By Pastor Glenn Pease
In Tiger Of The Snows Tenzig Norgay is a fanatic for mountain climbing. He and a British companion were going to climb Mt. Everest. His wife did not share his enthusiasm, and she felt he was obsessed. "You are a dare devil," she said, "And you care nothing about what your death would do to me or the children." He responded, "Of course I care...but this is my work-my life." She said, "But you are crazy. You will kill yourself on this mountain. You will die." "All right," he said, "I will die!" For to him, to live was to climb Mt. Everest. His life revolved around that mountain, and it was better to die than not to climb it.
This is the kind of fanaticism that gives us our adventurers and heroes. You have to be something of a fanatic to be spectacular at anything. In sports, in music, in art, in education of all kinds, and in business, the best are people who are obsessed with their field of expertise. Show me the half-hearted heroes; show me the goof-off gold metal holders; show me the lackadaisical super successes in any realm of human endeavor, and I'll change my tune. But until then I'll face this reality-fanatics are the winners.
The explorers, trailblazers, pioneers, and prophets of history have always been called fanatics. But before we leap on this fanatical band wagon, we need to see the other side. Fanaticism is also the curse of history as well as the source of great blessings. Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were also fanatics, as were most of the tyrants of history. So we see that fanaticism works for evil as well as for good. So the value of fanaticism is determined by the cause. If you are fanatical for an evil cause, you will be successfully evil. If you are fanatical for a superficial cause, you will be successfully superficial. If you are fanatical for a good cause, you will be successfully good.
This makes Paul the supreme fanatic, for in Phil. 1:21 he sums up his life in this simple statement, "For to me-to live is Christ and to die is gain." This is the ultimate fanaticism, for it is an all out commitment to the highest cause. Paul's point is that when your life is devoted to the highest you can't lose, for even if you die it is not loss, but gain. Fanaticism for Christ is the only perfect fanaticism, for it is the only fanaticism that is a no lose situation.
History is filled with religious fanatics who did not please God, but brought His wrath down on them. Jesus blasted the Pharisees for being religious fanatics in Matt. 23. Listen to just one of the 7 woes in that chapter. In verse 15 Jesus said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are." Religious fanatics are the worst, and they make earth a part of hell. Paul was one of these Pharisee fanatics. He persecuted Jews who loved Jesus. He imprisoned them and killed them in his zeal for his religious convictions. For him to live was the law. This led him to be a cruel and violent man. This is a test of the valued or vicious fanatic. The vicious fanatic will bring horror to others, but the valued fanatic will bring healing and help to others. Paul hurt people by his pre-Christian fanaticism, but when he came to Christ, he became a fanatic who brought life and health everywhere he went.
Paul meant by this statement, "For me to live is Christ," that his life would be an extension of the life of Christ. He will use me as an instrument to keep doing in this world what He did when He walked this earth in the flesh. He will give life and health, and be merciful in aiding all who cross His path. For me to live is Christ means my body is His body, subject to His Spirit, and doing what He would do in the same situation. That is the beautiful fanaticism that God wants to see in each of our lives. This is radically different from being a religious fanatic, and one who is obnoxious because you are obsessed with trying to force everybody to buy into your agenda. Even your Christian friends do not like this kind of offensive fanaticism. It is one part of the body trying to get all the other parts to conform to it. This is offensive because it is counter to God's will which is for the body to be diverse with many gifts. And eye that wants all members to be eyes is trying to play God, and trying to create all Christians in his image.
History is full of Christians falling for this trick of the devil. The Catholic church for centuries thought that salvation was impossible without submission to the Pope. Finally, their theologians came to admit, it was possible for Protestants to be saved. But some fanatics like Leonard Feeney, a Catholic scholar and leader in the 1940's and 50's refuse to except the change. He went back to the 1492 doctrine that nobody outside the Catholic church could have eternal life. He was dismissed from his Jesuite order, and no longer permitted to teach at Boston College. Did he let this stop him? Not at all. He held a rally at Notre Dame denouncing the Protestants they had on their football team. He was offensive to everybody; even the church he sought to exalt. He had his convictions, and he stood fast regardless of the cost to himself. This is usually a noble virtue to be admired, but in a fanatic it can be a curse.
Religious fanatics have done every vile and vicious thing men are capable of doing, and all in the name of standing for their convictions. They forget the crucial teaching of Paul that even if they give up everything, and lay down their life, if they have not love, they are nothing, and they gain nothing. A fanatic, even if he is right, is a fool if he does not have a fanatical love to go along with his convictions. You can be 100% right, and biblical in your convictions, and still be 100% out of the will of God, if your dominant motive is not love. Christians mistakenly think that being right is all that matters, but they are wrong. People often reject the truth of God because those promoting it are unloving people. Christian fanatics often forget love because it slows you down. Love has to move with caution, patience, and tolerance, and that rubs a fanatic the wrong way. So they put love on the back burner, and fight evil with evil. They think the short cut is justified because their cause is good.
