A Matter of Life and Death
“A Matter of Life and Death”
I find myself constantly having to reprogram my mind. In other words, the more I study God’s Word, the more I see how much I have been influenced by the culture and my self-seeking. I believe that this is consistent with the teachings of Paul in the book of Romans where he says that we are not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. This is so we can continually test and discern the will of God for us – that which is good and acceptable as Christians.
This morning’s text is one which will get to the core of this truth. Some passages of Scripture require us to dig a bit more and ponder how it helps to change our thinking and our actions. The one this morning is foundational for all of life. I think that if we were to take seriously Paul’s words in this section and allow them to penetrate our hearts and minds and wills, they will dramatically alter our outlook and our motivation for everything that we do.
One of the benefits of being a preacher of God’s Word is that you get to experience the convictions of the text before preaching to others. This passage is certainly no exception. This certainly helps to hold me accountable because if I am to preach boldly the message of the Bible, I need to make sure that I am taking the same challenges to heart and to my life.
The life and thinking of Paul is so intense that we cannot ignore or discard his message to the church. If you haven’t noticed already, his life is characterized by an all-or-nothing understanding of Christianity. So, for us, there will not likely be a point where we can compare ourselves to his message and example and think “Yep. I’ve got that one covered.”
As we know, in the letter to the Philippians, Paul now finds himself imprisoned because of his commitment to Jesus Christ. And unlike many who would find themselves in his shoes, he rejoices because he understands that his unwavering commitment and continued declaration of the gospel is helping its cause. Paul had a proper perspective on his circumstances. The Roman guards were hearing the gospel. Christians everywhere were encouraged to be bold also in their preaching of Jesus Christ. And, in this, Paul rejoices. He rejoices even in those who preach with false motives and antagonism toward him because he counts his life as nothing and Jesus as everything.
We now pick up where we left off last week. We are in Philippians 1.19-30. Please turn in your Bibles if you haven’t already. If you don’t have one, please get one from the back because if you’re not looking at it yourselves, you are following my words blindly and you may miss the depth of Paul’s argument here. I’ll wait for everyone to get there before I read. READ.
You’ll notice that the section actually breaks up verse 18. Paul begins with his continual rejoicing. Previously, it was because of Christ being proclaimed. And here it is because of his perspective on life and his future reality.
The first point of the sermon today is Internal Conflict. We’ll see this in verse 18b-26. It seems that what we have here is Paul sharing with his readers his thoughts regarding his future.
And he begins by this rather curious statement. He says that he rejoices because he knows that through prayer and the help of the Spirit, this will turn out for his deliverance. And this begs some questions. How can Paul be so sure of “deliverance?” And what kind of deliverance is he talking about? Is he referring to physical deliverance from his imprisonment? Is he speaking of his ultimate salvation? And how is it that prayer and the Spirit will carry this out?
I think that in order to answer some of these questions, we need to do a couple of things. First, we need to notice that there is a similar statement made regarding “deliverance” or “salvation” in the book of Job. In fact, in chapter 13 Job is wrestling through the reasons for his adversity. In addition, his friends have put him on the defensive. And in verses 13-16, he says “13 “Let me have silence, and I will speak, and let come on me what may. 14 Why should I take my flesh in my teeth and put my life in my hand? 15 Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. 16 This will be my salvation,” The Greek translation is identical.
Now, the second thing we would need to look at is the immediate context here. Verse 20 is a continuation of the same sentence. And here Paul indicates that he expects and hopes that Christ will be honored – either in his life or death. This is another clue. It’s as if he is still not certain how his situation will turn out. It seems as though he is prepared for his death or continued ministry.
I think that his attitude is quite similar to Job. Paul is confident that whether he lives or dies, he will be vindicated in heaven’s courts and matters little what happens in the Roman courts. His faithfulness in ministry will be honored by God. And this will be attributed to the prayers of the saints and the help of the Holy Spirit. Paul recognizes that his strength and steadfastness comes from elsewhere.
More importantly than his state of affairs and a potential release from prison is maintaining faithful witness for Christ. Paul says that it is his eager expectation and hope… not that he would be released from prison, but that he would not be ashamed but be courageous and steadfast. The “eager expectation” is similar language to the creation’s longing in Romans 8.19. “18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” This speaks of the consummation of the ages. I think that in the same way, Paul’s eager expectation is for the consummation of God’s purposes for Paul. So that at the end of his life, God’s purposes for him will have been completed.
