Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev is facing persecution because of his faith. Pastor Kashkumbayev was arrested on May 17, following accusations that he had laced communion juice with hallucinogens. The sixty-seven-year-old pastor suffered from “Soviet-style psychological exam-inations” while in a psychiatric ward. He was discharged from the ward on September 4, but the government refused to reveal his whereabouts. On October 8, Pastor Kashkumbayev was freed from prison but was arrested within minutes on new charges.

How is it possible for Pastor Kashkumbayev to be thankful while experiencing persecution? Obviously, it isn’t easy. But I believe it’s possible if we, like Paul, live out the words of 1:21: “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

The Christian's Highest Goal

Paul has written about his present joy (1:18a). Now he turns to his future joy: “Yes, and I will rejoice” (1:18b). Paul anticipates rejoicing in the future because, as he says, “This [his present circumstances] will turn out for my deliverance” (v. 19).

Paul’s “deliverance” (v. 19) could refer either to his release from prison or his eternal salvation (cf. 1:6). When verse 19 is compared with Job 13:16 (“This will be my salvation”) the latter view appears best. Furthermore, the Greek word for “deliverance” is soteria, which usually refers to salvation in the New Testament. F. F. Bruce writes that Paul “is not thinking so much of immediate acquittal and dis-charge from custody…but (like Job) of his vindication in the heavenly court, his final salvation” (Philippians, 48).

There is a connection between faithful perseverance and salvation. Our salvation does not depend on our faithfulness, but our faithfulness gives evidence of our salvation. Paul is sure that he will persevere “through [the Philippians’] prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (v. 19).

As Paul is awaiting a trial, he’s more concerned about the day when he will stand before Christ. He says, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed” (v. 20; Rom. 5:5). Paul’s confidence was not based on who he was or on what he had done. It was based on Christ (cf. 3:9).

Paul writes, “With full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (v. 20).

The Christian’s highest goal is to honor Christ. 

Paul was able to be thankful in all circumstances because he knew that he could honor Christ in all circumstances. And honoring Christ was his highest goal.

Life or Death

Paul was confident that he would honor Christ whether he lived for died because “to [him] to live [was] Christ and to die [was] gain” (v. 21).

1. Christ is honored in a Christian’s life when doing Christ's will is more important than pursuing personal comfort or advancement. 

For Paul, continuing to live would result in “fruitful labor” (v. 22; cf. vv. 24-26). Before his conversion, Paul was most concerned about his advancement in Judaism. But when he met Christ on the road to Damascus, everything changed. What had once been so important to Paul was now considered “rubbish” (3:7).

2. Christ is honored in a Christian’s death when gaining Christ's presence is more appealing than hanging on to life. 

For Paul, dying would be “far better” because he would “be with Christ” (v. 23). Paul describes death as a departure. The Greek word for “depart” (analuo) could be used to describe the departure of a ship. When a person is departing on a ship to live in another place, he is sad to leave loved ones behind, but he is also excited about his new adventure. Death for the Christian is like that.

The Alternative

Paul’s life was often difficult. And, yes, much of his difficulty came because of his Christian faith. But if you think that being a Christian isn’t worth the trouble, think of the alternative.

If you are not a Christian, then death is not a gain; it’s a loss. And (if you are a Christian) when death comes to you, you won’t be thinking, “I wish I could have had a more comfortable life.” Or, “I wish I would have advanced more in my job or education.” If you do have regrets, you will probably say to yourself, “I wish I would have served Christ better.” Or, “I wish I would had a greater impact on those around me.” Think of the alternative.

If we could sincerely say, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain,” we would be less concerned with our circumstances and more concerned with how we can honor Christ. And the joy of honoring Christ is something to be truly thankful for.

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