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To Live is Christ | Philippians 1:19-26

Today we continue our series through the book of Philippians, which we’re calling “Jesus Our Joy.” This is Paul’s most explicitly joy-filled letter, which is remarkable because it’s also one of his most challenging letters, which shows us that joy does not negate challenging times; joy does not mean no pain and suffering—in fact, sometimes the most joyful times for believers are times when the most suffering is evident, because those times force us to rely upon Him more and more. So, throughout this book we see Paul rejoicing a lot even in tough times.

Just like last week, today Paul’s logic in rejoicing seems counterintuitive. Last week, he was happy he was in jail because it was furthering the gospel. The gospel became known among the imperial guard; other believers were emboldened by seeing and hearing of Paul being imprisoned, and yet still preaching the gospel even while in prison! This week, we see rejoicing yet again. Paul is speaking of his own potential death, or even immanent death, and yet he is rejoicing! Imprisonment: rejoicing! The Gospel is spreading! Coming Death: rejoicing! Why? How can he rejoice even within sight of his own death? Keep that question in mind as we read Philippians 1:19-26. Jeff is going to come forward and read this for us.

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. 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.

How can we rejoice in life and in death?

Three reasons: our confidence, our heart, and our logic. That’s how we’ll organize this text today. So, first:

 

Our Confidence: Christ will be honored and we will be delivered.

Did you catch the language of confidence that Paul uses over and over in these first few verses? Look at the end of 18 and following: “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.” Over and over we hear this incredible confidence.

He knows he will be delivered. And this isn’t speaking of deliverance in this life; he’s not confident that he’ll be released from jail, or at least that’s not what he’s referring to here. This whole text is about life and death. He’s speaking of deliverance in Christ’s coming kingdom.

He knows through the prayers of the Philippians and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. I just love this. The prayers of the Philippians help give Paul confidence that he’ll be delivered, that this is all worth it! This is one of a million examples in the Bible of prayer actually having an effect on things that happen. God is sovereign, nothing catches him by surprise, and yet somehow in his sovereignty, he has decided that prayers change things!

So through their prayers and the help of the Spirit. The word “help” there means supply, provision. Paul’s confidence did not come from within himself alone. Someone else lives in Him! The Spirit of Jesus Christ! The Holy Spirit. That’s why it’s entirely appropriate to understand both the Holy Spirit and Jesus as living within us, as believers. Brings to mind Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” That is our confidence! Christ will be honored in our obedience and we will be delivered, not because of our obedience, but because of the Spirit’s work in us. What a cause for joy, yes? What a cause for conf.!

Not only is our very deliverance and salvation dependent upon God’s grace alone, but even our ability to honor Christ in our bodies, in this life, is dependent upon God’s Spirit, who lives in us! It’s through his supply, what he brings to the table, that we can be confident of our deliverance. The Holy Spirit will deliver! We can know this because he always has. Do you realize that the same Spirit that was with Christ and the apostles is the Spirit that lives in us?! Ponder that for a moment. We don’t each have our own little Holy Spirit. I joke about that sometimes. I’ll say, “Yeah, my Holy Spirit is telling me to tell your Holy Spirit that you’re wrong.” That’s a joke; if you hear me say that, don’t take that seriously. We all have the same singular Holy Spirit, and perhaps it’s even more remarkable that this is the same Spirit that was with Christ and the apostles.

That Spirit provides not only for salvation, but for our sanctification. Brings us back to chapter 1, verse 6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.” We can be sure of it, why? Because He’s the One doing it! And as far as I know, God does not fail.

I do think it’s worth pointing out here, if it wasn’t clear already, that Paul’s confidence is NOT in the fact that God will deliver him from trouble in this life. Paul says it as clearly as can be in verse 20: “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 exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” This is where it starts to get a bit more difficult to understand. It is my eager expectation and hope.

Hope in Scripture is not like how we use it nowadays, meaning “We don’t know, but we hope. We cross our fingers.” Instead, hope in the Greek language, megaluno, means expectation or confidence. Hope means we KNOW! Paul knows he will not be ashamed, and he’s probably referring there to when he faces his earthly judges who will decide his fate. But what does he ultimately know to be true, not that God will deliver him from these judges, from his prison, from even his execution. He knows that Christ will be exalted in his body, whether by life or by death. Christ will receive the glory.

