Monday, February 24, 2014

The Quandry - Living or Dying, Which is Better?

Philippians 1:21 says that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Previously, we said that in Greek, the word for gain meant more of the same thing. So if to live is Christ, to die is more Christ - an eternity of Christ.

The Living Bible renders it: “For to me, living means opportunities for Christ, and dying – well, that’s better.”

The J.B. Philips paraphrase reads, “For living to me means simply ‘Christ,’ and if I die I should gain more of Him.”

The Good news Bible says: “For what is life? To me it is Christ. Death, then, will bring more.”

So if Paul really loves Christ – if Christ is precious to him - getting more of him can only be better. And can there be doubt of Paul’s love for Christ?

But, should there be any doubt of our love for Christ if we call ourselves Christian - a love that would cause us to live for Him in this life and long to be with Him in the next life?

There is an old hymn written by Will L. Thompson which says:

Jesus is all the world to me,
My joy, my life, my all;
He is my strength from day to day,
Without Him I would fall.

Jesus is all the world to me,
I want no better friend;
I trust Him now, I’ll trust Him when
Life’s fleeting days shall end.

Beautiful life with such a friend;
Beautiful life that has no end;
Eternal life, eternal joy,
He’s my friend.

Paul could have written that. Is Jesus that dear and precious to you? Than is it Christ you live for? And will it be gain to die?

Psalm 116:15 says: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” Just as we love God and long to go live with Him, He loves us and waits for us to come live with Him. “To die is gain.” It was for Paul. It should be for you. And this should be our life motto, as it was Paul’s.

But, this gets Paul to pondering. Wait a minute, if life is one trial after another, and if death brings an infinity of gain, why am I praying for deliverance from my imprisonment? That doesn’t make sense. Why shouldn’t I pray, “Lord, just take me home now?”

Oh, he knows the reason why. He’s still got a job to do. If God didn’t have something for us to do after we get saved, He could take us home instantly to be with Him. But he doesn’t take us home, not immediately, and Paul knows why. We still have a job to do.

So does Paul really want to live even if dying is better? That’s a quandary. Paul doesn’t really know which he should hope for. Philippians 1:22 says, “But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.” In effect, he’s saying, “I don’t really know what I’d choose. There is much to be said about both.”

Now we understand, Paul didn’t have the choice. The Roman judge would pronounce the verdict, and ultimately that verdict was under the control of God. But Paul is wondering what he would hope for and pray for - to live on in the flesh or to die and go to heaven?

Now, when he says, “if I live on in the flesh,” he’s not talking about our sin nature which often is translated as “flesh.” He is simply saying “If I keep on living in this body here on planet earth.” This simply means his physical life. If he goes on living, he can bear more fruit for Christ. More people can hear the Gospel and be saved. And that is a fantastic reason to want to go on living.

But, “Wouldn’t I really want to go to heaven more?” he ponders. That would really be better for me, but not for those whom I minister to. This is his dilemma.

Do you know who Adoniram Judson is? He was the first overseas missionary sent out from America. It was the early 19th century, and he and his wife set out first for India, and then were directed to Burma. Shortly after he arrived, he was thrown into prison for a year and half where he was routinely tortured and abused. It was horrendous, the depravation and abuse. And while he was in prison, his wife and children died of disease. Literally, he is losing everything he holds dear except his relationship with his God.

Yet, often he wished he could die and end the suffering, but he realized that his work for Christ was more important than his comfort. As he pressed on, he prayed that he would be allowed to live long enough to translate the Bible into Burmese and that he could establish a church there with at least 100 people. God granted that prayer of Adiniram Judson, but at great cost to him in suffering.

In His diaries, he wrote, “If I had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” Those could have been Paul’s words as Paul suffered more than almost any man, so he is pondering: “Living? Dying? Which should I choose?” He really was having a hard time deciding.