Such misguided fanatics may be totally sincere, but they are wrong, for whatever is not Christlike is wrong for the Christian. A fanatic that is not loving is not a Christian fanatic, even if they are Christians. Their fanaticism is evil, even if they are good Christian people. A Christian who is a fanatic is only a Christian fanatic if his fanaticism is Christlike, as was the case with Paul. Ask Paul what the meaning of life is, and he will say, "Christ is the meaning of my life." Life means Christ to me. I live to serve Him. I eat to have energy to do His will.I sleep to feel good to be a better tool for Him to use.I do all that I do in life as a means to be more effective for Christ.
That is fanaticism, but it is beautiful, for Paul is ready to do anything for people. If you are a non-believer, he will heal you, pray for you, share the Gospel with you, and anything else that Jesus would do. If you are a brother in Christ, he will help you bear your burden, give counsel to guide you, go out of his way to do anything to encourage you, just as Jesus would do. Why? Because, for him to live was Christ. His life mirrored the life of Jesus, and the Spirit of Jesus. If he died, he would do that like Jesus also, with full assurance that he would be raised into the presence of God, and gain reward beyond anything this life could offer. To die was gain, and so he could live free of the fear of death, for it would only be a promotion.
The two statements of Paul are linked so that the second is only true because of the first. If your priority is different, so will your prospects be different in death. If you say for example, "For me to live is cash," then you cannot say, and to die is gain, for you loose your cash in death. You do not benefit from it any longer. So what fits is, for me to live is cash, and to die is pain. Death is a threat to your meaning of life. The same is true with any other priority. For me to live as country, and to die is pain, for you lose country in death. For me to live is sports, and to die is pain, for you lose that love in death. We could go on and on, for if the meaning of your life is not something that can survive death, it is not an adequate meaning. Paul found the only meaning in life that is eternal, and that is why he could say, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Death does not rob him of Christ, for it joins him to Christ instead.
The great challenge of the Christian life is to see how all of life can be linked to Christ, so that all your loves, interests, and desires can be a part of the total package so you can say with Paul, "For me to live is Christ." This ultimate meaning will give meaning to everything tied into it. But if you say, "for me to live is_______(fill in the blank with anything but Christ), you have a problem with idolatry. If you put in self, you are a self-centered person, and all of life will revolve around you, and you will not be Christlike. Hitler is a good example of the self-centered life. He was rejected at art school for lack of talent. But in his sickly mind he felt he was a good artist. He painted some pictures, and took them to an art museum to have them exhibited. The committee looked them over, and turned him down. He felt is was a conspiracy, and he got the name of the five member committee. He learned that three of them were Jews. That is when he decided he would get even with the Jews, for they were his enemies.
When he came to power he destroyed that art museum, and he had a new one built costing millions of dollars. He was so self-centered he had to have his way no matter what, and millions of Jews died because some dared to stand in his way. Christ was dethroned, and self was enthroned. Every man in history who does this becomes an anti-Christ. Hitler filled in the most important blank in life with a bad choice, and said, "For me to live is self." It is a one word test to fill in the blank. If you get it wrong, you flunk the school of life. If you get it right, you pass, and move on to a higher life, for then, death is gain. The meaning of life is really very simple. It is a one blank fill in, and what you put there determines your destiny.
In contrast to Hitler who put self in the blank, listen to the great Spurgeon as he fills in the blank. "I have now concentrated all my prayers into one, and that one prayer is this, that I may die to self, and live wholly to Him. It seems to me to be the highest stage of man, to have no wish, no thought, no desire but Christ..." It is one thing to trust in Christ as your Savior, and to acknowledge Him as your Lord, but quite another to say, "For me to live is Christ." In the one we take Him into our lives, and we become part of the family of God. In the other, we give Him our life as a tool He can use to be present in the world. We are a tool He can fill with His Spirit, and use as He used His earthly body to minister to a lost world. You are only saved once, but this surrender of your life for Christ to live in and through you, needs to be done often, for self keeps on striving to take it back everyday. This is a great battle in spiritual warfare. Who is going to get your body, mind, and the resources they control-the self or the Savior?
The reason Bible reading and devotions often become boring routine for Christians is because they do not see that everyday is a battle to fill in the blank properly. Because we do not consciously settle it each day that, "For me to live is Christ," we go off into any one day and the reality is-
For me to live is self.
