For To Me, TO LIVE IS CHRIST
Key Verse 1:21
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
For the next four weeks we will study this short book with many powerful truths of God. This book is Paul’s letter written to the Philippians when he was in chains in a Roman prison in AD 61. Philippi was a Roman colony located in northern Greece. As a not so serious student in military history I found the original name given to this Roman colony of interest. The name Philippi came from Alexander the Great’s father, Phillp II. This man by military conquest took the town from an ancient power called Thrace in 357 BC. The colony itself was located in Europe right at the border of Asia. Philippi Church had the blessed distinction of becoming the first church established in Europe. The more we learn about Philippi the more we can see the reason why the Holy Spirit had led Paul to this city. The colony itself was a thriving commercial center because it sat at the cross roads of Europe and Asia. Philippi became a staging ground to gather and train Christian soldiers to preach and spiritually conquer Europe and Asia for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. There are at least two themes we find repeated by Paul in his letter. First is to rejoice, which is of special interest because Paul was writing this letter while in prison. The second theme is “to know Christ”. In this letter Paul never quotes from scriptures because most of its readers would be gentiles. Instead he encourages them to know Christ Jesus deeper and deeper. I pray also the Holy Spirit may use our study of Philippians to discover Paul’s secrete to rejoice in all circumstances and to know Christ Jesus much deeper and very personally.
Part 1. Paul Prays for the Philippians (1-11)
Look at verse 1: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” If we did not study the Bible we would think only one Christian in million could be honored to be called a saint. Paul called all the Christians in Philippi saints. All sincere believers in Jesus are saints not because of any great work of God we have done but because of the great work of God Jesus did for us on the cross.
Look at verses 3-5: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” The Philippians had sent a gift to Paul while he was in prison. Paul did not take the Philippians’ help for granted nor feel they were obligated to send him a gift. He first thanks God for their help. Second he prayed for them. Additionally he wrote this letter in response to their help. We notice as he prayed for them, he prayed with joy because of their partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. These Philippians were quite amazing people. They became partners with Paul in the gospel from the very first day Paul preached the gospel to them. Some people need to hear the gospel many years before they begin to lift a hand in participating in gospel work. In Acts 16:15 we find a Philippian woman named Lydia. The very first day Paul preached the gospel to her, she pushed Paul to allow her to become a partner with him in the gospel. Some people would observe this as a flash in the pan religious experience. Paul did not observe their partnership in the gospel as a flash in the pan life experience. Look at verse 6: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Paul believed the good work God began in them, he would continue all the way to the final day Jesus comes in his glory. We find the reason Paul could have such optimistic faith like this was because his confidence was in God Almighty and Christ Jesus his Son. When we have confidence in ourselves or other people we easily become full of doubt and pessimism because of human weaknesses and unfaithfulness. In great contrast God has no weaknesses. God is all about work and bringing his work to completion. The Bible teaches God worked for six days to create the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them. God didn’t start his creation work and stop it half way. He brought it to full completion. Paul was confident this same God would bring his salvation work to completion in each of the lives of the Philippians. If we place our faith in ourselves or the people the Holy Spirit has led us to share the word of God with, we will become consumed with worry and doubt. However if we set our daily confidence in God we can be like Paul and live with inner assurance God who began a good work will carry it onto completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Next Paul shares exactly the specific prayer topics he was praying for the Philippians. Before we examine Paul’s prayer we must remember Paul’s circumstance and his relationship to the Philippians. He is in prison. In prison you have a great deal of time on your hand. You can think a lot or you can pray and pray and pray. You also are physically locked away from giving help to those you love and care for. Therefore Paul who loved and deeply care for the Church in Philippi couldn’t be among them because he was in prison. He chose to guide and help them by praying for them while he was in prison. From this prayer of Paul we can learn a prayer not only that can spiritually help us but one that can spiritually help those we love and deeply care for. Look at verse 9; “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,” Paul prayed for the Philippians love to abound. Notice Paul not only prayed for the Philippians love to abound but he qualified in exactly what area of love he wanted it to abound. Hollywood sells billions of dollars worth of movies by turning tragic events such as the sinking of the Titanic into a love story. But Hollywood’s type of love only leads to divorce. This is not the type of love Paul prayed the Christians in Philippi would abound in. Paul prayed their love could abound in knowledge and depth of insight. At first it seems Paul is praying for them to take a college course in love. Actually he is praying the Holy Spirit would enlighten them in a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ. He is praying through this knowledge of Jesus Christ they may come to a deeper love relationship with Jesus Christ. As bible teachers or as Christian parents we know the best love relationship we would want our bible students or children to have is a love relationship with Jesus. We know only Jesus can fill that void of love our hearts are always seeking to be filled. The difficult question is how do we help ourselves, bible student or children to go to Jesus to fill the void of love? Paul did it by praying for his sheep to have their love abound in knowledge and depth of insight. This means he prayed for their knowledge and depth of insight into Jesus Christ to abound. Like Paul some of us are figuratively locked away from those we deeply care about. We know there are many harmful and wrong loves out there that can easily attract, hurt even destroy those we care for. We must learn to pray the same kind of prayer Paul prayed for the Philippians. It doesn’t matter if we are locked away from them. We can still be of immense spiritual influence in their lives when we pray the Holy Spirit may help their love to abound in knowledge and depth of insight. This is the same kind of prayer Augustine’s mother Monica prayed for him. He was a wild young man who spurn all restraints. Nevertheless his mother kept praying for him. By her prayers the Holy Spirit captured Augustine. He made him into a new creation who would become one of history’s greatest biblical theologians.
Verses 10 and 11 show the fruit Paul believed that would begin to grow in the lives of the Philippians through this prayer of abounding love. He writes: “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.” The first fruit is to be able to discern what is best. It is often said the worst enemy of “best” is not “bad” but “good”. Often it is very difficult to discern what is best over what is good. In fact in many cases we much rather choose good over best. But the Holy Spirit can give eyes that can see what is best and hearts to choose what is best when we pray for love that abounds in knowledge and depth of insight
The second fruit is to be able to be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” As a father of three girls and two boys this is definitely a fruit I would want to see bear out in my children’s lives. At the summer bible conference my oldest daughter played the bible drama role of a modern day Samaritan girl seeking to find love in all the wrong places. Now she is entering her senior year of high school where she must make many choices. There will be good choices and there will be best choices. I thank God for showing me Paul’s prayer. In many ways I am locked away from communicating to my children. Nevertheless, I can help them choose what is best and be pure and blameless when I pray the Holy Spirit would help their love for Jesus Christ to abound in knowledge and depth of insight.
Part 2. For to me to live is Christ (12-30)
By reading the following verses we find out Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter to the Philippians. Look at verses 12-13. Certainly the Philippians were very concerned for Paul when they heard he was in prison. Torture, hunger and every kind of privation is all a Roman prison system offered those imprisoned within their cold damp walls. At least we would think Paul would want his friends to feel at least little distress about his situation. Instead the only thing Paul wants the Philippians to know is that his prison time for Christ has served to advance the gospel. Paul wanted the Philippians to rejoice in the fact that it is clear throughout the palace guard and to everyone else that he is in chains for Christ. From these words we see Paul could see his prison ministry to the palace guards was indirectly becoming a ministry to the leadership of Rome itself.
Christian history has shown being in chains for Christ has become extremely fruitful environment to spread the good news of Christ. I read an interesting article once about the prison system in North Korea. The information was obtained from ex-North Korean prisoners who fled the country. These ex-North Korean prisoners shared how horribly they were tortured in those North Korean prisons. What especially astonished me is the fact they said the Christians prisoners were tortured worse than anyone else. As a result the prison population came to respect and even believe in Jesus Christ. It was ironic at the very heart where they were trying to destroy Jesus Christ and take him from their people; the North Korean Government was actually helping to spread Christianity. China under Mao Zedong also tried to annihilate Jesus Christ among its people through persecution and its prison system. Just the opposite result occurred. Those who have gone to China have returned with the observation that they believe China has the most Christians per capita than any country in the world. Prison is never an enjoyable place. Nevertheless for Apostle Paul whose only interest was in spreading Jesus Christ he embraced his time in prison. He could see the Holy Spirit used prisons as prime real-estate to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Look at verses 14-18. Paul’s imprisonment had a strange effect on the preaching of Christ far outside the confines of the prison. For those who knew Paul and loved him, Paul’s imprisonment encouraged them to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It also did the same for those who hated Paul. They too joined in preaching Christ hoping that by their preaching they could stir up trouble for Paul. He did not criticize these people for having wrong motives for preaching Christ. Instead he actually rejoiced. He said: “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” Paul could rejoice because he did not live to promote himself. He lived to promote Jesus Christ by all possible means. Over the years I have noticed people do not go and preach Christ because their heart or motives are not completely right. From these words of Paul we learn as long as we preach Christ we don’t have to be too concerned about motives if our main purpose is to promote Jesus Christ. I have also noticed others who have obvious questionable issues going on in their lives still are used by Jesus Christ because they did not allow their issues to keep them quiet in preaching about Christ.