Paul understood what it meant to belong to Jesus Christ. He realized that he was bought with a price and no longer belonged to himself. His life’s purpose was to honor Christ. And would lead him to conclude in verse 21, “for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Literally it is rendered, “for to me to live – Christ, to die – gain.” I think that this is the theme of Paul’s life. And I think it should be ours as well.
These past couple of weeks I have been reflecting on Paul’s life. I’ve been really challenged by him and his ministry. Think about this with me. Paul used to persecute Christians. And then the Lord Jesus got his attention on the Damascus road. He was discipled and thrust into ministry. Paul became the most notorious of Christian missionaries in the history of the church. And he wrote most of the New Testament that we hold so dear today.
Because of his faith, Paul has been beaten, shipwrecked, ostracized, and now finds himself in prison. And he is joyful in his predicament because he knows that this has furthered the cause of the gospel. I don’t know if you will be able to identify with this question. But can you get to a point in your thinking where you would see his approach to life as “freedom?” Paul no longer considers his life as anything but for the cause of Christ. He is going to preach Christ and get beaten. He is going to preach Christ and be threatened and imprisoned. Paul now comes to the point where he questions whether or not he will continue to live. It doesn’t matter. He’s going to preach Christ. It doesn’t matter because to die is gain. If you’re anything like me, you can honestly conclude that we’re not there. Our lives look little like the life of Paul. Why is that? …….
As I examine my life, my thoughts, my actions, I am overwhelmed and conclude that for to me to live is Jonathan. This doesn’t mean that I am not active in pursuing Christ and declaring Christ. But there is still some restraint. There is not this reckless abandon that Paul emulates. In all fairness, perhaps this is due to the fact that “reckless abandon” could put me in a place where my family would not be cared for. And we know that Paul did not have this responsibility.
But at the end of the day, I can also conclude that my life could reflect more of this passion for Jesus Christ and the gospel. Perhaps I still care more for what others may think of me and my reputation, than of my association with Jesus.
As I mentioned, the Greek text does not contain the verb “is” here. One commentator added that “The absence of a verb may be filled in many ways: to live is Christ; to live means Christ; to live depends on Christ; to live honors Christ. The foundation, center, purpose, direction, power, and meaning of Paul’s life is Christ.” Can the same be said of us?
For Paul and for us, our relationship to Jesus Christ is a win-win situation. He has summarized the concept in Romans 14:8 where he indicates “8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
And he proceeds to elaborate on this in the following verses. In verse 22, he thinks out loud and teaches his readers how to process. “On the one hand, if I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. But I am not sure what is going to happen. The “cannot tell” has the idea of being manifest or made known.
So though Paul would see death as gain, he also considers his ongoing ministry. He has watched the power of the gospel changing lives throughout his travels. I am sure that he would LOVE to continue this “fruitful labor.” Remember, he is rejoicing in prison because the Philippians are continuing to grow in their faith. They are continuing to associate with Paul and the message of the gospel. This is tremendously encouraging for him. He is making an impact even in imprisonment. To be freed to continue to travel and speak of Jesus and encourage the churches would also have brought him great joy.
Verse 23 says that this continues to be a real dilemma. In fact, it is a strong inward pressure that Paul feels from two conflicting desires. One the one hand, he wants to depart and be with Christ. And yet he wants to remain and serve the needs of the Christian church by living.
I have always understood this passage to be saying that departure, his death, teaches that he would be present with the Lord. Paul has said in 2 Corinthians 5:6–10 “6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” And I think that this is true. Paul is somehow referring to being in the presence of God.
But I believe that he is referring to something else as well. When Paul uses the phrase “with Christ,” it takes on great significance. He uses this phrase in Romans frequently when he refers to being “buried with Christ” by baptism, “united with Christ” in death, “united with Christ” in resurrection, “crucified with Christ,” “live with Christ,” “heirs with Christ,” “suffer with Christ,” “glorified with Christ.” “With Christ” also speaks of identification with him in all these things. And I think that Paul would view his death as a completion of identification with his Savior. In Philippians 3.10, he says “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.
As Paul weighs these things out in his mind, he concludes in verse 24, that it is more necessary that he remain in this life for the sake of the Philippian church. Though he desires to complete his identification with Christ and enter eternity with him, he places those desires aside for the sake of serving them. He sees the greater picture and the greater ambition to serve the community over his individual desires.
