Live a worthy Life

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist

January 16th, 2022 – Philippians 1:18b-30

            We have started a series titled “A Walk Through Philippians.” We have looked at how Paul founded the church in Philippi. In the process of founding the church, he was imprisoned. He writes this letter 10 years after the church was first planted, and he finds himself imprisoned again. This time he is under house arrest in Rome. He is waiting to be tried by Caesar, and the result of this trial will mean either his death or his release.

            But we have seen so far in this letter that Paul is not discouraged. In fact, he is rejoicing. One of the reasons why I wanted to preach through the book of Philippians is to help you to learn to walk well in the middle of challenging times.

            I find today’s passage of scripture extremely challenging. We live in a world where one of our highest values is not dying. There is a whole industry built around living longer. Our world doesn’t deal with death very well. Sometimes Christians don’t deal with death very well. But Paul looks at death very differently.

            I know that none of you are in Paul’s situation, sitting in prison, wondering if you are going to be executed. But as a pastor, I have been with too many people who have heard a diagnosis from the doctor that puts one in a similar place. I have cancer, I have heart disease, I have this rare thing going on in my body, and the odds are known. A certain percentage of people recover from what I have, and a certain percentage of people don’t. You are like Paul.

            There are others of you who are old enough that you wonder what percentage of life do I have left? 25%? 10%? 5? You are old enough to understand the uncertainty of life.

            Some of you are thinking, Well, Pastor, aren’t you a ray of sunshine this morning? I am so glad I have turned up or tuned in today.

            What I have to tell you today is both hopeful and helpful – But it is counter-cultural.

            Let us take a close look at what Paul is saying.

Philippians 1:19 (NIV)

19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 

            Paul says, I know you are praying for me, and I know that God is going to provide for me. I know I am going to be delivered. That word delivered has the idea of “made safe.” I know that because of your prayers and because of God’s power, I am going to be safe.

            If you were just reading that verse, you would think that he was saying – I know from that because of your prayers and the power of God, that I am not going to be executed. But that is not what he is saying; Look at the next verse.

Philippians 1:20 (NIV)

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

            Paul has just said that he is confident that he is going to be delivered and that he is going to be safe. But now he is saying my hope is that Christ will be exalted in my body either by life or death.

            I am tempted to quote the Princess Bride. – Paul, I don’t think that the word “safe” means what you think it means. – But Paul knows what he is talking about. He is saying whether I live or I die, I will have been delivered. If I live, I am safe; If I die, I am safe.

            That is what he means by the next verse.

Philippians 1:21 (NIV)

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

            Either way, I am safe. The only question I have is, will I have enough courage to die in a way that God will be glorified in my body?

            We live in a world where one of our highest values is not dying. But Paul comes along and says – There are things that are more important than living or dying. Either way, I am safe. If I live, I experience Christ, and if I die, I experience heaven.

            In fact, Paul goes on to say, there are benefits to living and dying.

Philippians 1:22–23 (NIV)

22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;

            If I was the one making the choice, Paul says, I don’t know how to choose. Fruitful labour versus being with Christ.

Some people have real problems with this passage. They say, “Christians are more interested in dying than in living.” They say that “we are more interested in heaven than earth.” They say that “we can’t live well on earth because we don’t want to be on earth.”

But I believe just the opposite is true. I believe that we can live better here on earth because we believe in a place called heaven. I believe that we can have meaning in this life because we believe in the next life. I believe that things make more sense in this life because of the afterlife.

And here is why.

1 Corinthians 2:9–10 (NIV)

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,

what no ear has heard,

and what no human mind has conceived”—

the things God has prepared for those who love him—

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

Heaven is prepared for those who love God. And our mind cannot even conceive of the beauty the splendor, the majesty, the grandeur of heaven. But Paul came as close as any man has to glimpsing it. Before Paul wrote the book Philippians, he wrote the book of 2 Corinthians. Here is what he writes in 2 Corinthians 12

2 Corinthians 12:1–4 (NIV)

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man (it becomes clear later on that Paul is that man) in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—…was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

When Paul says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He knows what he is talking about. He has seen the gain. He has glimpsed heaven. He has seen things that are inexpressible. He has heard that which is impossible to communicate. He knows that to die is gain.

Knowing what he knows about the afterlife, he still says for me to live is Christ. He could have said, for me to live is imprisonment. For me to live is suffering; for me to live is drudgery; for me to live is hardship, But he doesn’t. He says for me to live is Christ. Christ, the one whom I love most. Christ, the one for whom I would gladly die. Christ, my greatest ideal. Christ, my all in all. Christ, the alpha and Omega. Christ, the beginning and the end. For me, to live is Christ.

            Contrast that if you would with King Solomon, who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 1:1–3 (NIV)

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors

at which they toil under the sun?

Then in the rest of the book, Solomon goes on to tell of exploits. He says I looked at work and accomplishment but found it meaningless. I looked and wine women and song but found it meaningless. I looked at the accumulation of wealth and found it meaningless. I looked at power and found it meaningless. Solomon pursued those things that most of our world pursues today. And his statement sums up what he found. Meaningless, everything is meaningless.

