Scripture Reference: John 16, Romans 8:16-18, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Philippians 1:18-30, Philippians 3:8-11, 2 Timothy 3:12, Hebrews 12:10-11
The Basics Of LifeRev. Philip Miller | September 26, 2021
Scripture Reference: John 16, Romans 8:16-18, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Philippians 1:18-30, Philippians 3:8-11, 2 Timothy 3:12, Hebrews 12:10-11
Selected highlights from this sermon
The apostle Paul is under house arrest in Rome and manacled to an Imperial Guard. He might be set free or he might be executed. His very life hangs in the balance. Yet, he’s joyous, courageous, steadfast, and undaunted. It’s not because he’s ignoring reality, he knows very well he may die in that prison. But he also knows something much more important: He knows how to live a life worthy of the Gospel.
In this message, Pastor Miller shares how we, too, can live such a life so that we too can say with Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Can you see him in your mind’s eye? The Apostle Paul is under house arrest in Rome. He is manacled to an imperial guard at his side. He can’t go out for food or clothing or fresh air. He’s at the mercy of his friends that take care of him. His church planting efforts throughout the Mediterranean have ground to a halt. There’s a series of trumped up charges and legal shenanigans that have brought him to this moment. He’s appealed to Caesar, but now he’s waiting, stuck in an endless line of bureaucratic delays, and he has no idea how Caesar will rule in the end. Caesar might set him free, but then again, he might be executed. His very life hangs in the balance. And if that wasn’t enough, some other preachers out there have decided this is their moment, their opportunity to expand their ministry to gobble up some ministry market share while he’s out of commission.
Just imagine what he must have felt, what he might have felt: anxiety, depression, self-pity, helplessness, anger, bitterness. He might have felt like a victim, grown cynical, grumpy. But watch what he does.
Philippians 1:18–30. It’s on page 980 in the pew Bible by your knees there. Listen to these words. Philippians 1:18, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 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 on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His Word.
Look at how joyous Paul is in the middle of so many life and ministry setbacks. It’s amazing, isn’t? He’s so resilient. He’s so vibrant, and courageous, and steadfast and undaunted! And it’s not like he’s ignoring reality, like he’s some sort of hyper, annoying optimist. You know, always sugar-coating everything in life. No, no, no, he says, “I may very well die here.” He’s utterly realistic about that and his suffering, and yet he’s overflowing with joy. This man knows how to live. What’s his secret? Don’t you want to know? Talk to me! Do you want to know? Yeah!
Now let’s come back to this. At the very heart of this passage is an exhortation. I hope you saw it. It’s down in verse 27. Paul says, “I want you to live a life worthy of the gospel.”
Verse 27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
He says, “Listen, whether I come to you not, I want you to live a life worthy of the Gospel.” And this phrase, worthy, has the idea of like equal worth, equal worth. It evokes the imagery of a scale. In the ancient world they would barter, and when they would barter they would have to weigh things in the marketplace, and so they’d have one of those old-fashioned scales. You know, you’d put a control weight, three pounds, on one side, and then you’d get three pounds of grain, and when it equalizes, when it is worthy, of equal worth, then you know you’ve got the right thing.
He says, “If you take the Gospel–the good news of Jesus Christ, that in His love, God sent His Son to live and die and rise again on our behalf so that we might be children of God now and forever, that Gospel—you put that Gospel on one side of the scale, and on the other side of the scale you put your life. He says, “I want you live in a way that the scale balances, proportionate, equal weights. In other words, the Gospel is not just something we believe in. It is something we are to live out.
If the Gospel has its way in us, if it runs its course, if it does everything that Christ intends for it to do in our lives, it will lead to a kind of worthy life that will balance the scales, a life worthy of the Gospel. Now what would that look like? There are three descriptions here. Paul tells us it would look like standing firm in one spirit, established, resilient, unmovable. This is military language. It’s a line of soldiers standing together, united for battle. I think he’s looking at his imperial guards, and this imagery comes to his mind. “With one mind,” he says, “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” like those Roman soldiers would lock their shields and advance together toward the enemy, pushing forward as one, side by side, unbroken ranks, pressing on, striving for the sake of the Gospel. That’s the picture here.
