Session 6

Philippians Study – Session 6

(Philippians 1:21-26)

 

            “To be or not to be, that is the question”...probably most of you are familiar with that famous line, even if you don’t know its source... those word were spoken by Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, in William Shakespeare’s famous play which bears his name...when Hamlet said, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” within the context of the play that statement represented a very pessimistic view of both life and death...

--Hamlet was so disillusioned with life that he contemplated suicide...

--but death was so foreboding to him that he drew back from it in fear...

So when Hamlet said “To be or not to be, that is the question,” he was in effect saying that he could not decide with which was worse--life or death...

The question of trying to decide between life and death did not originate with Shakespeare.  In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the great Apostle struggles with the very same question...in this session we are going to focus on Philippians 1:21-26.  These verses give us a rare glimpse into the thought process of the Apostle Paul.  Here he shares his inward struggle between choosing to live or choosing to die.  As we read this passage, it is important to understand that Paul thoughts on the subject of life and death are the exact opposite, they are diametrically opposed to those of Hamlet...Hamlet struggled with which was worse, life or death...the Apostle Paul struggled with which was best...

--Paul found life in Christ in this world so rich, full, and rewarding...

--and he was so confident and so certain that death would only mean closer relationship with Christ...

Paul could not decide with was best, life or death.  (Read Philippians 1:21-26) 

If there is a single verse in the Bible which sums up the life of the Apostle Paul, it is Philippians 1:21 - “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  There are obviously two distinct parts to that statement. 

 

“For to me, to live is Christ…”

1.   When Paul said “For to me, to live is Christ...” he was saying that his life was so identified with Christ, he could not conceive of life apart from him...several other times in his writings Paul made statements like this...for example--

--Acts 17:28 - Paul told the philosophers of Athens that Jesus is he key to life...he said that “...in Him [Christ] we live and move and exist...”

--Galatians 2:20 - “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who love, but Christ lives in me...”

--Philippians 3:8 - “...I count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...”

2.   For Paul real life began somewhere on a dusty road between Jerusalem and Damascus...when Paul was confronted by Jesus on the Damascus Road and acknowledged that Jesus is Lord, he began to experience life as he had never experienced it before.  Before his conversion, Paul (known as Saul) was a man of rich experiences.  Paul--

--was born a Roman citizen...

--was educated in the prestigious school of Gamaliel in Jerusalem...

--became a member of the sect of the Pharisees...

But real life for Paul began when he came to faith in Christ...in Christ, Paul found a quality of life, a depth of life he had not experienced apart from Christ...

3.   It’s interesting that the Bible speaks of becoming a follower of Christ in terms of birth...

--Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

--Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 - “...if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

--Peter said in I Peter 1:23 - “...for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.”

And point is that while all people experience physical life, not all people experience the kind of life to which Paul was referring when he said, “For to me, to live is Christ...”  That kind of life is reserved only for those who have come to faith in Christ.

4.   Ralph Barton, a very successful cartoonist, in despair took his own life...he left this note pinned to his pillow: “I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife, from house to house, visited great countries of the world, but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up twenty-four hours of the day.” [Morning Glory, May 29, 1993, Ill.A-Z] 

5.   But that wasn’t the case for Paul...he had discovered the secret to real, rich, full, meaningful life...and even in the midst of a very difficult time in his life--a time when he was under arrest awaiting trial before Caesar--he could say, “Life is not empty... life is not meaningless...there is no reason for me to despair...my life is good, for to me, to live is Christ.”  And this passage in Philippians tells us that perspective radically impacted the way Paul approached life.  For example--

--Philippians 1:22 which says, “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me...” tells us that Paul’s passion in life was working for Christ...Paul never lost sight that he was on mission for Christ...

--Philippians 1:25 which says, “For I am convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith...” tells us that Paul’s desire in life was helping others find real life in Christ...the word translated “continue” in the phrase “...I shall remain and continue with you...” means to wait beside a person, ever ready, ever willing to help...

And when Paul said “For to me, to live is Christ...” he was saying that because he had centered his life in Christ, he found meaning and purpose and fulfillment. 

6.   There is a lesson in that which desperately needs to be heard by people in the culture in which we live...very few people in our culture can say with integrity “For to me, to live is Christ...”...if we were honest we would have to say—

--”For to me, to live is money” because we focus our lives and measure the value of our lives by the accumulation of things...

--”For to me, to live is self-gratification” because we live for personal pleasure, enjoyment, and fun...

--”For to me, to live is recognition” for we are sometimes consumed with a desire for others to see how smart or powerful or influential we are...

But in none of those things can we find the lasting peace and security and fulfillment of a life invested in Christ...the only way to real life is living in and for Christ...

7.     The problem with trying to find real life in anything other than Christ is simple--nothing else lasts!

When my daughter, Danae, was a teenager, she came home one day and said, “Hey, Dad! There’s a great new game out. I think you’ll like it. It’s called Monopoly.” I just smiled.