For me to live is things.
For me to live is revenge.
For me to live is ______. Fill in the blank with many other issues.
The alternatives are legion, and the point is, the purpose for all we do as Christians in Christian education, Bible study, worship, devotions, and Christian fellowship, is to help us to keep filling in the blank with, "For me to live is Christ." Paul had no idea how many days he would be alive in this world, but he wanted everyone of them to be a day that counted for Christ. J. C. Levator wrote a poem that represents a prayer we know Paul would gladly pray daily.
O Jesus Christ, grow Thou in me,
And all things else recede.
My heart be daily nearer Thee,
From sin be daily freed.
More of Thy glory see,
Thou holy, wise, and true.
I would Thy loving image be,
Enjoy, and sorrow too.
The battle of the blank can only be won if we see it is a constant temptation to replace Christ in that blank. The life of St. Patrick is a great illustration of this. At 17 he and some companions were having fun at the beach when they were kidnapped by a group of Irish thugs. They were taken to their ship and carried away in chains to Ireland. They were sold as slaves, and for 6 years he endured the unspeakable horrors of slavery. He was filled with hatred and bitterness, but at the same time he remembered his Christian teaching, and he surrendered his whole being to Christ. He made a sensational escape, and got back to the continent. For 20 years he tried to figure out how to get revenge on the Irish for the hell they put him through.
For 20 years he fought the battle of the blank. He wanted to fill it in as, for me to live is revenge. But the Holy Spirit within him kept saying, forgive and go back to these pathetic people with the Gospel. His youth passed, and he became a mature man, and a leader in the church. At length he became a bishop, and Ireland was a part of his territory. He had to make up his mind on the blank in relation to Ireland. Would it be revenge, or the redeemer. St. Patrick was one of the most famous missionaries of all time because he made the choice-for me to live is Christ. He went to Ireland with a passion to share Christ with those people he once hated. His zeal led to a revival, and Christianity spread like wildfire. Irish missionaries were sent out over the world making Ireland the most missionary nation on earth at that time. St. Patrick became the Apostle of Ireland. The place that was once his hell became his heaven on earth. He had won the battle of the blank.
St Patrick is best known for this poem he wore on his breastplate. It is an expansion of our text.
Christ be with me, Christ within me;
Christ behind me, Christ before me;
Christ beside me, Christ to win me.
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ in quite, Christ in danger.
Christ in hearts of all who love me.
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Multitudes will be singing the praises of Christ forever because he won the battle of the blank, and filled it in as Paul did-for me to live is Christ. Now Paul had many pleasures as well as pains, and abundant blessings as well as burdens. He could enjoy a good sporting event as well as the next man. He could relish a good pot luck as much as anybody. Paul loved life, and would not put a damper on the Christians need for enjoyment and escape. The point is, these are not the goals of life, or the purpose of life. These are the perks, and fringe benefits. Their primary value is in making it a greater joy to live for Christ. But when all of life's fringe benefits become the center of life, they crowd out Christ, and lead to disillusionment. We see this in the poem by Dorothy Parker.
There's little in taking and giving,
There's little in water and wine,
This living, this living, this living
Was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard as the struggle, and sparse is
The gain of one at the top,
For art is a form of catharsis,
And love is a permanent flop,
And work is the province of cattle,
And rest's for a clam in a shell,
So I'm thinking of throwing the battle-
Would you kindly direct me to hell?
Look for example at the life of Earnest Hemmingway. His was the playboy philosophy which said, for me to live is pleasure. God is not opposed to pleasure. He is the one who made it possible by the way He made our nervous system, and at His right hand there will be pleasures for evermore. God is pro-pleasure. But like any value, when you make it your goal, it becomes an idol, and a rival with the true God. In other words, anything you chose to fill in the blank that is not, for me to live is Christ is in essence, for me to live is not Christ. Any good thing can become a rival to Christ when it takes His place in the blank. It was so for Hemmingway. He became a symbol of worldliness. It was wine, women, and song, with emphasis on the wine and women. His immoral life did not hinder his fame. He won both Nobel and Pulitzer prizes. Playboy magazine in 1956 said, "Sin has paid off for Hemmingway.
Ten years later after several attempted suicides, he succeeded with a rifle, and we see playboy was right. Sin had pain off for Hemmingway, for the wages of sin is death, and he was paid in full for his choices in the battle of the blank. For me to live is sin was his choice, and he was rewarded accordingly. There is no escaping the evidence of history. The choice you make to fill in the blank at the end of that sentence, for me to live is _______, is the most destiny deciding choice we make in life. May God help us to fill it in as Paul did, and be fanatics for Jesus.