Thirdly, “not frightened in anything by your opponents…” No flinching, no backing down, courage, tenacity, fearless so that even your enemies know they are doomed, because you’re unstoppable. The Spirit of God is in your midst and God is on your behalf, and if God is for us, who can stand against us? Victory and salvation are ours!
Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of life I want to live. That’s the kind of follower of Jesus I want to be. I want to stand firm in one spirit. I want to, with one mind, strive side by side with my brothers and sisters for the faith of the Gospel. I want to be fearless against the pressures that will come our way.
And as I was studying this week I thought, “Boy, those are good objectives, good ideals, amazing principles, but Paul I wish you would flesh it out a little more. I wish you would bring it down to Earth. I wish you would make it tangible, visible for me. I wish you would not just tell us what it looks like, but show us, too.” And then I realized that’s exactly what he’s doing. That’s exactly what he’s doing! As he processes out loud in this situation, he’s exemplifying for us what it looks like to live a life worthy of the Gospel. So he models it first, and then exhorts it second.
In fact, when Paul summarizes his statement in verse 21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” he is summing up what it means to live a life worthy of the Gospel. “For me to live is Christ,” he says. Christ is my life! My life is Christ! You see the balance? Christ and my life, they’re the same. To live is Christ. That’s exactly what it means to live a life worthy of the Gospel, of equal weight as the Gospel. Christ is our life, and therefore, to live is Christ. These are the same thing. These are parallel and mutually reinforcing ideas, a life worthy of the Gospel, and to live is Christ. This is Paul’s secret to having joy in the midst of hardship. This is his secret to standing firm. This is how he keeps striving for the faith of the Gospel. This is how he is fearless before his opponents. He is living the life worthy of the Gospel.
So let’s take a closer look now at Paul’s example. He’s going to show us. He’s going to model for us what it is to live a life worthy of the Gospel. It means three things: It means Christ becomes our Reason For Rejoicing, our Purpose In Living, and our Meaning In Suffering. Christ becomes our Reason For Rejoicing, our Purpose In Living, and our Meaning In Suffering.
Let’s go. It’s all right here.
First, our Reason For Rejoicing. Philippians 1:18: “Yes, and I will rejoice,” Paul says, “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full coverage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Notice, his rejoicing here is a choice. You see that? “I will rejoice.” In the midst of all his troubles, he chooses to rejoice. It’s not natural. He must choose it because God is still at work. Amen? No matter how dark it gets. “Through your prayers,” he says, “and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” The word here for deliverance is the same word for salvation. “This will turn out for my salvation.” He says, “Look, no matter what happens, in the end this will work out for my salvation. Either I will be saved from these bonds and these chains, and I will stand in freedom in this life, or I will be saved from the bonds of this mortal life, and I will stand in the glorious freedom and life of the presence of Christ forever. Either way, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. I will live for His glory.” Do you see this? It’s what matters most to him. “For to me to live is Christ.”
What does that mean? Well, it means he’s alive because of Christ, doesn’t it? And it also means that Christ has become his life.
Paul writes elsewhere in 2 Corinthians 5:15, “[Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Or Galatians 2:20: “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 (in the body) I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” So “to live is Christ,” and he says, “to die is gain.” Why? Why would death be gain? Death is the final loss, isn’t it? Oh no, because to die is to be face-to-face with Jesus. It’s to get more of Christ. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and to stand with Him in glory. And Paul says, “That’s a win. Dying in Christ is a win. It’s glory! I rejoice,” he says, “because there’s no downside here. Either way, whether I live or whether I die, Christ is honored in my body. He gets the glory.”
Verse 22: “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. I desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”
“Oh, I am so torn.” What a weird deliberation, isn’t it? “I don’t even know what’s better. If I lose my case with Caesar and he kills me, I get to go home to Jesus! You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus. (applause) But if I win my case, I get to go right back to this good Gospel work that Christ has commissioned me to do, serving in the churches and caring for all of you, being your pastor. Ahgg! So conflicted!”
Do you see what’s happening here? Paul is not, listen, he’s not deliberating over what’s best for his comfort. He’s not deliberating over what’s best for his reputation. He’s not deliberating over what’s best for his career. He’s not deliberating over what’s best for himself. Do you see this? He’s living for something far greater than himself. He’s living a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Friends, when we live a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ we delight in the glory of Christ, which has become our greatest joy in life and eternity. We delight in the glory of Christ, which has become our greatest joy in life and eternity.
Friends, friends, is the glory of Christ your greatest joy in life and death, in life and eternity? Friends, Christ in the Gospel, Christ set His glory on you. You realize this? He made you His greatest joy. He gave up His life that we might live, not for ourselves, but for Him who loved us and gave Himself up for us, and was raised to give us life. Friends, to live is Christ. Oh, that we may live a life worthy of the Gospel. Christ is our reason for rejoicing.
Number 2, He’s our Purpose In Living. He’s our Purpose In Living. Look at verse 25: “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”
Do you see what Paul’s doing here? He says, “Look, it’s way better for me if I die and go be with Jesus. But I know it’s better for you if I stay and help. To remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. So I guess I’ll stay. That’s probably what Christ will call me to do because it’s better for you (To what end?) for your progress and joy in the faith.” He says, “Okay, I’ll stay for you because I love you and I care about you,” and he says, “I’m here to serve you. And I will lay down my own interest for the interest of others, and I will sacrifice myself. I’ll put your needs first so that you’ll be able to give glory to Christ when I come to you.”
Paul began this letter. He said, “I’m a servant of Jesus Christ.” Remember that? “I’m a servant.” And now he proves it. “I’m here to serve.” He’s not looking out to his own interests. He’s looking out to the interests of Christ and others. Paul is showing us that to live a life worthy of the Gospel means we invest in the mission of Christ which has become to us our greatest endeavor in life and eternity. We invest in the mission of Christ which has become to us our greatest endeavor in life and eternity!
Friends, is the mission of Christ your greatest endeavor in life and eternity? Friends, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ [He] became the servant of all, didn’t He? Remember? Their Lord and teacher, He washed their feet. He washed our souls. And then He said, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
See, friends, service is not just something, we just don’t need volunteers. That’s not the deal. Why do we serve in church? It’s not to keep the wheels turning. It’s to live for Christ, to take our life and all of our efforts and passion and pour them into the Gospel work that He’s called us to. That is what it means to live a life worthy of the Gospel. We give ourselves away just like Jesus gave Himself away for us, and in doing so we get our lives back. “Anyone who wants to keep his life will lose it,” Jesus says, “and anyone who loses his life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will get it back.”
To live is Christ, friends. Oh that we may live a life worthy of the Gospel. Christ is our Reason For Rejoicing, He’s our Purpose In Living, and then thirdly, He’s our Meaning In Suffering, our Meaning In Suffering.
We already looked at verses 27 and 28, so let’s jump down now to verses 29 and 30. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Remember, Paul said, “I want to hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side-by-side for the faith of the Gospel, fearless against those who oppose you.” See, the Philippians are facing pressures and hardships and suffering, just like Paul. They all are facing suffering together. The opposition that Paul had been enduring earlier in Philippi is still going on as he is in house arrest in Rome. And Paul wants them to know that this suffering is normal. It’s normal. “It has been granted to you,” he says, “that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”
Do you see what he’s saying here? Not only has it been granted that you should believe in Jesus Christ, it has also been granted that you should suffer for His sake. “Suffering,” he says, “is normal. It’s to be expected.” Remember Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” That’s in John 16.
Elsewhere Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer.” Everyone! Now who does that leave out? Anyone here the exception to everyone? “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer.” In other words, to live for Christ, these people also suffer for Christ.
Now, this will blow your mind, I think, if you haven’t fallen asleep, that is. This will blow your mind. Do you see the word “granted” in verse 29? Look down there, verse 29. The word “granted” is echaristhē. You’ll hear the word charisin that. That’s the word for grace. “It has been graced to you, not only to believe in him, but to suffer for his sake.”
