The other day I read an article from the Washington Post. (Actually on John Piper’s blog I skipped across it). It’s a great story about missing it.
“By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play…It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job.”
But this was no ordinary musician…”No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a [common] setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”
Apparently, “Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Joshua Bell had filled the house at Boston's stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100. Two weeks later, at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he would play to a standing-room-only audience so respectful of his artistry that they stifled their coughs until the silence between movements.” Not to mention that he was using a 3.5 million dollar violin.
Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.” That is not to mention that one woman actually recognized him and she heard a great concert (she threw in 20)—meaning that he really only garnered 12 bucks by people who did not know him.
All of these people walked past this beautiful music and never stopped or even acknowledged this guys presence. One guy was so busy listening to his own IPod that he was 4 feet away from Bell and never new it. Walking right past beauty—they were caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that they forfeited a chance to be captivated by brilliance and beauty. And I would almost guarantee I would have done much the same. My wife probably would have noticed—she stops and smells the roses. I’m working on that. Also I’m not a big fan of violin. But, how often do we waste our entire lives; distracted? How often do we miss out on the beauty of Christ and what God is doing each and every day—because we are so utterly caught up in our own little world?
A guy by the name of Sir Thomas Smith made a great point in his last words, “It is a matter of lamentation that men know not for what end they were born into the world until they are ready to go out of it.” That’s another way of saying, “I missed it I’ve wasted my life.” Another prominent man—a Prince of Wales on his deathbed echoed much the same.
“Tie a rope round my body, pull me out of bed, and lay me in ashes that I may die with repentant prayers to an offended God. Oh! Tom! I in vain wish for that time I lost with thee and others in vain recreations”.
I’ve actually read a little bit during this past week on Last Words. Because tonight we are going to be talking about Paul’s view of life and death and compare it to our own. I share the stories earlier about “missing it” because I see a couple of things in common with those who have regret on their death bed. 1) They missed it and they knew it. They had wasted their entire life and now they are going to stand before the great Judge and seemingly not be acquitted. Many of these people have rejected Christ their entire life only to be facing death in despair. 2) They all seem to be quite shocked. Apparently they never thought about or prepared for the reality of death. They probably thought they were immortal and they never thought about facing God some day.
I don’t want you to miss it. I don’t want you to come to your end and have despair. More than anything I do not want you to face God on that day and have no hope to stand upon. I want us all to be like Paul. I want us to be able to really truly say with our entire lives, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain”.
So, I want you to remember the situation that Paul is facing. He is awaiting the verdict. Will he die in this Roman prison? Will he be executed? Will he be a free man and continue in ministry? Will he be shackled forever? What will his outcome be? Imagine yourself in that situation. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. You’re not fooled into thinking that you’ve got another 80 years. You’re not fooled into thinking, “I’ll repent on my death bed”. You don’t know what is going to happen to you—officials could come through the door any moment drag you away and lop of your head, only to find yourself standing before the great Judge. So, not only do you have to ask will I be acquitted on this day by Caesar, but more importantly will I be acquitted on that day when I stand before the Lord of the Universe. Listen then to Paul’s attitude and settled disposition about his situation:
“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.”
Remember last week Paul gave us a few reasons for his rejoicing. 1) This has really served to advance the gospel. God has used Paul’s situation to spread the gospel throughout Rome. We also know that other people have become bolder. 2) So that in all things Christ is being proclaimed and in this Paul rejoices. Tonight Paul is going to give us one other reason why he is rejoicing in his situation. This is going to turn out for Paul’s deliverance.
I want you to catch what Paul is saying because it is crucial. The word there for “deliverance” I believe is what is known as a double entendre—it can mean two different things and yet it means both at the same time. It is a play on words. Paul is saying two things; one to take at surface value and one to take at a deeper level. On the surface what Paul is saying is this—“through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ I really do believe that I am going to be physically delivered from this time of suffering. I really do believe that I will continue to go about living. I will be delivered in the physical sense.” But Paul is also saying something deeper. “This will also lead to my ultimate deliverance. I will remain with full courage and Christ will be honored in my body. I will be acquitted on that great day. I will be with Jesus Christ”.
