This morning we come to what I believe is probably one of, if not the greatest verse of scripture in all the Bible concerning what it means to be a Christian. This one verse puts in a nutshell who the Apostle Paul was and how he lived:
Philippians 1:21“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
In this one simple short verse, Paul tells us how he was able to be joyful, even though he was in prison. So, what does this verse mean?
I. TO DIE IS GAIN
First, let’s consider what Paul meant when he wrote, ‘to die is gain.’
Paul knew what would happen to him when he died. Paul also wrote, “…to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8) Paul believed that when he died, he would immediately go to be in the presence of the Lord. He believed that he would immediately go to heaven. Paul believed that, not because he thought he was good or religious. As a matter of fact, in a few weeks we will study Philippians chapter 3. In that passage Paul said, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” (Philippians 3:9) In the verses just prior to this, Paul says that if ever there was someone who was religious enough to earn their way to heaven, it was him. Before Paul became a Christian, he gave 110% of himself to trying to obey the Law of Moses. Yet, Paul realized that even with all of his personal goodness, he wasn’t good enough. He still sinned. He still failed God. Then he met the Lord Jesus Christ and realized that Jesus came to this earth to die on the cross for our sins. And instead of trying to make it by himself, Paul put his complete faith and trust in Jesus. Paul’s desire became, “To be found in Him (that is Christ), not having my own righteousness which I have tried to obtain by obeying the law, but the righteousness of God which comes by placing our faith in Jesus.” Paul believed that the moment he died, he would immediately go to heaven.
There’s a second reason why Paul said, “to die is gain.”Paul was tired.
Many believe that the book of Philippians was probably one of the last New Testament letters Paul ever wrote. If that is the case, then by this time Paul is probably in his early sixties and been a Christian for about thirty years. During those thirty years, some believe that Paul traveled possibly as much as 10,000 miles on his various missionary journeys. That’s incredible when you consider the fact that he did the most of it on foot. In addition, he started numerous churches; perhaps as many as twenty.
Paul visited every known city from Jerusalem to Rome. He preached before thousands of people. But Paul also suffered a lot. During his thirty years of being a Christian, Paul endured some unbelievable pain. Listen to part of his testimony as found in the book of 2 Corinthians.
“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”
Add to that the fact that he was put in prison at least three times and maybe more. No wonder he wrote – “to die is gain.”By the time he penned these final words, he was tired. He had given everything he had to serving Jesus Christ. He had spent it all. He left nothing on the table. He used every ounce of energy the Lord had given him to helping others come to Christ. Therefore, by the time he wrote this letter to the Philippians, he was ready to go home. Notice what he says,
Philippians 1:23 For I am in a strait betwixt two,(I am torn between the two)having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
Paul said, “I am ready to die and go to be with my Lord.” He wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) In other words, “I have been faithful to the very end and I am finishing well.”
Paul said, “I am ready to go home.” “Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:24) Though Paul was ready to pass the baton onto to some younger men like Timothy and Titus, he also realized that God still had things for him to do. Which says at least three things to us:
1) While You Are Here, Give All You Have Got
2) Live in Such a Way So That When You Reach the End, You’ll Have No Regrets
3) Don’t Check Out Before It’s Time to Check Out
Paul didn’t get near to the end of life and put it on cruise. Paul is going to be released from prison and he’s going to go out on his third missionary journey which was actually the longest.
So, how do you keep going on when you’re ready to quit? How do you hang in there when you’re ready to walk away? How do you continue to endure the difficulties of life when you think you can’t handle any more? Paul tells us how.
“For to me to live is Christ…” (Philippians 1:21) For the Apostle Paul, the good life was all about Christ.
II. FOR TO ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST
It’s not hard to understand why Paul said, “to die is gain.” Who wouldn’t be ready to die and to go heaven after you had endured all Paul had to endure? But what about living? How do you keep living with a positive attitude when life is hard? In this passage Paul gives us some insight into how he developed this mindset.
Philippians 1:12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; 13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;
A. Paul Had the Right Outlook on Life
Paul viewed life as a series of divine callings and opportunities given to him by God. Though Paul was in prison, to him it really wasn’t prison. To him it was a platform given to him by God in order for him to share the gospel with those he might not otherwise have had the opportunity. For Paul, prison wasn’t a shut door. It was an open door.
What happened while Paul was in prison?
13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;
The Bible says that Paul had a Roman soldier guarding him twenty-four hours a day. Some believe that Paul was actually chained to the soldier who was on duty. The words used in scripture seem to indicate that they were not just any soldiers, but a part of the royal palace guard. Paul came in contact with the elite of the Roman army every day.