This battle to preach Christ is like the battle America’s military is trying to fight against terrorism. These days our military is having difficulty filling its ranks because not many people want to go to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight. As a result the American military is far easier to enter than any college. Right now many men and women who were partiers, ex drug users, in trouble with the law and couldn’t even graduate high school are the very people who are America’s new heroes who are defending our country from terrorists. In a similar way I believe many of the front line soldiers for Jesus Christ Kingdom are the same. They are not the morally perfect people. Many have personal problems and issues. But they are not afraid to open their mouths and preach Christ. As a result Jesus is using them right now all over the world to preach his good news.
Look at verse 21: “For to me, to live be Christ and to die is gain.” This has become one of the bible’s most famous verses because it gives life direction both in this life and the life to come. Paul had a crystal clear purpose of life. People ask the question. “What is the meaning of my life?” Paul’s answer to this question was: “For me to live is Christ.” Or people ask: “What is God’s will for my life?” Again Paul’s answer was: “For me to live is Christ.” When we study Romans 1 we learn Paul’s clear life purpose was to preach the gospel to all the Gentiles so that they might believe in Jesus and obey his words. Because Paul 100 percent of the time lived for Christ he was used by Jesus more than anyone else in spreading the gospel around the world. Certainly this should be our purpose for life. If we live for ourselves or other people our life becomes without meaning and too burdensome. When we live for Christ in all we do, our life has meaning, significance, hope and filled with the amazing mercy of God.
Paul was not only great because he lived for Christ. What also made him very unique is how he faced death. He said: “To die is gain.” To Paul death was not losing everything. It was the way by which he would gain everything he wanted. Look at verse 23; “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;” Paul saw death as a departure, similar to a plane departing to take us to live with someone we have long to be with. According to Paul death is actually God giving us a first class supernatural trip to be with Christ for ever. Often in the media we read and hear about legal battles trying to keep people who have no body or brain functions alive. Let it be understood I am very much a pro-life person. At the same time I think our culture has made people think life in this world is everything while death is the end of everything. This is biblically untrue. The Bible teaches if we die in Christ we gain everything. These days my favorite song is “Give me Jesus.” Let me share a few of the song’s lyrics: “In the morning when I rise give me Jesus, give me Jesus, give me Jesus, you can have all this world, but just give me Jesus.” The last refrain goes like this: “And when I come to God, when I come God, give me Jesus, give me Jesus, give me Jesus, you can have all this world, you can have all this world, just give me Jesus.” Sometimes I’ll listen to this song over and over again. My family is patient; they don’t say anything but I can sense they find it a little unusual. To me it speaks to my heart’s greatest desire. Give me Jesus. Take this whole world. Just give me Jesus.
As we see in verse 23 Paul’s great struggle in life was to keep living for Christ or going to be with Jesus. The only reason he didn’t choose to die to be with Christ was because of his extreme sense of responsibility for the spiritual progress of God’s flock. Look at verses 24 and 25. Paul’s high sense of responsibility to take care of God’s flock made him indestructible. This was not unique to Paul alone. God protects the lives of many of his servants who take their mission very seriously.
As Paul nears the end of his first chapter he tells the Philippian saints how to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. Primarily they should overcome their individuality, stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel. Along with this they should not be frightened in anyway by those who opposed them. According to Paul when believers live like this, they become a sign to God’s enemies that they will be destroyed while they, the believers, will be saved.
Finally look at verse 29: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” In this verse Paul the greatest preacher of righteousness by faith teaches God not only has granted Christians the precious benefit to believe in Jesus but also to suffer for him. It is always difficult to connect suffering with a benefit. Companies trying to recruit people will never say “When you come to our company you will also be given the added benefit of suffering for us.” They know this will immediately turn away most candidates. Maybe this is one reason Paul doesn’t write too much about the benefit of suffering for Christ. Nevertheless we must learn to accept suffering for Jesus is a great benefit. Paul writes in Romans 5:3, 4: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.” I may love the benefit of faith more than anyone here. At the same time I must confess that the suffering I have experienced for Jesus, though it is little compared to others, has only had a tremendous positive character building effect on my life. God doesn’t want us to have watermelons for heads, and tooth picks for legs and arms. He wants us to be strong from head to foot. There is no better conditioner and trainer for our character than suffering. Therefore let us listen to Paul and rejoice not complaining about our suffering for Jesus. God will be glorified and we will be spiritually much stronger Christians for it.
This semester let us remember to pray God may help our love abound in knowledge and depth of insight of his Son Jesus Christ. Secondly let us not wonder aimlessly without God’s purpose for our lives. Using Paul’s life purpose as an example, let us make living for Christ as our life purpose and viewing death as the door through which we must enter to be with Christ and his glory for all eternity.