Quoting John MacArthur,
“It was not that Paul opposed the Lord’s will or wanted to be in heaven if God wanted him to continue his ministry on earth. He wanted to do both, and the two desires were equally strong and proper. It is like the dilemma of a wife whose husband has been working far from home for many months and asks her to visit him for awhile. Though she loves him deeply and longs to be with him, she loves her children and wants to stay near them.”
So Paul really doesn’t know what he desires more: Philippians 1:23, “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

For a Believer, To Die is Gain

The last half of Philippians 1:21 says, “To die is gain.” What does that mean? As we’ve already said when we talked about the first half of the verse: if to live is Christ, to die will only give us more of Christ. It will take us into His very presence for all eternity. What could be better?

Unfortunately, most people live for themselves, and the thought of dying is frightening. So many people say, as Chuck Swindall so aptly parroted them:

“For me to live is money . . . and to die is to leave it all behind.”
“For to me to live is fame . . . and to die is to be quickly forgotten.”
“For to me to live is power and influence . . . and to die is lose both.”
“For to me to live is possessions . . . and to die is to depart with nothing in my hands.”
But for Paul to live was Christ and to die meant more Christ. So death wasn’t a loss but a gain. It should be that for you as well. Life should be fantastic because we can serve Christ. Death should be even more wondrous.

I saw this plaque on a wall in someone’s house. It was entitled, “Motto to Live By:” This is what it said:
"Life should not be journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, latte in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming, “WooHoo, what a ride!”
You know, I kinda like that. Somebody said it is better to burn out than rust out, and I agree. But everyone has a motto to live by – or a code of conduct that governs their life - they just may not have it on a plaque in their living room. But we all have a code we live by.

We have one in our home. The plaque we always have repeats the words of Joshua 24:15: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” That’s a good motto to live by, and we try. But, the one Paul gives us here is simply amazing, and I have yet to see it on anyone’s wall. His is Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

That was Paul’s motto - his code to live by. Can you imagine why that motto doesn’t make it on many walls? I can think of two reasons: The first is, people don’t want life to be about Christ, and the second is they don’t want to think about dying.

Looking at the first reason, most people use the motto, “For to me, to live is me” – not Christ. Life is all about what they want, what pleases them, or what makes them feel good. So life becomes a mad scramble to acquire all the money, fame, power, prestige, or pleasure they can get before the clock stops ticking on their life, and they have to give it all up. Even for those who claim to be Christians, very few actually live for Christ let alone have their life be Christ. Their lives are all about themselves, and Christ is no more than an add-on. As long as He meets our expectations and makes our lives more comfortable, or profitable, or whatever, we let him have a peripheral role.

So the thought of death terrifies them because it is an end of all the things they value. Therefore, when Paul finishes his motto with, “to die is gain,” most people don’t believe it. They know that it will mean giving up all those things they spent their lives chasing after - everything but Christ. To them, that’s not gain, but loss.

But this is truth, my friends. This is God’s truth written under the inspiration of God. It is literally God breathed - the very breath of God reflecting His heart, and it is here, black ink on white paper for us all to read. Philippians 1:21 –“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Do you believe that? It is absolutely true. Nothing on earth compares to anything in heaven. Its beauty and grandeur are beyond anything we can imagine. And the best thing about heaven is that Jesus will be there on His throne.

The descriptions in the Bible of heaven are astounding. John describes it this way in Revelation 21:1-2:
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
A bride is never more beautiful than on her wedding day, and God has prepared the most beautiful bride imaginable for His Only Begotten Son represented by the New Jerusalem built to be a home for His real bride, the church.

Besides its beauty, how is it different from this cursed earth? Revelation 21:4 tells us this:
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
The curse that plagues existence on earth will be gone. Can you imagine that John would have had the same opinion as Paul had? To die and go to heaven would be better. John, of course, had this vision while in exile on the Isle of Patmos – his version of house arrest – so this life wasn’t that pleasant. But this is what John got to see in Revelation 21:9-11:
"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal."
The city that John got to see was as colossal as it was exquisite. It was 1,500 miles long and 1,500 miles wide, and 1,500 miles high. That would cover about half the area of the United States. Plus, it had twelve foundations according to verse 14, or literally twelve floors. Someone calculated that if half of the population, counting every person that ever lived, made it to heaven, we would each have 70 acres of property. And what valuable property with streets of pure gold and gates of giant pearls and every precious stone there ever was.

And the beauty of nature was everywhere according to Revelation 22:1-5:
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever."
Paul too got a glimpse of that just like John did. 2nd Corinthians 12:1-5 records that:
“It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven (The abode of God). And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities.”
Paul humbly is talking in the third person about himself here. We can tell from the context. But Paul saw, first hand, the glory of heaven - glory so fantastic he couldn’t even relate it. And he never stopped longing to go back knowing that “to die is gain.” Do you hear me? For a believer, “to die is gain.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gaining the Very Life of Christ

To say that, “to live us Christ,” means we live for Christ only touches the surface of the meaning. Sure, it says in Romans 6:12-13, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin.” So, of course, we stop giving our hands and feet, our eyes and our ears, and our mouths over to sin for it to use for its nefarious purposes. Yes, we work hard trying to stop sinning.

But it doesn’t end there. The passage continues, “But present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” The life of a Christian is defined, not by what we give up, but by what we gain, and that is the very life of Christ. Christ lives within us.

Once we start getting a passion for Christ, once we start living in the awareness that Christ lives within us, we will start to see ourselves as Christ’s. We will look at our hands and feet as instruments for God’s use. We will look at our mouths as instruments for God’s glory. We will start living for Christ. God will use us and empower us. God will work through us. God will transform us into the image of His Son.

Isaiah 32:2-4 describes this transformation:
2 A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. 3 The eyes of those who see will not be dim, and the ears of those who hear will listen.
4 Also the heart of the rash will understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers will be ready to speak plainly.

Amen! We will be a safe sanctuary for people to run to and find a hiding place. And even someone like me will be able to stand up here now and preach, a stammerer who can be used as God’s mouthpiece. That’s not me able to preach. It’s only Christ living through me.

As we give ourselves more and more to Christ, Christ will transform us more and more and make us more useable to Him. Are you living for Jesus? Are you being transformed more and more into the image of God’s Son?

Look at this 2nd Corinthians 3:18:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Amen! We are being changed.

look also at what it says in 2nd Peter 1:3-4:
“As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

What’s lacking that keeps us from living a life of godliness? Nothing! We have “all things.” Why? Because we are “partakers of the divine nature.” Do you really understand the impact of what we just read? These two verses are the kind that make us drop our mouths open in awe and wonder. They are almost too awesome to take it in. Did we read that right? Can we really be “partakers of the divine nature?” Can we take part in God’s very nature?

Listen to me! That’s exactly what this says. We may partake of God’s nature as Christ lives in us and through us.

Kallistos Ware writes,
“Christianity is not merely a philosophical theory or a moral code, but involves a direct sharing in divine life and glory, a transforming union with God face to face.”

That’s what this is all about. We are united with Christ and that transforms us. As a Christian, you lack nothing necessary to live a life of godliness because you lack nothing of God. You have, as believers, been indwelt by the very presence of God’s Spirit. You lack nothing - nothing except the willingness to experience it.

The last half of Ephesians 3:19 says, “That you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Are you? Are you totally filled and controlled by God? Is He living in and through you? This isn’t saying that we become divine, but it does say that we become increasingly more and more like Christ as we are filled with God.

That’s God’s whole purpose for us Romans 8:29 tells us that, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” God wants to make us like Jesus with His heart, with His eyes and ears and lips and tongues and hands and feet. As Athanasius said about Christ, “He became what we are that we might become what He is.”

Isn’t this what Paul is talking about when he says that “for me, to live is Christ? Is that true for you?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

To Live Is Christ

Sitting in prison awaiting his sentence which could well be his own execution gets Paul thinking about life and death. He came up with this conclusion, inspired by the Holy Spirit? Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Living is all about Christ, he says, and dying is even more of Christ. So which is better for a believer? Hmm?

Dr. William L. Pettingill used to say that gain in Greek is always more of the same thing. So, if to live is Christ, to die means more Christ. This is so logical. No longer will we live apart from Him. After death, We will live in His very presence, and that can only be gain.

This verse is divided into two parts, living and dying. We’ll look at the first part first, of course: What does it mean, “For to me, to live is Christ?” Obviously, it means to live a life differently than if life was all about us. It means to live with Christ at the center of our lives where everything we do, we do for Him.

But, this means more than Christ being the center of our lives. It means Christ is our life. Look at what Paul says in Galatians 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

When Paul says, “to live is Christ,” he’s not just saying he lives for Christ, but literally he lives Christ’s life as Christ lived through him. Paul’s body becomes Christ’s eyes, ears, mouth, hands, and feet. This is certainly part of what it means to be the body of Christ in Ephesians 1:22-23, where God tells us He made Christ “to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Every genuine believer becomes Christ’s eyes, ears, mouth, hands, and feet.

So Paul acted out the will of Christ. Even our wills become His, our minds become His, as we are transformed into the image of Christ becoming more and more Christ-like.

How else do you suppose that God can transform our lives like He does? How else can He take us, who are reprobate sinners, and make us like Jesus? He does it as he lives through us. He comes to live within us, and energize us with His own power and love

St Francis of Assisi is an example of a man transformed by Christ:
Shortly after he trusted Christ, he sensed God telling him, “Francis, all those things that you have loved in the flesh you must now despise, and from those things that you formerly loathed you will drink great sweetness and immeasurable delight.”

As Francis rode his horse out of town, he saw what he once despised most – a leper. “During my life of sin,” Francis wrote, “Nothing disgusted me like seeing victims of leprosy.”

What would Francis do? Exuberant in his new found faith, and with joy flooding his soul, and remembering that he was now in love with and even treasured those things he once loathed, Francis leaped from his horse, knelt before the leper, and proceeded to kiss those deformed, diseased hands that had probably not felt human touch in years. Then he pressed money into those hands. But he didn’t stop there: He jumped on his horse and rode to the nearest leper colony. And, as he recounts it, he “begged their pardon for so often having despised them.” Then gave them each money. And he wouldn’t leave until he had kissed each one of them.

Francis was transformed. Francis was no longer the same man. Christ now lived in and through Francis. And God was transforming Francis into the image of His Son. That’s what God does for each of those who are His.

What else could explain the myriad of martyrs for Christ down through history? In our flesh, how could any of us face the excruciating pain and degradation that this world’s hatred piles upon us? We can’t, but Christ can through us. Christ can empower us through His Spirit living within us so that we can do “all things through Christ who strengthens me,” as recorded in Philippians 4:13.

Listen to the story of Perpetua. She was a noble woman, wealthy, well born, and a young mother in North Africa. But her Christian faith was outlawed in the third century Roman Empire. Emperor Septimus Severus had forbidden conversion to Christianity and required all citizens to offer sacrifices to him as god, but she refused. Perpetua’s father argued with her to abandon her Christian faith. He begged her not to throw her life away. “Was it really such a big deal,” he asked, “to make such a small ceremonial sacrifice to the emperor?”

Perpetua pointed to a ceramic pitcher and asked, “Father, do you see this pitcher?”

Yes, of course I see it.”

“Can it really be called by any name other than what it is?”


“So I also cannot be called anything else than what I am, which is a Christian.”

In her own diary, she wrote, “Enraged by my words, my father came at me as though to tear out my eyes.”

On March 7, 203 AD, Perpetua and her servant were stripped naked and led into the amphitheater to face gruesome death. But even the bloodthirsty crowds couldn’t stomach the sight. A medieval sourcebook records the crowd’s reaction:
“The people shuddered seeing one a tender girl, the other her breasts yet dropping from her late childbearing. So they were called back and clothed with loose robes.”

The officials chose a bull for the execution. A bear kills too quickly, but a bull would gore repeatedly. Yet, after a bloody mauling, the young women were torn, but not dead. The crowds cried, “Enough,” so the officials sent in the gladiators to behead the women. But as they approached, these hard hearted killers began to tremble, and the first strike again did not kill, again sickening the crowd. Perpetua showed all of them mercy by clutching the gladiator’s hand and guiding the sword to her neck for a killing blow.

What could give her, and so many others, such courage? It’s not normal in our own strength, but we can if Christ lives through us. Those who simply play at their faith would never do that, never be willing to make that kind of sacrifice. For those “Christians” who are content to simply go through some rituals . . . for those who are content with a tame religion, this kind of faith and sacrifice seems beyond imagining. For them, almost any sacrifice is too much.

Way too many people see Christianity as no more than having to give up listening to the music they like, and having to wear ugly, unstylish clothes. Yet, they rebel at those sacrifices. But that isn’t the Christianity that fired the hearts of a Francis of Assisi or a Perpetua. A Christianity that worries about giving up a few sins isn’t the Christianity that will sacrifice their lives for Christ. Only Christians who are transformed by Christ’s presence will do that. Only those who allow Christ to live through them.

These are the ones who answered Paul’s call in Romans 12:1:
“I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” This is what God expects from us.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Trusting in the Supply of the Holy Spirit

In our last article, we left Paul in prison awaiting the decision of the judge. Would he live, or would he die? But while waiting, Paul wasn’t discouraged. In fact, look at what he wrote in Philippians 1:19: “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” He would either be released from prison and continue preaching Christ, or he would be executed and ushered into eternal bliss in the presence of His Lord.

But what gave him this confidence? In the last article, we looked at the prayers of the saints on his behalf. He was confident that their prayers would be powerful and effective. But what about the next phrase, “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ?” This, perhaps, gave Paul even more confidence.

That word, “supply,” means a full, bountiful, sufficient provision of what is needed. It was first applied to the lavish provisions a city would have on hand for a festival they were planning. But this here is applied to the Holy Spirit. We can trust that Christ’s Holy Spirit will be enough. It will be sufficient.

Do you have that kind of confidence in the Spirit of God? You ought to! Remember, as a believer the Spirit of God dwells within you. As 1st John 4:4 says: “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”

If you have never encountered this verse, Ephesians 3:20, you need to do so now: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.”

Doesn’t that give you confidence? Nothing you can imagine is too tough for God. You can never ask God to do something that is too hard for Him. The problem is never God’s ability, but our faith. We’re too afraid to ask God to do the difficult things. And we never imagine asking Him to do the impossible, so it never happens, to our shame. As it says in James 4:2, “You have not because you ask not.” How often do we not ask because we think it is too tough?

Then in the next verse, James 4:3, we read: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Ah, how true that is. What we ask for is usually to satisfy our desires, not God’s . We ask amiss by wanting only the things that make us feel good, or comfortable. Be honest. Isn’t that the way you usually pray? But Paul was praying for release, not to make life easier for him, but so that He could go on preaching the Gospel.

Do you see? Paul was confident of his release for two reasons. The first was that people were praying, and the second was that the God, who answers prayer, is all powerful. He assumed God would want to answer these prayers for his release because this wasn’t a selfish request. His personal security wasn’t the motivation. He prayed for release, not to make his life easier, but so that he could continue preaching the Gospel. His execution would certainly end that.

Then, in the next verse, we see other reasons why Paul desires to be released. Philippians 1:20 continues the thought: “According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Paul didn’t want the official verdict to be, “Criminal, evil doer, rebel!” He didn’t want the shame of being officially declared a trouble maker or a rabble rouser. He longed for vindication because, more than anything, he longed for God to be glorified. And not just in heaven, but here and now through his own body which he had presented to Christ as His holy sacrifice.

We need to desire that same thing, that our lives will glorify God. If you don’t, Paul has this to say to you in Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

If you do that, you can rest content in whatever God does. And that’s precisely Paul’s attitude. He is content to trust God to deliver him “whether by life or by death,” he says at the end of verse 20.