Yet, this was not an inconvenience to Paul. This was an opportunity. What do you think Paul talked about during those hours he was chained to each soldier? Do you think that he talked about who’s going to win the Corinthian games or what the weather is like? Did Paul talk about how unfair all of this was and did he cry, “Oh who is me?” No, my friend. Paul talked openly and freely to each and every soldier about Jesus Christ. In addition, the Bible says that Paul was allowed to conduct Bible studies with those who came to visit him. Every soldier who was assigned to Paul had to be a part of that day’s Bible study. It’s like when the nurse comes into the room to check the IV and you still have a prayer.
What was the result of this? Note again verse 21.
Philippians 1:12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.
Our difficulties and hardships can either become a prison that holds us captive, or they can become a platform from which we are able to tell others about our amazing Savior.
B. Paul Had the Right Priorities in Life
When Paul wrote, “to me to live is Christ”, he meant – “my life is about Jesus Christ and doing His will.” “I view everything through the lens of Jesus.” What was the result of this? Not only was Paul able to share Christ with hundreds, perhaps thousands of people he might not otherwise have the opportunity; he also inspired others to do the same.
Philippians 1:14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16 The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.
I understand how many were strengthened and encouraged by Paul’s testimony. If hanging out with a man like Paul doesn’t pump you, nothing will. But what about those who were preaching Christ with the intent of stirring up more trouble for Paul? That’s crazy. It appears that these individuals were believers because Paul said that they were preaching Christ, yet they were doing so for the wrong reasons. Somehow, they were going about it in such a way as to try to make Paul’s suffering more painful. Why would anyone do something like that? Paul said that they were doing so out of “envy and strife.”Apparently, they were jealous of Paul and his power and popularity. They were serving Christ, not for what they could give, but for what they could get.
How would you handle that? How would you handle knowing that there were some individuals who, although they appeared to be serving the Lord, in reality they were trying to hurt you? Look at what Paul said,
“What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18)
The good life for Paul was not being free to run and do whatever he pleased. It was not being pampered or promoted and having everyone like you. The good life for Paul was experiencing Jesus Christ in every situation and knowing that the Lord was using him for His glory.
Now you know why Paul said, ‘For to me to live is Christ.’The good life is all about Christ!
III. WHY WAS PAUL SHARING THESE DETAILS WITH THE PHILIPPIANS?
Paul begins this section of his letter with – “But I would ye should understand, brethren…” (Philippians 1:12) Why did Paul begin his letter by telling them these details? I believe that there are at least a couple of reasons:
A. As a Word of Encouragement
We’ve already learned that Paul and the Philippians had a very close relationship. Perhaps there was no church Paul felt closer to than the Philippians. Apparently, the Philippians were very concerned about Paul and therefore he wanted to let them know that he was okay.“Don’t worry about me.”Paul is saying. “God is in control and He’s using my circumstances in an amazing way.” What a testimony to the power of God’s grace!
B. As an Example of How to Think and Live
In next week’s study Paul is going to introduce a very important word that he is going to use throughout this letter. It’s the word ‘mind.’
Philippians 1:27 Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.
The word ‘mind’ refers to our attitude. The book of Philippians is about having the right attitude about life. Someone has said that ‘attitude determines our altitude.’ Paul had the right attitude and it caused him to soar on wings like eagles.
It seems that there was some sort of disturbance or division arising in the church at Philippi. Paul makes several references to it along the way and in chapter four we’re going to see that he is actually going to mention two ladies specifically. Apparently, there were two women in the church at Philippi who were in a disagreement and because they were some kind of leaders and therefore, very influential, their disagreement was having a negative impact upon the rest of the church. How will they resolve their differences? It will have to begin with their attitudes. Paul is also going to address the issue of pride vs humility. Jesus Christ is going to be Paul’s supreme example of the what it means to be humble and how powerful this kind of attitude can be. As for Paul, if he had not been humble, he could have never handled being in prison or being unjustly attacked by those who were jealous of him.
Perhaps you are currently in a bad situation that is holding you captive. Perhaps you feel captive in a relationship. Perhaps you feel captive in a work situation. Perhaps you feel captive in some physical problem. Perhaps you feel captive in your emotions. Rather than being able to raise your hands to the sky and shout to God’s glory, you feel weighed down and oppressed.
What is the Holy Spirit saying to you this morning? What words of strength and encouragement is He trying to share with you? What hope has He laid before you?
For Paul, no matter what happened to him, Paul kept Jesus at the center of his life and that gave him strength and encouragement to go through whatever the Lord laid before him. And as a result, God used Paul in a marvelous way. He can do the same with us and our situations, if we will let him.
God bless you my brethren.