            But Paul sums up his life, and it is anything but meaningless. He says, “For me to live is Christ.” The question we need to ask ourselves is, Are we more like Paul or Solomon?” Where are we looking for meaning?

Philippians 1:21–25 (NIV)

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith,

            Paul says, I could live, or I could die, and I can see the benefits of both. If I had to choose, and I don’t get to choose but if I had to choose it would be a hard choice. But I think my ministry is necessary right now, so I suspect that I am going to live.

            Paul goes on to say this,

Philippians 1:27–30 (NIV)

 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

            I think it will be helpful if we work our way backward through these verses. Paul says,

Philippians 1:29–30 (NIV)

29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

            Paul says Philippians, when I was with you with our brother Silas you saw where we were beaten and imprisoned. Some of you are experiencing that same thing. You like me, have been imprisoned.

            He says you have been granted – that word means to graciously and generously give something. You have been granted not only the gift of faith in Christ but the gift of suffering for him.

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            Call me crazy, Paul, but I do not see suffering as a gift. We try to avoid suffering at all costs. But Paul sees life through a different lens. He sees it through what Jesus says,

Matthew 5:10–12 (NIV)

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

            We don’t go out of our way to look for suffering. But if it comes your way, there is a gift in suffering because of Jesus. But it would take me a lot longer to unpack that. I want to take you back up to verse 27

Philippians 1:27-28 (NIV)

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

            Paul is saying whether I live or whether I die, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel. Here will be the signs that you are doing this. You are standing firm – You have put on the full armour of God and are standing firm in the face of the temptation of the evil one.

            Not only are you standing firm, but you are standing firm in one Spirit. In other words, you are standing firm with the believers around you, and you are in the middle of these challenging times together. Not only that, but you are contending for the faith of the gospel. The goal is to stand together in the good news of what Jesus has done for us.

            The last thing that happens when you are walking in a manner worthy of the gospel is that you are not afraid of those who oppose you in the gospel. That is what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.

*****

            Not let me apply this passage to us. When I began this message, I noted that none of us are facing imprisonment for the gospel, but many of us know the uncertainties of life. Here is what I want you to know, if you have put your trust in Jesus, you are safe both in life and in death.

            The way to live right now is to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel. That does not mean that you are perfect or get everything right. But rather, it means that in the middle of challenges and suffering, you stand firm in who Jesus is. You stand with your brothers and sisters in Christ. You encourage and encourage those around you with what you have found in the good news of Jesus. You don’t have to be afraid.

            I have had the privilege over the years to walk with fellow believers who know they are dying and who have this amazing faith in what Jesus has done for them. One of the people I think of is Wayne Clapp, who was a member of our church. He did not have an easy life, but when he knew he was dying, he committed his life into the hands of God. Visiting him in his hospital room was like visiting a sacred space. God was there.

            He understood that there is something that is more precious than life itself. – Life with God. He would tell you the same thing that Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

            This morning we are going to celebrate communion. In communion, we remember the good news of Jesus. He died for us. He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf that we might know the righteousness of God. – that we might walk in relationship with God. We are celebrating the fact we are the Lord’s, and he is ours. So, whether in life or in death, we are safe because we are in his hands.

            If you have never given your life to Jesus but would like to, I want you to know that God’s arms are open wide and that he wants to welcome you into his family. Give your life to Christ and come what may, you are safe. Follow Jesus, and he will be your friend both in this life and the one to come.

            Jesus died for our sin that we might be forgiven. If we will accept this good news from Jesus, we are given his goodness so we can walk in a relationship with a good God. If you would like to invite Jesus into your life, then I would invite you to pray this prayer.

            Lord Jesus, I recognize that I have broken God’s laws, and I am not good enough to have a relationship with God on my own. Please forgive me. Thank you for taking the penalty for my sin. Come into my life. I am going to follow you. And thank you that where I live or die, I am yours, and I am safe.

Pray

Sermon Questions – January 16th, 2022

Philippians 1:18-30 – Live a worthy life

Introduction

1. What are you giving thanks for this week?

2. What themes are you hearing from God lately in your life?

Digging in

3. On a scale of one to ten, how do you think about death? (1 is to avoid thinking about it altogether, 10 is to contemplate it deeply.)

4. Read Philippians 1:18-30

5. Paul knew that when he faced Cesar, the possibility of execution was very real. In verses 19 -20, what does deliverance mean to Paul? What is his hope for himself?

6. How could Paul’s version of deliverance be applied in our world? How could it change our prayers?

7. Reread Philippians 1:21-24. Whether Paul lives or dies, he describes it as a win. What are the “wins” in each case? Do you think this perspective should be the normal Christian perspective? Why/Why not?

8. Read Ecclesiastes 1:1-3. How can an eternal perspective give meaning to life?

9. What are the signs of conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel? (Verses 27-28) Does “walking in a manner worthy of the gospel” mean being perfect?

10. In verse 29, Paul talks about the privilege of suffering for Christ. How can he talk about suffering as a privilege?

Application

11. Paul’s perspective on death is uncommon in our world? What is required for our perspective to become more like his?