READING: Philippians 1:12-26
KEY TEXTS: “……. 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” (Phil. 1:20-21 ESV)
OPENING COMMENT: The brief message below is based on Paul’s testimony in Philippians chapter 1. The truths are relevant for all times. But, all truths need to be viewed within the whole counsel of God. I say this because I am fully aware of the pain and the grief that people face and endure as they respond to end of life issues. So, I do not share these truths to be insensitive to those who are experiencing the sorrow related to these same issues. As believers, we are to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and we are to weep with those who are weeping (Romans 12:15). But, for those of us who are sensing the uncertainties of our day, I believe that we can learn from the perspective of the Apostle Paul as he faced the uncertainties related to his own experience when he wrote to the church at Philippi, a church that he loved dearly.
THOUGHT: The Philippian Epistle is filled with joy even though the Apostle Paul is very open about his difficult circumstances and uncertain future. Paul’s perspective on his circumstances is not a flippant optimism, rather it is a view of life and death based upon his relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul is not just sharing his perspective for information, he wants the Philippians to learn from what he shares about his own circumstances in order to encourage and exhort them to be faithful in their circumstances.
We can gain from this part of God’s Word a “Christ-Centered Perspective” on our living and our dying. Due to the serious nature of Paul’s circumstances, he speaks with clarity and directness. We need to hear from the Apostle and we need to hear from the Lord through the Apostle especially since we are living with circumstances that are very serious right now. A “Christ-Centered Perspective” will lead to the right priorities and the right passions as we face the challenges of our times even as Paul faced his challenges.
INTRODUCTION: It is clear that Paul has a Christ-Centered Perspective on everything as you read this Epistle. He is writing to the “saints in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:1). He could rejoice in the fact that Christ was being preached, while he was in chains, even if Christ was preached with wrong motifs (Phil. 1:12-18). He used the example of Christ to challenge the Philippians to have servant-like humility and obedience (Phil. 2:5-11). Paul expressed personally and powerfully his passion for Christ and his desire to know Christ deeply (Phil. 3:3-11). The “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” was Paul’s prize (Phil. 3:12-16), and Christ was Paul’s hope (Phil. 3:17-21). Also, it was through and in Christ that Paul was strengthened to handle all circumstances (Phil 4:13). In the context of this glorious Christ-filled Epistle, Paul basically views his own immediate circumstances in the light of Christ, and his circumstances were indeed life and death circumstances.
Despite Paul’s “life and death” situation, Paul reveals that he is confident that he will “remain” alive (Phil 1:26). What is especially interesting is how he views this probable future for him, even though death seems to be a real possibility. He believed that remaining alive was “more needful” for the Philippians, which related directly to his expectation that he would be released from his chains for further ministry (Phil. 1:24). Paul is not thinking about himself. He was not concerned about his life being extended for personal pleasures or dreams as such. Life was purposeful and “needful” for Paul in relation to service for others. Paul believed that remaining would result in fruitful labor (Phil. 1:22). This fruit, specifically, was the “progress and joy of faith” on the part of the Philippians (Phil. 1:25-26). Christ was the focus of Paul’s life. He could say, “For to me to live is Christ…..” The full meaning of that phrase is spelled out in this Epistle. His emphasis in this immediate context was that his passion and purpose for living was to serve Christ and His people. Paul felt that staying alive seemed to be necessary because there was more work to be done for the furtherance of the gospel and the progress of Christ’s people. Paul’s passion was that Christ would be magnified through his life, which was Paul’s concern whether it was through life or through death.
Paul writes that he is “hard-pressed” between life and death. This gives us an indication of the fact that he had an amazing perspective on death itself. But, Paul goes even further. As Paul views his circumstances, he does not seem to have an equal desire to live and an equal desire to die. He states that he actual desires to die “and be with Christ, which is far better” than the present experience of life. Death was actually better than life, because it would be better to be with Christ. You see, for Paul, there was “gain” in death, because it meant being with Christ in an even more immediate sense. Wow! This is what you call a Christ-Centered understanding and perspective on death itself. Paul has already written that he wanted to be faithful in dying in order that Christ would be magnified (Phil. 1:20). He did not want to embarrass his Lord, rather he wanted to be bold in dying even as he wanted to be bold in living. So, he not only viewed death itself in a Christ-Centered way, he viewed dying and possible martyrdom in terms of bringing glory to Christ. What a challenge this is to me, and it may be for you also. What we are reading is not some morbid interest in death, no not at all. What we are reading is the passion of a man who loved His Lord and who had full confidence in the hope of the gospel – that he would be with His Lord Jesus Christ after death and that he would experience all that had been promised by the Lord.
PRAYER RESPONSE: Lord, may my walk with you be so real and so close that my ultimate desire is to bring you glory in both life and death. May I view living and dying as I should. Thank you for giving me such a wonderful purpose in life, and thank you for such a wonderful expectation in death. May I, and may we do all things for your glory, that you will be “magnified” in us and through us. Help us to keep this perspective as we face the challenges of our time.