07 January 2009

Verse by verse through Philippians (1:23-1:26)

Last week we looked at one of the most comforting verses in Scripture. So many of us when we think of death, it frightens us. And it shouldn’t. If we know Christ, we should not be afraid of death. Because death is not the end. It is an end, but not the end. Think of it this way: If I leave the Knoxville/Knox County courthouse and head west on Main street, and cross Henley Street, it becomes Cumberland Avenue. Then if I stay on Cumberland and dodge all the crazy UT students running out in front of me, I go past Alcoa Hwy, go under the bridge, and keep going I will be on Kingston Pike. And if I stay on Kingston Pike, it will become Kingston Hwy once I cross Rte 95 the other side of Dixie-Lee Junction. And after that if I go through Crab Orchard and Midway it is the Avery Trace. So, you get the picture. It’s all the same road, but it does have distinct spots where it takes different shapes and different names. That’s the way our lives are.

We are born—and in case any Mormons ever talk to you, and try and tell you that “In our pre-existence…” No. We did not exist before we were born. When we are born, that is when we begin. And our lives progress. We are infants and then children then adolescents and young adults and eventually, if we live long enough we are called senior citizens. But one day we will die. There’s no way around it. We are going to die. But does that mean that we cease to be? What dies? It’s our body that dies. The rest of us goes on. Just like when we cross Henley Street and Main Street becomes Cumberland Avenue—the road itself does not stop, it simply takes on new characteristics.

Another illustration. Let’s say somebody jumps off the Henley Street Bridge, hits the water, dead on impact. KFD sends out the rescue squad, what do we always say they found, what do we say they fished out of the river? The body! They don’t fish the person out of the river. They only find the body. But the person still exists. Their spirit is in one of two places—in the presence of God in Heaven, or in the torment of Hell. There’s no Purgatory. There’s no second chance. There’s no nothing. When we die—that is, when these bodies give out and go to sleep—our sentence is read, and we await one of two resurrections. The “first resurrection” which is when we get our new bodies and we walk into the city of New Jerusalem. The second resurrection is when the lost receive a new body and are cast into the Lake of Fire for eternity.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we got saved and WHOOOSH! Raptured out of here? But we’re not. After we know and confess that Jesus is Lord, and we are saved by the gift of His grace and mercy and by the gift of our faith, which comes from God, we are still bound in these bodies of flesh. And we have to stay cooped up in these things until we die. And speaking of death, many many people fear death. They don’t know what’s on the other side. Or, maybe they do know what’s on the other side. But, if we know Christ we have no reason to fear death. If you ever read 1st Corinthians 15, read it from verse 1 to verse 58, it talks about the resurrection of Christ, and how He was our “firstfruits” and that if Christ was risen from the dead, He is our firstfruits—our guarantee that we also will be raised up together with Him. And 1st Corinthians 15:52-57we will be changed…in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality….then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We only have a couple more passages to look at in Philippians 1, then we will take a break, look at how we got what we call “the Bible,” how it was written, and why and who wrote the different books, and when, and to whom. We’re not going to get super-technical because we could talk about this manuscript and that fragment and this ridiculous idea that some of the writers of the gospel copied off each other, like it a chemistry final. “Ooh, what’d you get for when Jesus walked on water?” And we’ll take a week or two and talk about the fellow—our dear brother in Christ, the apostle Paul, who wrote almost half of the books that we call the New Testament. Again, we’re not going to get real detailed because I could put y’all to sleep with some of the information—not that I haven’t caused one or two to nod off already. So, today we are going to read from verses 21-26, specifically verses 23-26.

Philippians 1:21-2621 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 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.

What was the number one goal of the apostle Paul? After Christ appeared to him in Acts 9, what did Paul devote his time, his life, his body to doing? Bringing glory to God. Yes, he spent all of his time preaching and teaching and planting churches and writing letters—but these were simply the means to an end. These were simply the ways God used Paul to bring glory to Himself. That’s what Paul meant when he wrote in verse 21, For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. In the verses we will look at today, he says “If God gives me another day, I'll produce fruit for Him. And if I die, I'll go to be with Him. I’m good with that.”

For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. I mentioned at the beginning, wouldn’t it be great if we got saved and WHOOOSH! We’re outta here. And that will happen one day. One day, somebody’s gonna get saved, and 5 seconds later, POOF! The Rapture. But for now, it’s a little different. We have to stick around and glorify God here on the earth. I mean, it would be real easy for us to not sin and not be tempted—in Heaven. But on earth, it’s a different story. We need people to teach us and guide us in studying the word of God so that we can please Him and glorify Him.

And this was what Paul was struggling with here. He wanted nothing more than to leave this horrible planet, and be with the Lord Jesus Christ. But God had other plans for him. God said, “No, I need you to finish the work I've given you.” So He left Paul here to finish that work.

Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. I'm not a pastor; I may never be a pastor. But I think that one of the hardest decisions a pastor has to make must be when he feels like God is calling him to a different congregation. He spends years with these people, is leading and guiding them, and then he has to tell them he’s leaving. It can be kinda scary for the congregation because they’ve grown accustomed to—if he’s doing his job correctly—they get used to being fed the word, and then now someone else is going to come in, and that new person may be good. They may not be. I talk about the little church I went to when I was a kid. The pastor moved on, the guy that replaced him was…eh. And it’s also heart-breaking for the pastor, because he knows that if the man who comes behind him doesn’t lead the way he’s supposed to, that can unravel all the years he spent laboring for the Lord. And that’s why he needs to continually pray over those people.

And I believe that Paul probably went through that very thing. He had spent years praying and serving and suffering to impart the truth of Christ to the Corinthians and the Ephesians, and the Colossians, and these Philippians. And he knew that someone was going to come in behind him. King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:18-19Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? Yet shall he have rule over all my labor wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. Solomon knew that the man that came behind him might squander everything that he had built. Paul knew that the man who came behind him might squander everything that God had used him to build. That’s what he said in verse 23 that he was hard-pressed between the two—he wanted to go home—like the opening words of Beulah Land, I'm kinda homesick for a country where I've never been before—but he knew that it was better for the Philippians that he should remain.

Now, what does this verse mean for us? Well, if we were just WHOOOSH! taken up when we get saved, we could not declare God to others. We could not impart the word of God to others. Psalm 71:18Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. Isaiah 38:18-19For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth. If we’re not here, we can't tell anybody the truth. God leaves us here so that we can declare His strength to our generation. We can show His power to the generation to come. We can praise Him in this corrupt world and be like what Jesus called a city on a hill, a light that cannot be hidden under a basket.

Verse 25. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith… There’s that word “confident” again. If you read enough of what Paul wrote, in the books between Romans and Philemon, you will not find words like “I think” or “You know, it just might be OK” or anything like that. When Paul wrote these letters, these epistles, these books, we need to remember one thing—these were not just his own personal feelings, although you can definitely see that his heart is in each one of these. These were words that were spoken to him by the Holy Spirit. These words come from God Himself. And if God thought enough of these words to command Paul to write them, then they must be pretty important. And if the Holy Spirit was telling Paul to be confident in anything—then you can pretty much guarantee that we can be confident in these words.

Paul knew that he would remain with the Philippians. Not, maybe, in the body, not that he would be physically present in their sight, but he would definitely remain with them in heart and in letter. When he was in prison. When he was travelling. When he was hundreds of miles away. Whenever he was writing to one of the churches it was not to be some overbearing ogre. Paul wrote all of his letters out of a love for the people he was writing to, and he wrote as if he were there himself—because, in his heart, he was. 2nd Corinthians 2:4For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you. Colossians 2:4-5And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. 1st Thessalonians 2:17But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. The Holy Spirit used Paul to write words like these and many others to show us how to act and think toward one another. That even though we may not see someone face-to-face, we are to always have one another in our hearts. The phrase “Out of sight—out of mind” was not in Paul’s vocabulary. And it shouldn’t be in our vocabulary either.

Many times—in fact, at the beginning of nearly every one of his letters to the churches—Paul says something to the effect of I thank my God for you all. He says it at the beginning of Philippians, in verse 3. And keep in mind, when he wrote a letter to a certain church, he was not usually in that city when he wrote it. So when he did write, he was doing it out of a love for the people, so that they could know the truth and be well-pleasing to God.

Verses 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. I believe the ESV translates this verse a little better. It reads, 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. Paul was not trying to say that the people should boast about Paul. He would never, never say that. Paul’s one and only goal was to glorify God. And what he was telling the people was that when he did come to them again, that he would come to them because of the supply of the Spirit of Christ, and that is what they should glory in—Christ Jesus.

Voice of the Martyrs is an international ministry that seeks to glorify God by spotlighting how He gives strength to those who are in jail and who are awaiting execution simply because they worship Christ. Voice of the Martyrs is not glorifying those in chains—they are glorifying the one who gives these saints the strength and the courage to stand firm in their confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. That’s why God does not just zap us up out of this world when we get saved. Is He glorified when we stand before Him and He declares us “Not Guilty” by the blood of Christ? Yes. Would He be glorified if He just took us out of this world when He saved us? Yes. God will be glorified in everything He does. But He receives even more glory when we remain blameless in this world of sin and corruption.

In chapter 2, verses 14-16, Paul writes, Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. Basically, he’s saying, “Live Christ.”

It’s easy to remain blameless in Heaven, because there is no sin there. But when we remain steadfast and unmoveable in the middle of a world that hates God and everything about God—then we show who we belong to. Every single person is guaranteed an eternal existence. Once these bodies give out, our spirit goes on. This is just a shell. If they fished this out of the river, that’s all it would be—a hunk of flesh. I would still exist. And I thank my God that I will exist with Him. Because those who do not know Christ will exist forever. Death is not the end of the road—it’s just Henley Street. The road doesn’t stop—it just changes.

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