And in this, he rejoices. I realize it’s difficult for us to grasp rejoicing in life OR in death. It’s difficult to really get that, isn’t it? That all that matters is that Christ gets the glory? We want it to make sense to us, any pain or hardship, especially any loss of a friend or loved one.

I have a close friend and ministry partner of sorts who was very involved in our last church down in Texas. He served faithful in the student ministry, and especially when I was the student pastor there we grew to be pretty close because he was always there. About a month ago, he went in to have his tonsils removed, and during the surgery his white blood cell count went crazy, they didn’t know why. So they ran tests, and they found out he had acute lymphocytic leukemia, a very aggressive cancer. They had no idea about any of this until he went in to get his tonsils taken out. After surgery, his kidneys started shutting down, and they couldn’t get his blood and heart and kidneys regulated well enough to really start the chemo he needed, at least not in time to slow much down. He died this last Thursday, Thanksgiving morning. 7 children, ages 7 to 22. Wife who has homeschooled now for 22 years. It’s difficult to imagine Chris—that was his name—looking forward to his ultimate deliverance over the last year with glee and expectation, especially anytime soon. And he was a strong, faithful Christian.

It’s difficult for us to grasp this attitude that Paul has because we have strong attachments to things on this earth, especially people. And these attachments are entirely appropriate, truly. But these attachments, even family, can become idols. Because there is something far greater that should hold our affections. I think the answer with family or whatever good attachments we have on this earth is not to lessen those attachments. We should never think it’s right to say, “You’re really focusing too much on your family.” I don’t think that’s the way to think about it. Instead, the way to gain this confidence that Paul had, that led him to look forward joyfully even to the uncertainty of life or death, is by increasing our one great singular passion. How can we rejoice in life and in death? The 2nd part of your notes:

 

Our Heart: To live is Christ, and to die is gain.

That’s, word-for-word, what Paul says in verse 21. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This was his one singular passion. This is actually a bit odd— the order of what Paul is saying here. This isn’t the most mathematical of passages. If it were, this statement in verse 21 would be at the end, pulling everything together. But it’s not, it’s almost kind-of unplanned. Paul is turning to a very personal reflection. Kind-of like pastors when they suddenly get very personal; maybe they didn’t really plan on getting that personal or even emotional. I do that upon occasion. Paul’s doing that here. “For to me” can be understood like, “For me, personally…” and then he shares from the heart. He’s expressed all this confidence in Christ being exalted in his body and in knowing that he’ll be delivered ultimately, and now he’s reflecting: “Look: to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. That’s it. That sums it all up.”

Paul had one singular passion that overwhelmed any and all other passions. One singular love and joy that overwhelmed all other loves and joys. One singular pursuit that overwhelmed all other pursuits. It was Christ. His one goal in life was to esteem Christ, to give Him glory, to make much of Him. And that was IT! This is how he was he able to think: “Whether I’m released from prison, or executed, either way, I win!” Why? Because Christ will be lifted up!

The “gain” part here isn’t only that he will “gain” by being with Christ when he dies. Certainly that’s part of it, because he brings this up in the next few verses: he’s split being staying and going because he wants to depart and be with Christ. But I think also part of this gain was that he knew, just like his imprisonment furthered the gospel and gave other Christians courage to proclaim the gospel (which we saw last week)— in the same way, even his death would further the gospel and maybe give others courage- to see Paul’s joy even in the midst of execution, of all things.

I mean, this statement from Paul was the epitome of his life with Christ. We see his heart so filled with Christ and so set on Christ throughout his life and writings. Another just perfect example, from Acts chapter 20. This is actually part of the first passage I ever preached at Raintree, when you had me come to preach and to do a Q&A. If I have a life-verse, this is it. It’s very similar to this verse we’re talking about here in Philippians 1. In Acts 20, Paul is speaking to the Ephesian elders and telling them that the Holy Spirit is leading him to Jerusalem. He says he doesn’t know what will happen to him there, expect that the Holy Spirit is warning him that prison and hardships are coming. And in the midst of that, this is what he says next:

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

“My only aim is testifying to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News about who he is and what he has done!” That’s what Paul is saying here. It’s sort of like being tunnel-visioned. We have one goal, one direction, one passion, and it is Christ. On Facebook this week I saw something called “Experience Tubes,” which are ridiculous, but I think give a decent picture of what we’re going for with being set on Christ. The point of these are to force people to get off their phones. Again, they’re ridiculous, and I hope they aren’t actually selling these, but you get the picture.