The same grace, listen. Listen to me. Listen, listen, listen, listen. The same grace that draws us in faith to Christ, that very same grace also calls us to suffer for Christ. How can that be? You say, “Wait a minute, how can suffering be grace?” Well, if through suffering we get more of Jesus, that’s grace. That’s grace.
Friends, do you see? If to live is Christ, then anything that gives us more of Christ is actually a blessing. It’s actually grace. And friends, suffering is the hard school in which we learn that to live is Christ. That’s where we learn it.
We may be tempted to live for our careers, and Christ may, in His grace, allow suffering into our lives—a career setback perhaps, to teach us that He is all we need, and He is more than enough. And friends, that’s grace. We may be tempted to live for leisure and comfort, and Christ, in His grace, will permit hardship to enter into our lives, maybe sickness or all kinds of things that we might experience the fellowship of sharing in His suffering, discovering that His strength is perfected in our weakness. And that, friends, is grace. And we may be tempted to live for family, and Christ may call us to the hard, painful work of walking down a road of estrangement with our loved ones in order that we might learn that we have a friend in Jesus Christ who sticks closer than a brother. And friends, that is grace.
For those of us, friends, who are children of God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, our suffering in the loving hands of God is never punitive—He’s not punishing us—but it is purifying. Our suffering is never punitive, but it is purifying because, friends, Jesus took every last ounce of the wrath of God on the cross for us. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It is finished, which means that if God in loving care and fathering discipline over your life allows hard things into your world, it is not punitive but purifying. It is His loving discipline. He’s training you and growing you up, conforming us to the image of Christ, of His beloved Son.
Listen to these verses:
Second Corinthians 4:17: “This light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Romans 8:16-18: “The Spirit (the Holy Spirit) himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Later in Philippians 3:8–11, Paul says:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Or Hebrews 12:10–11, says:
“[Our Heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” and “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Friends, it occurs to me that life is just long enough to teach us that Christ is all we need. Have you thought about this? The first half of your life you spend building, don’t you? You build your body up. Maybe you fix it up and make it pretty and strong. You build your mind with education and learning. You go through a career (right?) trying to earn some money and build a house, and build a life for yourself. You build a family. You try to build a contribution that you give to the world, don’t you?
And then in the second half of life it all starts going away, one thing at a time. And with every loss, suffering. And in each of those moments of suffering, grace, a gracious invitation to discover that Christ is all we needed, every moment along the way, because in the end of our lives, friends, Christ is all you have. He’s all we have.
I know you don’t want to think about this, but in the end you will let go of everything. That career will not be there. The money you saved for retirement will slowly deplete. Your health will disappear. Maybe your mental faculties will disappear, and the people you love you will either bury or you will be buried by them. And in the end all you will have is Christ, and it will be enough. It will be enough. (applause)
To live is Christ. And to die is gain. And so, friends, to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ means that Jesus becomes the treasure we can never lose. And we endure in the grace of Christ who has become our greatest treasure in life and eternity. We endure in the grace of Christ who has become our greatest treasure in life and eternity.
Friends, do you endure in the grace of Christ who is your greatest treasure in life and eternity? Do you realize, in the Gospel, Jesus gave up everything to make you His treasure? And now He calls you to give up everything that He might become your treasure.
To live is Christ. Oh that we might live a life worthy of the Gospel, friends. Christ is our Reason For Rejoicing, He’s our Purpose In Living, and He’s our Meaning In Suffering. Or as the Apostle Paul puts it, and here’s your takeaway: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Can you say that? Can we say that together right now? “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Oh that we might learn the depths of what this means and live a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Father, teach us what it means to put you first, to let you become the blazing center of our lives, so that everything is displaced and yet finds its perfect place in you.
Father, forgive us for running after all the wrong things, for trying to make ourselves happy and significant and secure, to form our identities, and make something of ourselves in this life. Every time we do that we lose, but you are so patient, offering yourself again and again, calling us home. And so we run to you. Be our life. Be our all in all. Be our everything, we pray. Give us life in Jesus Christ beyond our wildest imaginations, and hold us through time and all eternity for Jesus’ sake, Amen.