So, what Paul is saying essentially is this. If I die in Rome then it’s not like I have not been delivered. It’s not like your prayers have not been answered. I have been delivered. Actually my death here would be preferable. “To die is gain”. “To depart is to be with Christ and that is far better”. But even if God decides to spare me physically where I am delivered in the physical sense then it is going to mean fruitful labor for me. I will be delivered here too.” “To live is Christ”. So, no matter what happens I know 2 things—Caesar cannot ultimately do me harm and Christ is going to be honored whether I live or die. It’s a win-win situation.
And that is probably why Paul is so torn. He does not know what God has planned. Is it God’s plan to deliver Paul from his body of death and bring him home? Is it God’s plan to have Paul remain and continue in ministry? Paul begins to think about the Philippians and realizes it is probably more necessary for you and the spread of the gospel right now that I remain—because of this I think I probably will continue—but either way what is essential is that Christ is honored.
Now I want to ask you two questions—and then put them into a positive statement.
I. Can you say with Paul, “to live is Christ”? Is Christ honored in your body?
Or to put that in a positive statement: Because of Christ you can be delivered from a meaningless life and live a life of honoring God in your body.
We are going to deal with the “dying is gain” in a moment. First I want us to look at “to live is Christ”. It’s kind of a strange statement; “to live is Christ”. In fact my grammar checker in Word always corrects it, it’s not proper grammar. Let’s replace the name Christ and see what happens. “To live is Jesus”. Does that sound like Paul is saying, “to live is to be Jesus”? Certainly that’s not right. What if we use someone else’s name? What if I were to say, “to live is Nikki”? Still does not make much sense. But let’s add something else to the equation here. The Greek language really does not have a word for is. So let’s take it out and see what we have. “To live Jesus”. Is that what Paul is saying? Actually we need to change the tenses here to help it make sense. Let’s translate it (and this fits the context). “To live=Christ”. Life equals Christ. You cannot separate Christ from life. That is what Paul is saying Christ=life. If I continue on in my body then I’m going to be continuing to live with and in Christ.
Charles Spurgeon explains it well:
His life itself was Jesus. In the words of an ancient saint, he did eat, and drink, and sleep eternal life. Jesus was his very breath, the soul of his soul, the heart of his heart, the life of his life. Can you say, as a professing Christian, that you live up to this idea? Can you honestly say that for you to live is Christ? Your business-are you doing it for Christ? Is it not done for self- aggrandizement and for family advantage? Do you ask, "Is that a mean reason?" For the Christian it is. He professes to live for Christ; how can he live for another object without committing a spiritual adultery? Many there are who carry out this principle in some measure; but who is there that dare say that he hath lived wholly for Christ as the apostle did? Yet, this alone is the true life of a Christian-its source, its sustenance, its fashion, its end, all gathered up in one word-Christ Jesus. Lord, accept me; I here present myself, praying to live only in thee and to thee. Let me be as the [bull] which stands between the plough and the altar, to work or to be sacrificed; and let my motto be, "Ready for either."
Now how can Spurgeon say this? How can the apostle Paul live this way? How can we say that Christ even demands that? Is God really worth everything? Of course you will say yes but do you know why?
I want to tell you about a couple of qualities of God (they are called attributes). 1) Perfection which can be defined by saying that “God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him.” That means if it is something good to have or to be then God is perfectly that; meaning that God is Love, perfectly. There is not a shred of love that exist outside of God nor is their any ounce of love lacking in God. There is not a shred of justice that exists outside of God nor is their any ounce of justice lacking in God. He is perfect in all his attributes. No lets look at a second attribute of God. 2) Blessedness which can be defined by saying that God delights fully in himself and in all that reflects his character. Or we could even here speak of God’s beauty that God is the sum of all desirable qualities. Or even his Goodness. But lets look at “blessed”. What does it mean to be blessed? It actually means to be happy, to be fulfilled, to be full of delight and full of pleasure. Think about what is being said here. God is perfectly happy and He is the source of all happiness and fulfillment.