My life is worth nothing except for finish the task that God has given me: the task of testifying to Jesus. To live is Christ, and to die is gain. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

Look, I’m not there yet. I cannot say these things truthfully about myself, at least not fully! I’m not there yet! I don’t consider everything in this life only in terms of Christ and the gospel, and the thought of death does not first bring joy to my heart. But let me tell you, I hope I am desperately aiming to be there one day, in this life! I hope that’s what we’re all aiming for, as Christians!

Because the only worldview, the only framework, on which we can have a chance of standing in the midst of this life, with all its pains and frustrations and evils. The ONLY Rock that can withstand that weight is Christ. And so the only way we can truly stand ourselves, is if our confidence and our joy and our very lives ARE CHRIST! If you have hope in this life, that hope will fail you. If you have joy merely in this life, that joy will fail you.

This life is serving Christ, because he’s worthy. Death is gain, because even in death I am confident that Christ will be glorified, but also because it just means that I will forever be in the very presence of Jesus Christ— my JOY, my CONFIDENCE, my ROCK. How does Paul get here? Well, we see his logic in verses 22-26. His logic (for your notes) is that:

 

Our Logic: To die is better for us, to live is better for others.

In verses 22-26, Paul continues this personal reflection by just working it out in his mind. He goes through what seems to be a hypothetical: If he had the choice, right now, what would he do? Would he depart to be with Christ, or would he stay? It’s not that he had the decision, obviously. It wasn’t in his hands. But undergirding his heart which was, “life was Christ, death was gain,” was this comparison between the two.

He says, “If I go on living, it will mean fruitful labor for the Philippians.” It will be good for them! Then he says, “Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” Being with Jesus my JOY is obviously better. But, verse 24: “it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Jesus Christ will abound on account of me.” In other words, I can help you in your spiritual walks, your progress and joy in the faith. To live is better for them.

Notice what makes him desire to depart: not just being done with the pains of this life, though certainly that’s part of it. Paul had a lot of pain in his life. But, specifically, Christ is what made him desire his own death. He doesn’t have a death-wish; he has a Christ-wish, if you will.

But, even with that wish, Paul also wishes to stay for their good. Talk about yet another example of Paul’s selflessness. Paul, of all people, seemed to have the right to say, “I’ve paid my dues! I’ve given the skin of my back multiple times. I’ve been shipwrecked, beaten, gone without food, people have tried to kill me! I’ve paid my dues; it’s time for my reward!” But those aren’t his thoughts. Paul really does give us an example of someone following after Christ. We’ll see especially when we get to chapter 2 of Philippians in a week or two, that Paul clearly had Christ as the center of his worldview—the center of his ethical system too! The central passage of this book is chapter 2, verses 5-11, which give us the awe-inspiring details of what Christ did in becoming man. The humility of Christ, the God of the universe.

Paul exudes Christ who lives in him. He puts the interests of others before his own. He considers others more significant, more important than himself. How? He looks to Christ, who “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used of his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” and “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” That’s his example.

 

What’s the problem?

Either way, he is blessed. In life and in death, he is blessed. So here is the question, I think for us. That all sounds good and dandy. Paul was a radical. To be looking to his coming death with that much eager expectation and joy, that’s Paul. He was a weird duck, right? I mean, come on; he was an apostle! He was in a different realm of spirituality. That’s not necessarily for us, right? For us normal Christians, everyday Christians trying to follow Christ: surely, we have no need of really reflecting this kind of attitude, do we?

Yes, we absolutely do! I mentioned it already: the same Spirit that lived in Paul lives in us! The same Jesus that held Paul’s affections so firmly, is the same Jesus that you and I know and serve! This isn’t for radical Christians out there, or even the more committed Christians in this room, like the pastor and elders, maybe the deacons, a few others. This is for every single believer in Jesus Christ.

And if that’s the case, that we have the same Jesus and the same Spirit living in us, then why are our attitudes toward death so starkly different than Paul’s? If we were all honest here today, I’m guessing the majority of us would admit that we dread the thought of death! That’s when it’s all over! That’s when LIFE is over. Oh, sure, we get to go to heaven, but I’m not even totally sure what we’re going to be doing there—the Bible doesn’t give us much to go on. What about my family? What about the things I love to do?

