Tuesday, September 7, 2010

To live is Christ

Today I want to talk about one of my favorite passages in the Bible.  It is a source of correction and inspiration to me and something I have to keep reminding myself of.  It is a reminder of the abundant life Christ provides for me and a reminder of what my motivation needs to be behind the decisions I make or the things that I do.  That passage is:
For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:19-21 NKJV
To understand this verse, we need to look at it in its historical context.  Paul was in prison in Rome and awaiting to be brought before Caesar Nero.  Paul was before Nero twice - the first time he was set free and the second he was beheaded.  Although we do not know with 100% surety, the general belief is that this was written the first time.  Paul did not know if Nero would set him free or sentence him to death and what is amazing is that Paul did not care.  If Paul did not know he would be delivered, why did he have the expectation of deliverance?  Well that answer is at the end of the passage.  "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  For Paul, both were options leading to his deliverance.  If he were to live he would be delivered from prison into the service of the Lord he loved, if he were executed, he would be in the very presence of his Lord.  Look at how Paul continues:
But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again. Philippians 1:22-26 NKJV
Here we see Paul pondering the question of whether to live or die as though someone had given him that choice.  What is interesting is that it is not an easy decision for him.  For most of us, the answer would be an easy one.  We want to live!  But what does that show of our faith?  Do we truly understand and believe that when we depart this earth, we will be arriving at a place beyond wonder and amazement.  Do we realize that death is gain for a Christian, not loss.  Paul says here that to choose death is better for him.  He was not saying that in some kind of suicidal way. No, Paul knew where he was going.  Paul looked forward to Heaven to receive the reward promised by his salvation.  But on the other hand, Paul knows that God is not done with him yet on earth.  Paul knows there is still work for him to do.  And so with that promise of heaven on his mind, he is prepared to complete the ministry God has laid out for him.  Paul will live for Christ but with the knowledge that when his time is up, things will only get better.  How much easier is it to live for Christ when we truly have hope in what is to come!

We also see Paul's excitement for the chance of visiting the church. Paul loved to hear of the progress of the saints of the churches.  He did not just "preach," but also followed up and ministered to the churches as they grew.  Remember, we are called to make disciples of all the nations, not just make converts.  Converts need to learn and to grow and through all his epistles, we see the heart of Paul (and that of God as well) to the progress of those churches.  He would encourage where they needed encouragement and chastise where they needed chastisement, but all the the glory of God. 

Paul then turns this message on to the Philippians in how they can apply what Paul just spoke of into their own lives:
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.  Philippians 1:27-30 NKJV
Two things are important here.  First is regarding our conduct as Christians and the second is suffering for the sake of Christ.  There are some large movements in Christianity today regarding preaching and suffering.  Some believe that preaching should only focus on grace and that preaching on so-called "do's" and "don't"'s have lesser value.  I believe in teaching the whole counsel of God, which includes the grace of Christ along with what Christ expects of us as Christians.  We have a conduct expected of us by God and the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and John all address that.   Grace is the start but God does not stop there.  The Bible is clear that there will be a change, that sanctification will take place.  The Bible is clear that there is conduct becoming and unbecoming of a Christian, and the Bible proscribes church disciplines in regard to a Christian who continues to sin. There are so many warnings and instructions in the Bible for Christians to live as the light and salt of the earth that to not preach and teach them is to deny a very large part of God's Word.  God Himself even says to be Holy because God is Holy.  How can we be holy if that is never defined for us?  God entrusts pastors to shepherd His sheep, to train them to live as Christians in a hostile world, and to prepare them for ministry.  A pastor has that duty from God and will be held accountable for how he treats the gift of that high calling that God has given him. 

The other important aspect of this is Paul's affirmation of Jesus' promise that we will be persecuted for his sake.  There is no such thing as a Christian with so much faith that he or she will never suffer and there is no claim to be healed from persecution from the world.  We will suffer for Christ's sake.  In fact, if you are not suffering for Christ's sake, your are not living for Christ.  To say you live for Christ and have no suffering for the sake of Christ, you are denying the validity of the promise of Jesus.  Jesus said: 
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me." John 15:18-21 NKJV
Living for Christ means suffering for Christ but suffering for Christ means blessings from God.  While in our own intellect that statement makes no sense at all, when your life is Christ it all comes together.  That blessing is in the promise of eternal rewards for momentary suffering.  Paul explains it best:
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NKJV
Our persecutions are temporary, but our rewards are eternal.  And that brings us back to the real center of this post and the one thing thing that is the basis of our behavior and our sufferings:
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  Philippians 1:21 NKJV
Meditate on that verse and what it is saying.  Paul is not saying that living for Christ is life, Paul is saying that Christ IS life.  Christ is the center of his existence, the source of his life, the reason for all that he is and does.  For Paul, life equals Christ and Christ equals life.  There is no life outside of Christ.  May we have the same heart! May we put away anything in our lives that we think is important and look at everything in terms of our life in Christ.  Make Jesus the center of all that you are and the reason for all that you do. Make Jesus not just Lord of your life, but the source of your life.  If Jesus is the source, what else do you need?  What can add to the glory of God as the center of your life?  We need to look at our lives and take away everything that gets in the way of Jesus.  Adding anything that takes away from Jesus takes away from our lives in Him.  We rob ourselves of that intimacy we can only achieve by abiding in Him.  Don't just live for Jesus, but abide in Jesus and everything else will fall into its place.

That brings us to the second part of his statement: "to die is gain."  If Jesus is your life and Jesus is eternal, your life is eternal.  The only death is a physical one that brings you into the presence of the source of your life.  In other words, for those in Christ death brings you to life.  Death brings you to the true and eternal life promised to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Death is not loss for those in Christ, it is gain.  Live with that heart and you will not fear persecution, you will not be concerned with hardship, and you will not worry about those cares the world loves to relentlessly throw at us.  Why? Because none of that matters to the greater glory of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternity with Him.  What is it to eternity that life is hard now?  What is it to eternity that you are persecuted now?  Nothing in this world can give you life, but so much can take from it.  Don't cheat yourself of living in the hope of eternity.  Make Jesus your life and learn what living really is.  Make Jesus your life and nothing can ever take that life from you.
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.  2 Corinthians 5:1-9 NKJV

1 comment: