Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Let Your Conuct Be Worthy of a Citizen of Heaven

I want to move on to another verse in the book of Philippians. Philippians 1:27 says,
“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

This verse begins with the word, “only.” It was used in Greek, just like it is used today in English – for emphasis. It emphasizes that this is the most important thing – If you don’t do anything else, do this. What is it? “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

A mother might tell her kids as they head out to play, “Have fun, only make sure you play safe.” Or she might tell a son heading off to school, “Have a great day at school only remember to study hard.” The word emphasizes what’s most important to do.

And in this case, it refers back to what was just written. In light of what I have just written, Paul writes, this is what is really critical. This only is what you ought to do.

And what is it? It is to make sure your “conduct” is right. If you’ve got an Old King James, the word is translated as “conversation,” but this really is our walk, not our talk. It is our “conduct,” making sure what we do lines up with what we say. And what should our conduct be? Our conduct should be “worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” In light of the context, this is the critical thing.

So what is the context? Last time, we finished looking at an internal debate between Paul and himself. If you remember, he was thinking about his future. He was under house arrest awaiting a verdict. He might live, or he might die. He might be exonerated and given his freedom, or he might be executed. And if you remember, the basic truth for him, as found in Philippians 1:21 was, “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” And so he really would have preferred to die and go to heaven which he said was far better. Philippians 1:23 shows his inner turmoil, “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”

But that isn’t what he concluded he should do. Duty demanded that he stay on earth, living on in his physical body so that he could minister to people. That is found in Philippians 1:24-25:
“Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith.”

For us, the conclusion should be the same. Yes, it is better to die and go to heaven. To begin to experience that eternal bliss and fellowship with our Lord and Savior now would be infinitely better. But we have a job to do here. God has given us each a ministry and a spiritual gift. And until He calls us home, he expects us to keep on keeping on. In other words, to live out the first part of Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ.”

But then the question comes up, if I remain on planet earth living in this body, what does it mean, “To live is Christ?” How then, are we to live? These next few verses give us the answer.

So, what does the Holy Spirit teach us through Paul’s inspired words?
Philippians 1:27:
“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
That’s a long verse, but the point is obvious. Right living is critical. And it is a theme that spreads throughout both the New and Old Testament. That word for “conduct” comes from the Greek word, “politeuomai.” Not that you need to remember the word, but did you see the English word, “politics,” come through?

I know in English, we understand that the word “politics” is a compound with “poly” meaning many, and a “tic” is a blood sucking insect. So “politics” means many bloodsucking insects.

But in Greek, the root word, “polis,” that this is built on is the word for “city.” So this idea of “conduct” involves being a good citizen of our city.

But if you are a believer, where is your citizenship? It is in heaven. Philippians 3:20 assures us, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

When Paul tells you: “Only let your conduct be worthy,” he’s telling you that if you are citizen of heaven, you ought to act like it. There is a certain standard of conduct that is expected of you. And the fact that he adds that this conduct should be “worthy of the gospel of Christ,” just confirms this conclusion since it is your faith in the Gospel – the power of God unto salvation – that makes you citizens of heaven.

Roman society, like Greek society before it, was very community conscious. The individual was subordinate to the state, and the person’s strength and energy were to be used to advance the interest of the state first. More than self-interest, the interest of the community came first. They had a great sense of duty and honor. Giving your life for your country was the highest ideal.

Now certainly we applaud our military for their willingness to give their lives for this country. They deserve our thanks and our praise, and we are grateful for the sacrifice they make on our behalf. They exhibit this kind of self-less conduct that shows country is more important than even their lives.

But, as a believer, you have dual citizenship. You are a citizen of this country, and you ought to act like a good citizen. But your real loyalty is to Christ. Your first devotion is to the one who saved you because your real citizenship is in heaven. So above all, you must make sure your conduct is appropriate for that country – for heaven - even though you still live on planet earth.

But even thinking about Roman or Greek society, a good citizen would not do anything that would bring disrepute upon their country. They would be careful to always be seen as a responsible and honorable citizen, or they might be removed from the list of citizens.

Now, obviously, we aren’t worried about losing our salvation if we don’t measure up. Thank God, that Jesus doesn’t work that way. We are secure in Him. Jesus said in John 6:39,
“This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”
Then, Jesus told His Father, in John 17:12,
“Those whom You gave Me, I have kept, and none of them is lost, except the son of perdition (Judas), that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.”

But, none-the-less, we still should be concerned that we not bring dishonor on our city – heaven - by improper conduct. If a Roman citizen would be concerned about dishonoring Rome. and we should be concerned about dishonoring the United States, how much more should we be concerned about dishonoring Christ?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Presence of Jesus Makes Heaven Heavenly

People have a hard time understanding why dying would be better than living? To them, Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21 that “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” makes absolutely no sense. “That’s ridiculous,” they say. But it absolutely is not ridiculous, it is Scriptural truth.

Anyone who has watched a loved one die a long, painful death knows that this life is filed with trials and tribulations. For that suffering person, if they are a believer, heaven is infinitely better. And Paul’s life was filled with suffering and persecution.

But Paul’s statement is not only true for the suffering, but even for those on top of the world; even for those at the pinnacle of success and good health. Because heaven is far better than the best this world can offer.

For a believer, the best part of heaven will be Jesus. It will be to dwell in His presence, and to serve Him out of love and gratitude.