Listen, obviously death should never be a thought that brings no pain or even difficulty. For me, the thought of leaving my son and wife behind makes me cringe. Obviously, those are appropriate feelings. And you shouldn’t feel guilty today and so try and lessen those feelings. That’s not going to happen.

But, our affections for the One with whom we will spend eternity must be growing. The very thought of being face-to-face with Christ, our JOY, our LIFE, should bring us to joyful tears! The problem is not necessarily that our affections for the things of the world are too strong, though that’s certainly true if they’re vain things like wealth and comfort and entertainment—the problem is that our affections for Christ are too weak! We all love Jesus, but to say, like Paul, that to depart and be with him would be “far better?” That’s a bit much! Why? What’s the main reason our affections for Christ are weak? What’s the main reason that Jesus is not our Joy, above anything and everything else, our singular pursuit, singular passion, singular love? Why are our hearts not continuously and absolutely captivated by Christ? It’s because, at every turn, it seems, we have weakened the Gospel.

If we’re to summarize the heart of the gospel, the grace of God, we’d come down to something like these four truths. These are the four I’ve given you before, and once again, it’s worth looking at them and seeing how we’ve weakened this gospel, and therefore weakened our affections for Christ.

 

  1. God is our Creator, and we are accountable to Him.

How have we weakened or warped this truth? By emphasizing more that God is our Creator, and he has a wonderful plan for us. That’s true, yes? Well, yes, in a sense, of course he does. But that plan is not just to give us some wonderful life all about us. That’s not it at all! His plan involves being accountable to him. He created us, therefore in a very real sense, he owns us.

But we don’t talk about that aspect of Scripture as much, because it doesn’t feel as inspirational. But do you see how missing this truth warps the gospel? If it’s not emphasized that we’re accountable to God because he created us, then who cares if we’ve sinned against him? What’s the big deal? Everyone’s done that.

  1. Man has rebelled against and rejected God, therefore we deserve eternal death. We can nothing on our own to reverse this.

How have we weakened or warped this truth? Maybe we reject eternal death, or at least we don’t talk about it all that much. We all know hell exists, but, you know, let’s keep that in the periphery, in the margin. Or we emphasize that the problem with the world is that we’ve missed our potential! God wanted us to be good, but we weren’t, and we’re missing out on what God has in store for us! Again, that’s TRUE, but that doesn’t explain the need for a sacrificial DEATH! If we emphasize that more than this truth of our rebellion against God and inability to fix this on our own, we will turn the gospel into something that it’s not. It will become merely about making people better. It’s mainly about you helping you fix your life, become a better person. And if that’s the case, then this next truth will definitely be warped.

  1. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the Cross, bearing our sin, and rise again defeating death.

If the gospel is just about making good people better, then Jesus came to the earth merely to show us how to live. Did he show us how to live? Yes! But that is not the main reason he came. He came in order for God to pay a debt that we could not pay! Yes, Jesus is our example, but he’s also far more than that! He’s our SUBSTITUTE! What joy the thought of Christ paying a debt we could not pay, a debt that brought nothing but death! What joy that while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me! What kind of affection overflows our hearts when we ponder not merely the role model that showed us how to live, but the lamb that slain on our behalf, the One on whom God laid all our iniquity.

He bore my sin. He laid down his life. That kind of bond and love and affection, when the weight of that clicks in our hearts and minds, far exceeds the love and affection we have for a mere role model.

  1. By repentance, or turning from sin and to Christ, we are saved.

Not by fixing your life, but by turning your heart and mind from being your own King to Christ the true King, our Substitute we are saved. We did nothing to earn this. We didn’t come to God with a partially already-fixed life. We didn’t even go to Him in the first place; he came to us. What grace is this? What Jesus is this?

 

Conclusion

If we truly and continuously remind ourselves of who Jesus is and what he has done, we’ll have no problem saying, as Paul said, “He is it! To live is Christ, to die is gain.” All I want is to esteem him higher. All I want is to give him glory. He is my singular passion, through which all other desires and passions are filtered. I am aiming at making much of Him, tunnel-visioned toward the goal of lifting up the name of Jesus.

If we remember who Jesus is and what he has done, we’ll have no problem considering our coming deaths as beautiful things that have lost their sting, as the door through which we meet our JOY face-to-face. But we so easily forget, do we not? This is why we need God’s help, this is why we need the church, this is why the church must be Gospel-centered in every possible way. Because we forget.

Let’s not forget. Today, let’s be reminded again why Jesus is our JOY.