Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1349
May 6, 2018 Philippians 1.18b-30
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain”
To Live in Christ
Paul writes in verse 21 that to live is Christ and to die is gain. To me this in one verse in scripture that can easily be taken out of its original context and work in any given situation. I don’t say that about many texts. Paul is expressing his struggle between this life and the next. He knows that every bit of his life is committed to serving Jesus and yet to die is even better because he knows he will be with the Lord. Today I want us to consider the same kind of thought in our lives: to live is Christ, to die is gain. Let’s start with the first half to live is Christ. To live is Christ is to live in Christ. Paul makes this clear in many of his letters like Colossians 2.8-15,
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
To live is Christ because we live in Christ and Christ lives in us. Paul says this again in Colossians 3.2-4, 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Read verse 4 again, “When Christ who is your life!” Christ is our life. Christ is our identity. Christ is our savior. Christ is our redeemer. Christ is our hope. Christ is our Lord. I could go on...let’s just say Christ is everything. This is the great commitment required of us, to give ourselves over to the Lordship of Christ. We give our lives to Him, to be shaped, molded, and directed by His word and live in us. In essence this means that we are pursuing a relationship with Jesus. It is both an individual relationship and a corporate relationship. We each seek to know Jesus and to love Him and, as a community of faith, we are seeking to know and love Jesus together. He is our life personally and collectively.
Moses had a similar word for Israel in Deuteronomy 32.45-47, 45 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
To live is Christ because Christ is life itself. To live is Christ because He is our life. Our live is not our own. This is one of our strongest arguments again some of the ills of our society today, particularly on abortion. Those who are settled in the pro-choice camp argue that “it’s my body and my choice”, but Scripture argues that you are not your own. It is not your body, but we belong to the Lord of life. 1 Corinthians 6 signals this truth, 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. This is just one example of how our lives are in Christ and in a broad sense, all human beings, even those who reject Jesus as Savior, are still made in God’s image and damage that image when they do not live in Christ and when they treat their bodies as if they were their own.
To live in Christ is to glorify Christ in our bodies. Sometimes I feel like I fall desperately short on this count when I indulge myself on things that I know are not good for my body, mainly food. But we all have our vices, not getting enough exercise or rest or whatever physical concern is ours. Then there is the spiritual part of our existence. We neglect the spiritual and that also can affect our physical bodies. It certainly affects our life in Christ. So Paul exhorts the Philippians in verses 27-28, 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents.
Our task is to live in the manner that is worthy of the Gospel, worthy of Christ’s sacrifice, worthy of God’s love – thankful, hopeful, joyful, honest, pure, holy.
To Live in the Holy Spirit
Christ lives in us today by the power of the Holy Spirit. One of Paul’s great teachings on this is from Galatians 5. 16-25,
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Again, we have the body and spirit, our physical and spiritual being both engaging in Christ through the Spirit. The contrast between living in the flesh and spirit is striking, reflective of much of what we see in the world today. Not much has changed since Paul’s time. I just want to notice that the way we follow Jesus today, unlike the disciples who physically followed Jesus, we walk in the Spirit. We keep in step with the Spirit! We keep in step by doing the things that Jesus commands, by displaying the fruit of the Spirit, by praying and worshiping and so forth. And we live in Christ through the Spirit by learning all that the Word of God teaches us toward this end.
To Live in the Living Word
To live in Christ is to live in the Word. I cannot help but recall John 1 when I think about life in Jesus and in the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. In Him was life, that is, in the Word is life. The living Word is living because it gives us life. Psalm 119 states this multiple times about the Word. Verse 93 is just one example, I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.
The problems in our nation and throughout the world is that people have not yet come to see that only in Christ and His Spirit and His Word is there true life. The world seeks life and happiness in all the wrong places. We know that salvation and the answers to all the problems of this world can only come through Jesus Christ.
To Die to Self
Now let’s consider the second half of Paul’s statement, to die is gain. I don’t believe that Paul had spiritual death in mind when we wrote this. He was certainly talking about his physical death, but I want to consider the spiritual first, because this is one of the ways we die in order that we might live in Christ and make possible a life in Christ. Jesus spoke about it this way,
23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9.23-24)
To die spiritually is also gain, for we die to ourselves in order to live to God. Paul also says this in Romans 6.11, So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. When we die to self we die to sin, we die to the old nature, we die to the perspectives of the world, and to all that opposes God’s way and Word. Paul tells the Galatians (6.14), But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. We are crucified to self, sin, the world and through this spiritual cross we are alive to Christ! Paul certainly knew that in order to live in Christ, for Christ to be our life, we have to first die to the self. The personal relationship with Jesus is one that not only puts God first in our lives but puts God alone, not self, not another human being, not any systems or governments or ways of the world. All of that is crucified so that we might live fully in and with Jesus.
To Die is Gain
As we know, Paul was actually thinking about what comes after this life. His desire was torn between being able to continue in ministry to the Philippians and others, or going on to be with Christ by Paul’s death. If nothing else, this speaks to the tremendous faith of Paul and his ongoing relationship with Christ. He knew that life is Christ and death is the gain of in Christ’s presence. We often say this when we speak of someone who has died – he or she is in a better place. We do our best to take comfort in that and to take comfort in that for ourselves as well. The Bible speaks of being with Christ at death in plenty of places. So Paul knew well that his life and his death would be a testimony to Christ. For to live is Christ, that is, he gets to preach Christ even if in prison and even if facing a penalty of death, and to die is gain because he knew that he would be with Christ and he may have also thought that his death would also be a testimony to faith in Jesus Christ. Martyrdom is often a bigger witness than the actual life of the saint. Paul gains and the world gains.
To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain
Paul knew that life was only found in Jesus Christ. He also knew that when he died he would instantly be with Jesus Christ. For Paul life or death was a win win situation. It is not that he, or we, are eager to die, not at all, but it is the confidence that whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s and that Jesus will be with us in life and death. Paul’s word on this is in Romans 14.7-9,
7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Jesus is Lord in life and death. Paul knows this and is therefore confident to proclaim that to live is Christ and to die is gain. We live to and with and in Christ with every breath we take and we will live with Him forever after our last breath. This is the comfort we have when someone we love dies and it is the confidence we have when facing the trials and troubles of this life. It is one of the easiest verses to memorize, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Make it a life verse among any others you might have, for in this though Paul is calling us to live in Jesus and make him our very life no matter what comes. Amen.