“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”
Brothers and sisters, for those of you who have accepted the call of Christ, who call yourselves Christian and your lives show the evidence of spiritual fruit…here’s my hope for you: I hope you die.
Paul’s thoughts on life:
“To live is Christ…”
Last week we saw that, to Paul, the spread of the gospel is infinitely more important than life. He says, “What is it to me that my physical life is in danger? I know the promises! I’m glorifying my King, who will glorify me!”
Living in the flesh = fruitful labor is Paul’s equation for life
Paul has taken to heart the words of Christ in John 15:8 – “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear MUCH fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (my emphasis) He says here that he exists to labor for fruit: “to live is Christ”, “…to live in the flesh…means fruitful labor for me.” He goes on to show us what specifically he means by fruitful labor. It goes back to last week again. In verse 21, Paul EAGERLY expects that Christ will ALWAYS be honored, whether by his life or death, and this fruitful labor which honors Christ is, according to Philippians, twofold. First, it is (not surprisingly) spreading the gospel. Paul knows that the one thing that will most honor his Lord is pouring out his life so that people from every tribe, nation and tongue will glorify the name of Christ. Secondly, verses 24-25 show us that Paul doesn’t just evangelize and leave. He pours out his life not only to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus, but then also to help them progress in the faith and have MORE joy in knowing God.
However, brothers and sisters, most of us DO NOT live by this equation. For most of us, the most important, most consuming goal in our lives is NOT fruitful labor for Christ. For most of us it would be something like:
Living in the flesh = a comfortable home/job; = family; = security; = work; = friends and travel
But the calling of Christian service is NOT limited to the ministers and evangelists and preachers. The call of Christianity is one that, when you accept it, you instantly become a servant of God to minister to Jersualem, Judea and the ends of the earth. Salvation DOES NOT come with an exemption of service. Christianity with no fruitful service/obedience/mindset of “to live is Christ” is NOT Christianity as the Bible declares it to be.
So, can you truthfully say that, “…to live is Christ.”? What about this church? Is the life of this church defined and recognizable by fruitful service? Goes back to the same questions I proposed last week: Is EVERYthing about us/this church for the purpose of honoring Christ and spreading the gospel? Can this body of believers, as a church, say “to exist is Christ. If we are here we WILL be producing fruit.”?
These are difficult questions, because I think that if we are honest we will realize that for most of us, the gospel is not our primary concern. We cannot say with Paul, “To live is Christ…”, and mean it how he means it: “to live is to declare the gospel!” And if the gospel is not our own primary concern personally, it cannot and will not ever be the primary concern of the church, because New Castle FBC will never be what its members are not. We cannot hope that this church will fulfill the commands of Christ and demands of the gospel if Sunday is the only day we think about the gospel; if Sunday is the only day we worship; if 1 hour once a week is the only time we discuss the gospel and our faith with ANYone. If this is the only time that we honor Christ, then we DO.NOT.HONOR.CHRIST.
We MUST believe what Scripture tells us, brothers and sisters!: that we are created for the glory of Christ! That we are commanded to LIVE lives of obedience for the glory of our Savior! That we cannot hope to please our God unless we say, “To live is Christ…” and LIVE that way every single day.
Paul’s thoughts on death:
- “…to die is gain.”
Paul here is actually contemplating physical death, but the reason he can say “…to die is gain” is because he has taken up his cross. He has died to his own desires and lives for Christ. Jim Eliot, a martyred missionary, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” In Php 3:13-14 Paul speaks of pressing on toward the goal of heaven. In 2 Tim 4:7-8 Paul has faithfully run the race/fought the fight for the crown of righteousness. And again, the reason Paul is assured of these things is because he has died to self and is no longer fighting and running towards his OWN ends. He is fighting for the glory of Christ. In Gal 2 Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.”, and in Gal 6 he says, “…the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” Paul emphatically states that he is nothing, and Christ is everything! He demands that we realize the what the world has to offer is this: NOTHING. Bonhoffer was right when he said, “When Christ bids a man, He bids Him come and die.” Look at Luke 9:23-24, Christ Himself explicitly says that whoever follows Him must take up their cross. This doesn’t mean that only martyrs’ lives are saved. Christ is saying that everyone who is truly saved WILL die to self daily. Paul is assured of receiving the prize for running the race well, but if we haven’t died to self, we’re not even running the same race!
***Question: Can we REALLY say that we have died to self, been crucified with Christ, that we no longer live but Christ lives in us such that we run our race in single minded perseverance, so that we KNOW that God will welcome us into his kingdom on the day of our death with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.” OR are we living a life of easy, comfortable Christianity in which we DO NOT pour our strength into the kingdom, in which we DO NOT carry out the great commission, in which we DO NOT evangelize or pray or weep for the lost or build up the church or love the saints? If we have not died…we WILL…NOT…receive the prize.
Quote from David Platt in a recent chapel message:
“We were created; we are commanded to take the glory of God; the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth. This consumes us. This saturates us. This motivates us. And everything we do – whether we’re pastoring, whether we’re serving as a missionary, or anywhere in between; wherever we are, wherever we live, whatever we’re doing, whatever position we have – reading, studying, preaching…we are doing it to proclaim the kingdom of God to the ends of the earth! We sacrifice it all for mission, and not just us; not just those who are “called by God” to be pastors or missionaries or leaders in the church, but every single follower of Christ. I want the people God has entrusted to me to see that their lives were created with a grand, global design in mind. And their purpose is so much deeper than having a nice job, and living out a decent life with a decent family in this Christian subculture. There is so much more. Their lives were created to impact nations for the glory of God, and they were created to proclaim the kingdom of God to the ends of the earth.”
— THAT is living for Christ; THAT is fruitful service: impacting the WORLD with the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
…but we will never live fruitful lives until we die to ourselves. And death will not be gain unless we die to ourselves and live lives of fruitful service for Christ!
I hope you die
…so that as you live you will honor God by producing MUCH fruit.
…so that when you physically die you will hear the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
…so that you will no longer cling to the worthless things and goals of this life anymore.
…so that you can live a life of Christ-honoring, gospel-spreading, passionate, committed, glorious, nation-impacting life of fruitful service.
I hope you die for the glory of God, because my consuming desire is to see us as people of Christ and the body of believers do what God wants us to do: LIVE for Christ in fruitful service! And when we have served Him faithfully, death IS gain.