Do you see what he is doing here? Though this conflict was internally present, he teaches his readers through it. So, even here Paul is not just pondering on his crisis, he is giving the Philippians a model of what it means to serve others. And here he is teaching that it is more important to serve others over and above his personal desire.
Verse 25 indicates that Paul is certain that he will continue to minister to them and that they will progress in their faith. Notice here the close connection between their spiritual development and their joy. They share the same preposition – “for” your progress and “for” your joy in the faith. One writer surmises that “progress without joy is spurious; joy without progress is counterfeit.” The two go hand in hand.
The result of all of this is found in verse 26. Paul says “in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” Paul’s life and ministry served as examples to the young church of faithful service to Christ. As they continued to watch how God worked through him, it would give them reason to glory in Jesus. Paul is not drawing attention to himself, but to Christ.
Our second point today is Communal Effort. In verse 27, Paul transitions to the expectations for the readers. In essence, he is saying, “you have watched me. You have seen my imprisonment. I have told you and taught you how to understand my circumstances. I have helped you to see what is of greatest importance for me. Here’s what I need to see from you.”
He says “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel.” The Greek word πολιτεύεσθε, is the translated English word “let your manner of life be” in your version. This being a significant concept required a deeper investigation of the word. I also believe the rest of the section to be an explanation of what he means by the exhortation. When doing a word study, you will often be met by various translations of a word. And the determination is made based on the context. So, if I asked you to define the word “bear,” you would likely ask for it in a sentence. Either, there is a “bear” in the yard. “Bear” with me. I’m a little busy. Or “bear” one another’s burdens. In this case, the word could refer to being a citizen, or administrate a corporate body or to conduct one’s life. In this case, the last option is the most likely. In fact, I think one Greek lexicon defines it most specifically and accurately when they list it as “to conduct oneself with proper reference to one’s obligations in relationship to others, as part of some community – ‘to live, to conduct one’s life, to live in relation to others.’” And I think Paul transfers this understanding to the Christian church. So what Paul will be getting at is how the church at Philippi should model a life that reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to remember that all of what Paul asks them to do is in relation to the gospel of Christ. For all believers, the motive and pattern for all of Christian behavior is the gospel.
We’ve already processed Paul’s wrestling with his future. And now he indicates that regardless of whether or not he is freed from imprisonment, his life spared or taken, able to visit them again or not, he wants to hear reports of their progress. And he begins to list the ways that their manner of life is worthy of the gospel of Christ. In this way, he is holding them accountable. Paul recognizes that imperatives without personal accountability do not transform the way we live.
First, Paul wants to hear that they are standing firm in one spirit. To “stand firm” is to be firmly committed in conviction or belief.” 1 Corinthians 16:13 “13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” In the same way that the Philippians continued to identify with Paul and with the message of the gospel, he is encouraging them to continue to deepen their roots. It is as believers continue to explore the Scriptures that convictions become deeply rooted. Colossians 2:6–7 “6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Paul adds that this is to be in one spirit. Commentators wrestle with whether or not “spirit” should be capitalized. In other words, is Paul referring to the Holy Spirit or “spirit” in the sense of camaraderie. You know, like “team spirit.” This is joining together for the same cause. However, within Christianity there is a close relationship between spirit and the Holy Spirit. It is only because of the Holy Spirit that we can stand firm in one spirit. It is the one Spirit of God that unites and empower Christians to stand their ground in the struggles of life.
Next, Paul includes “with one mind.” All these admonitions are related. And they all find the faith of the gospel as their focus. We stand firm for the gospel. We are united in mind and spirit for the gospel. And lastly, we “strive side by side” for the gospel.
First, we are convicted of sin and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news that he died in our place for our sin. As we repent of sin and place our trust in him, we suddenly find that we are part of the community known as the church. As those who have all been indwelt by the Spirit of God, we suddenly find that we are of one mind. We are all about Jesus Christ. And as the church, we are committed to the truth that saves and sanctifies us. We stand firm on the truth. And we are active in our faith. We are part of this new team that has the same goal.
We strive together. It is a military image of soldiers fighting side by side. Oh, didn’t I tell you? We are in a battle together. Suddenly, we have enemies as well. And as you know, you do not fare well in a battle when you are all by yourself. A well-trained army presents a united front and fights as a single unit when solders are fighting side by side as one person.
But we are also realistic. We know that there occasionally divisions in the church. In fact, Paul dealt with this over and over. He addresses this even in the church at Philippi. He addresses this in Philippians 4:2 “2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.”