This is why Paul can say what he did. This is why Spurgeon could say, “Make me like a bull ready for work or ready for sacrifice.” Christ is life. He is all that is blessed. He is all that is fulfilling and you will never find an ounce of fulfillment outside of Him. You will never find any happiness outside of God. You might say, “I have pleasure in my sin”. And that the Bible definitely would assert. But it is only momentary. It is not true pleasure because it does not last. It goes away it is fleeting. And I would even say to you that even that bit of pleasure that you might have is merely a perversion of the true pleasure that is found in Christ. To live truly is Christ. But what does that mean practically? How can you walk out of here tonight and apply this? It will probably look different in every life but I want to give you a few guiding principles that we can see here from the text.
Christ is to be honored. How do you honor Christ? How do you honor someone? How was Christ to be honored in Paul’s life and death? It really can mean worship. It means to put Christ at the center. To esteem Him. To acknowledge Him as your all. To display in your life his worth and beauty and excellence. The rest of Philippians (really much of Scripture is going to tell us how to do that specifically) Do you accurately reflect Christ in the way you live out your life? Is your life about honoring you or Jesus?
Fruitful labor. Paul often speaks of producing spiritual fruit. Here he is not speaking of producing his own spiritual fruit but he is speaking of the ministry and converts that will come through his ministry. The fruit that will come from the seeds of the gospel that he plants. He knows that God will cause it to grow. He knows that God is going to be faithful to the advancing of His kingdom. Our life should be about this. Again what is our primary calling in life? To know God and to make Him known.
Partner with others for progress and joy in the faith. Remember the point about woodcutters last week? The same word is used here but Paul is saying that he is going to remain and continue with them; in fact he is going to be a woodcutter for their joy and faith. He is going to give his life for the progress of others. Last week I was watching Wild Kingdom. I tape it every Sunday night. Last week was about River Otters. And they taught me something about the gospel and the need of the church.
It has been said of the church that we are the only army that shoots our wounded. River otters do not do that. In fact the mother and father stay together for life. And many of the children often find a mate and bring her back to the family. The entire family is actually used in rearing the new cubs. The waters are a dangerous place for baby otters. So what happens is that all of the mature adults will encircle the cubs. They will protect them from the enemies. They will often spare their life for the sake of the cubs.
What does this teach us about the gospel? We need to be mature otters. Some of you might be new Christians. You need to not be prideful and seek out some mature Christians to mentor you. Get in the center of the pack until you are spiritually mature enough to be on the outside. Some of you are mature enough to be on the outside. Do that. Don’t bite the heads off the baby cubs. Don’t look down at them. Give your life for their progress and joy in the faith. Protect them. Spill your life out for other believers.
We have a way for you to do this starting this summer. I will hopefully have applications available next week for this. We are going to start a Student Leadership program where we will call upon many of you to be mature otters. And to protect the cubs and to be used by God to grow our student ministry here, be in prayer about this.
All of this is going to look differently for each of you. How will Christ be honored in your life? Specifically I do not know? What type of fruitful labor are you called by God to produce? I do not know specifically but I want to help you find that. What will it mean for you to give to others for their progress of joy in the faith? I’m not sure specifically but we are going to grow in that area and see.
Now lastly I want to ask a couple more questions and then make another positive statement.
II. Can you say with Paul, “to die is gain”? Will Christ be honored in your body?
Or to put that into a positive statement: Because of Christ you can be delivered on the day of judgment and honor God in your death.
I mentioned earlier that I had been reading a little bit about people’s last words and it is amazing to see the difference between believers and non-believers. Believers are often like Paul facing potential death at the hands of Rome. Unbelievers are often in despair. Take these different last words of Isaac Watts a hymn writer who gave his life to Christ and Thomas Hobbes a famed atheist that corrupted many of his contemporaries.
It is a great mercy that I have no manner of fear or dread of death. I could, if God please, lay my head back and die without terror this afternoon.
If I had the whole world, I would give it to live one day. I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of the world at. About to take a leap in the dark!
One had no dread and was read to be with Christ. The other was hoping for one more moment of this life (all that he had) and longed to find a hole to creep out of the world at. Or again take Captain John Lee who lived his life rejecting God but on his deathbed longed for hope, “Oh that I had possession of the meanest place in heaven, and could but creep into one corner of it”. Compare this to the famed Puritan author of The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan, “I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will no doubt, through the meditation of His Blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner: when I hope we shall ere long meet to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy, world without end. Amen!”
