Sermon: Living and Dying

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Philippians, chapter 1, beginning in verse 18. Philippians is in the New Testament – Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. Philippians was write by the Apostle Paul from prison to the church he planted in the Roman Colony of Philippi. It is a warm letter filled with joy and thanksgiving in Christ. We pick up the letter at the end of verse 18 in chapter 1. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me. 

Prayer

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me, and I do not know which I prefer. 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 for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well – since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

What’s the point of it all? This living, this dying we do so consistently as human beings. We are told by self-proclaimed, religious gurus to look for our best life now. Carpe Diem – seize the day. YOLO – you only live once. Joanna and Gloria informed me this week that the cool kids don’t say YOLO anymore, but thankfully they understood their un-hip pastor and were willing to educate me. We are told to live for this life, live for the moment, but never why. We are sold makeup to look younger, vitamin supplements to strengthen our bodies, and any number of extreme medical procedures to extend our life as long as possible. But why? What is the point? What makes this life worth living and even death worth dying? 

Cutting against the grain of all the messages we hear day in and day out on advertisements, news feeds, and social media come the words of Paul, as in a soft, firm voice, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” 

Living is Christ. Jesus Christ makes life worth living and death worth dying. Jesus who loved us enough to come for us. Jesus who loved us enough to die for us. Jesus who loved us enough to rise and reign for us. This Jesus makes life worth living and death worth dying. 

This is true because forgiveness is found in no one else but Jesus Christ. That burden of guilt you carry deep in your heart, that memory that makes you squirm uncomfortably in your seat, or the shame that sits like hot lead in your stomach, Jesus Christ relieves you of all that by taking it upon himself and dying on the cross for us and for our salvation. This Jesus makes life worth living and death worth dying.

This is true because the power to live as God intended, to live a whole and joyful life, is found in no one else but Jesus Christ. As Paul himself says, with the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this can turn out for our deliverance. God in Christ sets captives free, he breathes life into dry bones, he causes to lame to dance and the blind to see. Jesus changes our lives here and now. This Jesus makes life worth living and death worth dying.

This is true because eternal life is found in no one else but Jesus Christ. Common religious sentiment says that good people go to heaven when they die. The problem is that there are no good people. Rather, there was only ever one – Jesus Christ. Jesus, who has entered into heaven ahead of us has opened the doors for all who come to him in faith. So sinners and rejects, misfits and outcasts, beggars and broken-down all came have life and life everlasting in the name of Jesus. This Jesus makes life worth living and death worth dying. 

All of this is true. Jesus Christ makes life worth living and death worth dying. 

Now if this morning you do not know Jesus and you feel a stirring in your soul at even the possibility of forgiveness, or the promise of transformation, or the hope of eternal life, then come to Jesus Christ. Don’t delay. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news and your life and destiny will never be the same after knowing Jesus. 

But, if you can believe, God promises something even better than the gospel. When Paul whispers “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” he is not talking about the benefits of the gospel, but about Jesus himself. Paul is not doing a cost-benefit analysis to determine that life with Jesus is the best for him, though that would be true. Instead, he is saying that what matters most is Jesus himself and once he has Jesus, it changes everything. 

What matters most has already been given to Paul as a gift. What matters most for our life now and in the age to come is not something we own, accomplish, or achieve. It is Christ. Yes, Christ with his grace to forgive. Yes, Christ with his mercy and righteousness. But also simply Christ himself. Do we know him? Do we have faith in him? Salvation flows from the person and work of Christ. What matters most is Jesus. 

“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” Paul writes these words from prison with the possibility of a death sentence in front of him. He looks out on his life and sees that no matter what happens to him, what matters most cannot be taken from him. He has Jesus. Rather, Jesus has his hold upon Paul and nothing can shake him from his loving hand. So if the Philippians have their prayers answered and Paul is set free, this is great. Paul has Jesus Christ. So he will live and serve him with all that he has – exalting Christ is his body, doing the faithful labor God gives him, rejoicing in all things. Paul already has what matters most, so if he goes on living and serving he can doing it rejoicing. 

But even if things turn out differently, even if Paul’s life is cut short, he already has what matters most – Jesus. That can never be taken away from him. Paul has found the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, and he has sold all to obtain it. If he lives, he lives for Christ. If he dies, he goes to be with Christ. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that dying is better because he gets to depart and be with Christ. This is not because death is better than life, but because Christ is better than life. 

What’s the point of it all? Paul might live, he might go on to serve, he might have many years ahead of him, but for what? What makes more life worth living? Paul’s answer: Jesus Christ. “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” Paul might die, and die soon, but for what? What makes this death worth dying? What would give meaning and hope there? Paul’s answer: Jesus Christ. “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”

What matters most is Jesus Christ and when we have Jesus, or rather, when Jesus has his hold upon us, it changes everything. It changes life and death. It changes our ability to look upon an uncertain future with unshakable hope because what matters most has already been given us in Jesus Christ and nothing, not even death, can take it away. 

This conviction, this hope, this relationship with Jesus will change not just how you look at the future, but how you live every day going forward. Listen to how Paul continues in verse 27: Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.

Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Knowing Jesus, knowing the unshakable hope in him that permeates life and cannot be broken by death, now live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. 

Paul is calling the Philippian church – and us as well – to live gospel-lives. Paul is calling us to have our way of living in the world fit with what we know to be true in the gospel. 

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. 

Through faith, we are free and forgiven people. Living a gospel life means that every area of life must be thought of in light of what Jesus has done for us. Has Christ forgiven us? Then we should forgive others. Doesn’t Christ extend us hospitality and grace at the Lord’s table? Then we should extend hospitality and grace to one another. Did Christ care for the sick, the poor, and the destitute? Then we should as well. Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Paul is calling us to shape our lives around the truth of the gospel. Our lives aren’t ‘worthy’ in the sense that we can live so that we deserve the gospel, but that we have heard the gospel and our lives should be fitting of what has been done for us, we should act accordingly. In other words, ‘you know the Gospel, live accordingly’.  

Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ means our whole lives – not just part of them. It’s a call less about whipping us into moral shape than it is fundamentally about calling us to commitment to Christ. 

In a course on the New Testament during my first year at Hope College, I was struggling. We were working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians and he appeared to be saying that judgment would be easier for people who had never heard the gospel than for professing Christians. I struggled. How could Paul so fervently preach the gospel if there might be an easier way? My turmoil spilled over and I finally asked, ‘if all this is true, that’s it’s a harder and more difficult road being a Christian, then why would Paul say we should believe the Gospel? Why, if there’s an easier way?’

My professor answered with five words that I will never forget. ‘Paul was not a minimalist.’ Paul was not concerned with what was the least amount of Christ he could experience and obey and still get to heaven. Paul was not trying to figure out the easiest way, the minimum he could do to get in. He wanted to experience God as deeply as possible, to love and know God as much as he could. He couldn’t settle for the minimum because he wanted the maximum. After knowing God, Paul couldn’t want anything more than that. 

While Paul may have not been a minimalist, our culture is. Our economy and culture thrives on efficiency – what is the highest yield I can achieve. What’s the highest profit I can get for my investment. What’s the most efficient way to use this limited time, limited money, limited resources. We want to get the most bang for our buck. We see it in our desire to always get a great deal. We live in a culture of cost-benefit analysis. Do I go on this vacation or not? Is it worth taking this amount of time off from work? Are the services in this place worth the cost I’m paying? We want to increase the benefits and lower the costs – its our basic business strategies. 

We are tempted to treat our relationship with God in the same way. What is the least I can do to be saved, what is the least I can do to still be right with God – to not get in trouble? What’s the least amount of spiritual input I can provide in order to gain the maximum spiritual output into my eternal life? If the desired end result is salvation, then what is the most efficient way to get there? What are the bare minimum requirements for entrance?

But that approach to faith is not gospel-life. It is not a life fitting of the gospel. For the gospel is not about minimums. The gospel is about grace. It’s about overflowing abundant grace – the love of God that was poured out on the cross. The gospel has never been about the least that God could do. The cross wasn’t the least God could do. It wasn’t the lowest effort God could put in to bring about our salvation. God gave everything. God doesn’t hold back, he doesn’t do cost-benefit analysis and then go to the cross, he gives it all, suffering and death- for you and for me. That’s the kind of God we have. That’s the kind of gospel we have. 

In our culture, it may be acceptable to look for the least we can do to get what we want, but Paul won’t have any of that. In verses 29 and 30, he calls it a gift not only to believe in Jesus, but to go beyond that and suffer for Christ – to surrender your whole life to him. It’s the kind of faith where those who want to save their lives will lose them. In Jesus Christ, God has given us everything – he saves completely, but God also calls for everything – he calls completely. A life lived worthy of the Gospel is really about surrender and commitment. 

For Paul, for us, 

25% of our lives isn’t enough, 

40% isn’t enough, 

75/80% isn’t enough, 

God calls for everything. 

The gospel gives everything and claims everything. We are given everything. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. God claims everything. Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

A couple months ago, I had the joy of marrying John and Charlene Renkema – a fun, beautiful wedding. During the wedding, they exchanged vows – they made promises to one another before God. And these promises were costly. Whatever happens – til death do us part, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer – whatever happens. That’s the commitment they made – that whatever happens, they would conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the vows they made. There were committing to let this relationship shape their lives. But its costly, it meant wholly committing themselves to each other. I pray that most days it wouldn’t come close to being called suffering, but that level of commitment is always costly. It costs much, but the joy is unspeakable. 

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ

Like John and Charlene, our life with Christ calls for surrender – for sacrificial commitment. It calls for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer termed ‘costly discipleship.’ But also like marriage, our commitment to Christ and the sacrifices that it requires are all for the deepening of relationship. The suffering wasn’t the point. The point was a life in relationship with God. If it sometimes entails suffering, then rejoice, but all to know Christ more. Paul called them – calls us – to follow Christ more deeply because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. It’s a joy that makes it worth any cost. 

What is the point of it all? This living, this dying we do so consistently as human beings. The answer that drove Paul and that I hope has captured your heart this morning is this: knowing Jesus Christ. We may live and live long. We may die and die soon. But knowing Christ makes it all worth it. When we live, we can live for Christ – pouring out our lives for him, letting our life reflect the goodness of the gospel, living sustained by his gracious presence and nourished by the Spirit. When we die, we can die in Christ – with peace in his name, with hope in his promise, and entering into his presence. Jesus makes life worth living and death worth dying. So in a world calling for everything else, may we hear the quiet words, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 

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