Before moving on, we should take some of this and apply it to us as contemporary believers. First, the call to “stand firm.” We cannot waver on the gospel. The gospel is not say a sinner’s prayer and go back to living life as it was. The gospel is not faith plus good works – just in case Jesus’ death wasn’t enough. The gospel is the substitutionary death of the Son of God. And that if we repent and trust in him, our lives are no longer our own. We now belong to a different Master. And our lives will reflect this.
With this exhortation comes a word of caution for us. It is largely unpopular to “stand firm” today. Though we often don’t face the same sort of opposition as the Philippians, I think that the more we stand firm, the more opposition we will experience.
But this is ok. Because we are part of a team. We are Jesus’ church and, as such, we are to be of one mind striving side by side for the gospel. That’s all well and good. But how do we do this? How does SBC become “one mind” and “strive side by side.”
First, we need to undo some of our cultural influence. I continue to become more aware of how we are influenced by an individualistic mindset. And I think that this carries over into church life. And I think that we view church life as something we “attend” rather than something that we are a part of. Most people probably think little of how their individual spiritual life contributes to the whole.
As we live out the life of the church, ultimately it is not solely my spiritual maturity that determines our health. It is as we all are diligent to grow in our faith that determines who we are and how we are characterized as “with one mind.” Scripture needs to be our unifier. We become unified as we pursue the truth of God’s Word. And we cannot hope to be unified apart from it.
We also need to be on the same page as to how we will go about growing in our faith. We have implemented several ways that we will carry this out. In the past couple of years we have been asking everyone to be a part of a Growth Group. So on Sunday nights, we are together digging into Scripture, helping each other apply it, praying for one another. In addition, we are beginning to develop discipleship relationships that allow us to encourage each other with God’s Word. And so we’ve been going through our training course Sunday mornings at 9:00.
And, if I can speak honestly, it’s difficult to strive side by side with one another if you are not a part of these methods that we are growing together. We have tried to free up as much of the schedule as possible so that there would not be a multitude of things vying for your time. It’s difficult to lock arms with one another if you’re not there. There’s too much work to be done to be sitting on the sidelines. The church is us. And if we hope to move forward, we need each of you to be involved.
Next, Paul calls for courage. As one who has been personally affected by his opponents, he can encourage his readers. As we have seen, Paul has come to terms with the concept of life and death. The only thing that opponents can do is take their life. One commentator remarks, “Christians should not run from any battle, back down from any attack, compromise anything, or concede in any way.” Hebrews 13:6 “6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Christianity is not for wimps. However, it is for those who can learn to trust God and his promises.
And then Paul says this interesting statement. The ESV reads, “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation.” The interesting thing is that “their” is not in the Greek. I believe that the best understanding of this being a sign to them of destruction, is that when the believers do not waver and are not frightened it is a sign of destruction of the believers. It best fits the context where Paul is contemplating the fact that he might die because of his faith and also the suffering that is indicated in the following verses.
But the irony is that it is also a sign for salvation for believers. Paul has been describing that his death would be gain, that he would be present with Christ, etc. Again, the worst that the opposition can do is to “destroy” believers. But the truth is it only brings about their ultimate salvation. Matthew 5:10–12 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
And so Paul elaborates. He says in verse 29 that it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe but also suffer for his sake. Did you notice that both our faith and suffering is a gift from God to us? “It has been granted to you” means that we are passive in both. And the subject of these is God.
Matthew Henry notes that believers have been given two ‘precious gifts.’ One is to believe in Christ. The second is to suffer for Christ. The fact that our adversaries cause us to experience the second gift indicates that we have truly received the first. While suffering is never pleasant, it is a privilege and honour to suffer for the Christ who suffered so very much to save his people.
Suffering on behalf of Christ is caused by public identification with Christ in a world hostile to him. Acts 5:41 “41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” When was the last time that you suffered for Christ? And did you rejoice??
Lastly, it was not as if Paul was asking his readers to do something that he did not lead the charge in. He was the model for those he was leading. Paul reminds them that believers are all engaged in the same conflict.
And so for us, we can take our encouragement from this as well. We are engaged in a conflict that has been going on for thousands of years. Until the end of time, Christians will encounter opposition from the world because of Jesus Christ. As we endure and remain steadfast, the message will continue to be declared loudly until he returns.
Galatians 2:20 “20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Let’s pray.