One man longed to even have a small corner of heaven (obviously not understanding that heaven is not about places but about enjoying the glory of God) the other got it. He knew Christ. Listen again to Bunyan’s quote. In it is the gospel.
“I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Bunyan knew the Father and he knew the Son. He acknowledged God as His Creator and His Lord. He knew that He was accountable to Him, yet he understood that He was His Father, and His Christ.
“…who will no doubt, through the meditation of His Blessed Son…”
Bunyan knew that his hope was built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. He knew that his only hope was Jesus Christ. He knew that it was through the blood of Jesus Christ spilt for him that he could have eternal life. He understood that Jesus Christ has already provided the sacrifice and he placed his faith and his trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He was staking all of his being not on what he could do, but on what Christ had already done.
“…receive me, though a sinner…”
How beautifully this echoes Romans 5:8, “That while we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus died for the ungodly.” Bunyan knew that he was but a sinner. In fact he lived much of his early Christian life struggling with assurance of his salvation. He was in fact for quite some time tormented by whether or not he was saved. And then he realized that his salvation was in Christ alone as one author noted, “Most of Bunyan's struggles with his assurance came as a result of taking his salvation lightly. God allowed Him to struggle with this so He could clearly see that his salvation was of the Lord not in any way due to any righteousness of his own.” Once Bunyan realized that salvation is through the righteousness of Christ given to him and that alone Bunyan was assured. Because he knew it was not about sinner John but righteous Jesus.
Let us turn now back to the apostle Paul. He is in this prison awaiting his verdict. He will soon stand before two judges. One of which he is uncertain of the outcome. Will Caesar say innocent or guilty? Paul does not know. But what Paul does know is this: the ultimate Judge, the one even to whom Caesar must answer is the one to whom all mankind will answer. And this Judge died for Paul. He knows the Judge. He knows that he is not worthy and as Bunyan said, “though I am a sinner” Jesus Christ paid the price. His blood and His righteousness covers Paul’s sin with His perfection. So Paul knows that before Caesar he might be declared innocent or guilty but before the Righteous Judge of the Universe Paul will be declared innocent through the blood of Jesus Christ.
So Paul, with all sincerity and truth can say, “For me to live=Christ and to die=gain”. To depart is to be with Christ. He knows that if guards were to burst through that door any moment and take his life that within a twinkling of an eye he would be with Christ. I ask you tonight, do you know that? Can you truly say with Paul, “for me to live=Christ and to die=gain”. Those two go hand in hand. If you can’t say Christ is your life, I’m not sure you should so boldly proclaim “to die=gain.”
Imagine if Paul would not have known Christ. He would have been clinging to his life because that to him would have been all he had. He would have been living each moment in fear that the door would open and he would be cast before Caesar and proclaimed guilty. Rome would take his head and he would then in a twinkling of an eye be cast before the great judge of the universe. Paul would have nothing but his own righteousness to stand upon. He would have nothing. If he thought being declared guilty by Caesar was horrible this guilty sentence is eternal. He would forever be cast away from God. From all that is good and all that is God.
I also read of another man’s last words, a guy by the name of Voltaire. And if I can be blunt Voltaire was an idiot and you can see it in his words. He very passionately and angrily cried out in despair and pride his last words, “I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months’ life. Then I shall go to hell; and you will go with me. O Christ! O Jesus Christ!” In his life Voltaire proclaimed that he would destroy Christianity in 20 years—yet shortly after his death his house become a warehouse for the Geneva Bible Society.
Again you can read prideful words from a man named William Pope, “I have no contrition. I cannot repent. God will damn me. I know the day of grace is past…You see one who is damned forever…Oh Eternity! Eternity! Nothing for me but hell. Come eternal torments…I hate everything God has made, only I have no hatred for the devil-I wish to be with him. I long to be in hell. Do you not see? Do you not see him?”
But Paul was not like these men, and neither should you be. Paul could truly say “to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Can you truly say to die is gain? Not because your sick and twisted and have some silly little idea about hell—or that it would be better for you and everyone else or because you will punish someone by going to hell. No, that’s not going to happen. You’re only hope is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Otherwise to die=loss. Eternal loss, to depart would be to be away from Christ and all that is good. But because of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice might you cry out to Him tonight and cast yourself wholly upon His mercy!