Saints who die in the Tribulations will experience that. Revelation 7:15-17 records:
15 Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. 16 They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
That’s the truth we need to take from this. What God has waiting for us in heaven is far better than anything this earth has to offer. And the moment we die, we are there – with Christ. Amen! And Amen! We will bask in the glory of God and enjoy Him forever. As Psalm 16:11 says: “In Thy presence is fullness of joy.”

Did you notice?
In Revelation 7:15, it said: “He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.” That’s the best part of heaven. We will be forever with the Lord. It’s not the streets of gold we long for, but the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus that makes heaven heavenly.

As it says in 1st John 3:2:
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Or 1st Corinthians 13:12:
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.”
But this also teaches us something else: That concept of “soul sleep” taught by the Jehovah Witnesses or the Advent denominations is totally erroneous, just like the concept of purgatory taught by the Roman Catholic Church. It’s bunk! And if they’d just read the Bible they would see this. To “depart” this life, for a believer, is to “be with Christ.” That’s what is “far better.” It’s not to die and rot in the ground unconsciously waiting for some undetermined day in the future. How could that be better? But to be instantly with the Lord, Yes, that’s better.

Don’t you remember what Jesus said to the thief on the cross? In Luke 23:39-43, we read:
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Jesus couldn’t say that if the man had to stay in some kind of state of suspended animation for thousands of years awaiting a day of resurrection to consciousness as these groups erroneously teach. No, to die is to be instantly in the presence of the Lord – Praise God!

Paul teaches the same thing in 2nd Corinthians 5:8: “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” You are either in your body and alive on earth, or you are absent from your body and present with the lord in heaven. There’s nothing in between.

We can give you all kinds of other Scriptural evidence for this from all through the Bible. This is not in doubt, but well revealed truth. There is no delay. For every believer, the moment you leave this body, you are ushered into God’s presence to forever be with the Lord. So Paul admits departing this life and being with Christ is “far better” than living on in the flesh. And that really is what he longs for. That should be what we long for too.

Nonetheless, Paul concludes that, in his heart, he would prefer to die and be with Christ, “Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:24). Ah, there is a necessity here. Yes, he says, I guess it’s the best for now that I stay on planet earth. If I can continue to live, that is going to be better for you because I can keep on ministering to you. Not better for me, but for you. So I will pray to remain here.

What a great attitude you have, Paul. He is living out Philippians 2:3-4:
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Paul is willing to postpone heaven, as far superior it is, to stay here on earth if that means he can be of help to these people. And as we’ve said before, that is what he believed God wanted him to do. That was why he was confident that he would be released from his imprisonment. Not that it was his first desire, but he wouldn’t be selfish about this.

So he concludes in Philippians 1:25-26:
25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
Is this your desire? Is living for Christ and dying gain?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Living? Dying? Which Should I Choose?

As we have been studying through this section of Philippians 1:21-26, specifically the verse which says, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” we see Paul caught in a quandary. Ah the dilemma. Paul feels caught between the rock and the hard place with his desires. “Do I choose to live or die?” he asks himself. Both are compelling. But his desires are in just the opposite order we would assume, because to live on in the flesh is necessary for their sakes, yes, but dying is better. And that’s what he would prefer.

Ah, but it’s not just gain, it’s not just a little better, but it is “far better.” What is? To “be with Christ.” It’s not just a little better, like chocolate is better than vanilla - maybe the better option of two pretty close ones - but far and away better, so there is no comparison. Like, who would compare chocolate to mud as an entrĂ©e on your dinner table?

As the N.A.S. translates this, it’s “very much better.” This is the highest superlative. You couldn’t say it any more forcefully in Greek. Why? Because to die would allow him to be with Christ instantly, forever, free of all of earth’s troubles, limitations, pain and suffering. It would all be replaced by uninterrupted peace and joy.

Ah, but the downside. His ministry would be over. He would never lead another person to Christ. He would never be able to disciple another person and teach them the truth. He would never plant another Gentile church. All of that is important. That is the ministry God has called him to do. That is God’s will for his life. So, obligation would cause him to want to stay.

I understand this. How easy it would be to simply drop over dead and have all of my troubles be over. And to be with Christ? No more pain or sorrow or conflict. Oh, but I have a job to do. And my job isn’t finished. I am a husband and a father. I need to provide for my family and lead them. I have children to raise yet, and they need me. And I have a ministry to finish. God has called me to preach and teach and pastor this church. And there is a whole lot more Bible I want to teach to you. When you look at it that way, wanting to die and go to heaven seems a little selfish, doesn’t it? Especially if to me, “to live is Christ?”

What about that? Dying is the easy way out. Living is the tough way if it is living for Christ. But we have a job to do. If we didn’t, the choice would be obvious. Heaven is far better - it is all “gain.” That was Paul’s conclusion.

I have had numerous people in the final stages of death beg me to pray that God would simply take them home. Their job was finished on earth, and only heaven could end their suffering. So it was appropriate for them to desire that. But until then, we have an obligation. We have a job to do. So what should we desire?

The best answer is found in a poem by Horatio Bonar:

Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be!
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.

Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight it leads,
Right onward to Thy rest.

I dare not choose my lot;
I would not, if I might;
Choose thou for me, my God;
So shall I walk aright.
Very simply, we let God make the decision, and we gladly give Him that prerogative. But who wouldn’t want to be there in heaven? Only those who make living all about themselves.