Monday, March 28, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ To Be or Not to Be: Phil 1:21-26 (Part II)

We saw last week how Paul was arguing with himself whether it was, ‘better for me to die and be with Christ, or is it better for me to live and fruitfully labor?’ He decides to follow in his Master’s footsteps, that it is better for their sake that he live, and so Paul prays that God will allow him to live, that Paul may continue to encourage the Philippians.

There are so many other things we could say, but this is the one thing I want us to focus on:The gospel gives us a joy that allows us to be selfless and to seek the joys of others. And that truth had come home to Paul. Paul was a very religious man when he was a Pharisee named Saul, he thought that he could glorify God by killing Jewish people who became followers of Jesus the Messiah. He was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians when Jesus Himself met him and brought about a radical transformation in his life. And despite being a religious man, He changed him from being fundamentally a selfish man to being a joyful worshiper of the one true God, filled with desire for others to enjoy the joy that God had given him by the gospel.

The people that populate this world long for joy, for fulfillment, for satisfaction. The people who are in this world all around us—Christian or not, religious or not—want those things. But often they seek for that personal joy at the expense of others, and in so doing they are idolaters. They have put themselves and their joy, their satisfaction, at the very center of life.

The Christian message to that selfish, self-centered, joy-seeking world is not “Forget about joy; be good and do good to others.” That is not the gospel message. The gospel is that God has done something for us in His Son that we could not do ourselves, for ourselves or for others, and that something He has done in His Son has given to us the joy for which God created us, and so we are freed from seeking our own personal joy to be concerned about the joy of others because we have been given the greatest joy that we could ever have: fellowship with the living God through Jesus Christ—through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; through His substitutionary atonement on the cross; and, therefore, the gospel has given us a joy that allows us to be selfless, but also causes us to have a longing for others to participate in that same joy.

Paul is manifesting the fruit of that truth when he says that he will pray for life and seek their progress and joy. Not because Paul is renouncing joy, but because he has found a joy that is beyond anything that he could have achieved by pursuing joy for joy’s sake. He has been given joy from Christ, who said to His disciples, “I have come to give you life, and that abundantly.” Having received that joy by grace from God through Christ in His death on the cross, now he is set free to seek the joy of others.

After realizing this, it would be very easy for us to draw this lesson from this passage: Paul was selfless; we ought to be selfless, too. Well, that’s true. We ought to be selfless. But if that were the gospel, we’d all be going to hell. But this is the gospel: Someone was selfless for us, and gave us a greater joy than we could ever have found in our own seeking, and has set us free now from our selfishness to enjoy the selfless pursuit of the joy of others in Christ Jesus. That’s great news, and it’s the news that liberated Paul from fear as he faced continued imprisonment and possible death. It’s a joy that can liberate you from every fear you face, if you will but trust in Christ.

The song - and many of us know it quite well, “In Christ Alone,” beautifully encapsulates it. The song’s first stanza’s confession sounds so much like Romans 8 and Philippians 1:
“In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What height of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when striving cease!
My comforter, my all in all,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.”

That’s the confession of the Apostle Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ.” Bring the storm on. Bring the drought on. Bring the strivings on. My life is hid with God in Christ. He is my all in all. The song concludes as Paul concludes this, because that’s true:
“No guilt in life…” [my sin has been dealt with]
“No fear in death…” [I have nothing to fear from the grave.]
“This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.”

We could fill up years of meditation just on that sentence: “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.” Not the world, not the flesh, not the devil; but Jesus commands my destiny.

That’s exactly what Paul is saying in Philippians 1:21-26. I pray that you would be so captured by the glory and the comfort and the joy of that reality that you will determine to study it until it is more real for you than it has ever been real before.

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