Friday, February 25, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~Life = Christ, Death = Gain: Phil 1.21 (Part I)

In Philippians 1:12-20, Paul is giving a missionary report, but it’s an unusual missionary report in that it has a pastoral purpose of ministering to the Philippians as they worry about Paul. Paul is in prison, awaiting sentencing, and that sentence may be death or it may be something else. As we continue making our way through this great letter of the Apostle Paul, our passage today is a passage that no doubt many have memorized and used as a life verse, and so we’ll be looking at it closely for the next few days. Today, we’ll look at the first part of Paul’s view of the future.

I. To live is Christ.

Paul, in his state of imprisonment, has been thinking about his life and his death. And, thank God, the Lord had him write down his profound, inspired reflection upon the meaning of his life and the benefit of death. The struggle that’s going on in Paul as he thinks about his life and his death: ‘Lord, is it better for me to live and minister for many years to come, or is it better to die?’ And as he’s thought it through, Paul’s come to this conclusion: ‘Christ is going to be glorified whether I live or die. I’m going to be closer to Christ when I die, so no matter what the verdict is against me, whether I am released and I can go preach the gospel and see men and women, and boys and girls coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, or whether I die and go immediately into the presence of my Savior, I win! This is a no-lose scenario!’ Paul wants the Philippians, and he wants you and me, to understand this, because his experience is not unique.

Paul wants the Philippians to approach their persecution with the same biblical confidence, hope, promise, and truth, and he wants us to approach our circumstances – the most difficult of them, the most disheartening of them, the most discouraging of them – with the same gospel hope. And so I want you to see two things over the couple of days by way of introducing this verse, as beautiful as that sentence (Phil 1.21) is, it’s pretty dense.

What does that mean, that to live is Christ? Real life, real life…is… [Doesn’t that kind of get your juices going, when Paul is about to tell you what real life is? Here it is.] …knowing, loving, serving, glorifying, enjoying, communing, and fellowshipping with Jesus Christ—that is real life. Knowing, loving, serving, glorifying, enjoying, fellowshipping and communing with Christ is real life. In other words, Paul is saying to you, to the Philippians, to me, he is saying: ‘My total life meaning and fulfillment is in knowing Christ, in loving Christ, in serving Christ, in glorifying Christ, in enjoying Christ, in fellowshipping with Christ, in communing with Christ. That is the whole thing!’

Paul is saying that anything worthy of the name life is caught up with an intoxication with fellowship with Christ, with serving Christ, with favor from Christ. This is why the old gospel song writer wrote, “Jesus is all the world to me: my life, my joy, my all.” In a sense, Paul’s words here are simply confirming that Jesus was not lying when He said to His disciples – what? – “I came to give you life, and that abundantly.” Paul is saying, ‘Let me stand up and testify. He did!

Paul was on his way to take the lives of Christians when Christ came and gave him life. You don’t think Paul wants to give Him praise for what the Savior has given to Him? Christ has given him life! And that’s what Paul is talking about here. Paul is saying, ‘I live to glorify Christ,’ just as Christ would say, “It is My food, My meat, to be able to do the will of Him who sent Me.” Christ alone gives me meaning and satisfaction. Christ alone is my greatest delight. My life,’ the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘has no meaning apart from Christ. He is the object of all my affections. He’s the goal of all my ministry. He’s the motive. He’s the why I get up in the morning. He’s my inspiration.’ Paul is saying, ‘My life has no meaning apart from Christ.’

You understand that the Apostle Paul is not saying that nothing else in life is to be enjoyed by Christians but Christ, but what he is saying is this: that as we enjoy all the gifts of God, they are subordinated to and related to our prime delight in, love for, satisfaction in, fulfillment in, love of Jesus Christ. And if any of those good things that we have compete with Him for first place, what have we become? Idolaters…worshiping the blessing rather than the Bless-er…worshiping the lesser blessing rather than the One greater blessing. Paul is saying, ‘From every delight that God has given me in this life, whether it is a cup of cool, refreshing, good tasting water, or that seven-course meal, or friends who stick with me through thick and thin, and love me despite my sin and the way I let them down, or whether it’s seeing a child come to faith in Christ, or an enemy of the gospel come to love the Savior, or watching a sunset, or contemplating that God flung the stars into space—all of those things are subsumed under and related to this one overarching thing: that for me, to live is Christ—so that if you took all of my ability to see and enjoy those things away, you could not take Christ away from me. But if you take Christ away from me, none of those other things matter.’ Paul is saying that Christ has given him life, and that to know real life is to know Jesus Christ, and that his life is all about loving and knowing and serving and glorifying and enjoying, fellowshipping with and communing with Christ.

Paul is not just saying that ‘that’s for me, a super-Christian.’ He’s saying that’s the way it is with every Christian, that life is caught up with God in Christ.

That’s the first part, we’ll consider more tomorrow and later this week.

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