We gathered the family together and set up the board. It didn’t take the kids long to figure out that old Dad had played this game before. I soon owned all the best properties, including Boardwalk and Park Place. I even had Baltic and Mediterranean. My kids were squirming, and I was loving every minute of it.

About midnight I foreclosed on the last property and did a little victory dance. My family wasn’t impressed. They went to bed and made me put the game away. As I began putting all of my money back in the box, a very empty feeling came over me. Everything that I had accumulated was gone. The excitement over riches was just an illusion. And then it occurred to me, Hey, this isn’t just the game of Monopoly that has caught my attention; this is the game of life. You sweat and strain to get ahead, but then one day, after a little chest pain or a wrong change of lanes on the freeway, the game ends. It all goes back in the box. You leave this world just as naked as the day you came into it.

I once saw a bumper sticker that proclaimed, He who dies with the most toys wins. That’s wrong. It should say, He who dies with the most toys dies anyway.

Dr. James Dobson, Coming Home, Timeless Wisdom for Families, (Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton; 1998), pp. 242-243

And that leads us to the second part of that amazing statement in Philippians 1:21.

 

“For to me … to die is gain.”

What an amazing statement!  The word translated “gain” carries the idea of “profit” or “a dividend” or “interest earned money invested.”  How was it possible for Paul to view death in such a positive way?  What was it that Paul knew about death which made it possible for him to embrace it rather than fear it?  I think the answer to those questions can be found in the statement Paul makes in the last part of v.23 - “...having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better...”  I want to point out to you from that statement two reasons Paul had such a positive view of death.

 

Paul was able to view death in a positive way because he knew that death would not be the end of his existence

1.      It is natural for us to be afraid of dying...most of us experience from time to time apprehension about how and when we will die...we know, at least on an intellectual level, that all people die and that our time for death will inevitably come...we all know that is true...we know that for all of us death is a certainty...and we don’t naturally look forward to the moment when we die...and when Paul said, “For to me ... to die is gain...” it wasn’t saying he looked forward to the act of dying...a more accurate translation of the grammar Paul used would be “...to have died is gain...”...the emphasis is not on the act but on the results or consequences of having died...it is not merely death Paul viewed as gain...what was gain was what he would experience after death...

2.      In v.23 Paul uses a special word to describe death...it is the word “depart”...in his commentary on Philippians, Warren Wiersbe points out four ways that word was used in the 1st century world—

--Soldiers used it to mean take down the tent and move on to another location...

--Sailors used it to described loosening the mooring ropes of a ship and setting sail...

--Politicians used it to described the setting free of a prisoner...

--Farmers used it to describe the unyoking of oxen after a hard day’s work and giving them chance to rest...

The word is a word of transition...it describes moving from one place or one situation to another and better place or situation...

3.      And the point of all that is Paul viewed death not as the end of his existence but as a transition to an even richer, fuller, more complete existence...for Christians, there is nothing of value that we have in this life which we will not have in more abundance in the next life...

4.      Around 125 A.D., a Greek by the name of Aristeides wrote to one of his friends, trying to explain the extraordinary success of the new religion, Christianity. In his letter he said, “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they accompany his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.” [Today in the Word, April 10, 1993]

5.      And that is precisely how the Apostle Paul viewed death...he saw death not as the end of his existence...he saw it as a transition to a much better place...and because of that, he could say with confidence “For to me ... to die is gain...”...

 

Paul was able to view death in a positive way because he knew that death would usher him into the presence of Christ

1.      In addition to describing death as a departure from this world, v.23 Paul describes death as an entrance into the presence of Christ...notice what he says in the verse...”...having the desire to depart and be with Christ...”...another reason Paul described death as “gain” is because of his conviction that death ushers us into the immediate presence of Christ...

2.      The question, “What happens to a Christian when he or she dies?” has been debated among theologians for centuries...there are essentially two broad views on that subject...

·         Some say that when a Christian dies he or she enters a state which is sometimes referred to as “soul sleep”...this view says that upon death a Christian enters an unconscious state in which he or she stays until the resurrection occurs when the Lord returns to earth...at the Lord’s return these Christians are awakened and given their resurrected bodies...this view has arisen from the fact that the NT sometimes uses the analogy of sleep to describe those who have died...for example--

--in John 11 Jesus informed His disciples of the death of Lazarus by saying, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep...”...

--in I Thessalonians 4 Paul wrote, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope...”...

And based on statements like those, some say at death a Christian loses consciousness until the resurrection...

·         Others say, and I agree with this second view, that when a Christian dies, that person immediately enters the presence of the Lord...those who hold to this view point to biblical statements like--

--Jesus saying to the repentant criminal who died on one of the crosses next to Him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

--2 Corinthians 5:8 where Paul says death means “...to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord...”

--and here in Philippians where Paul describes death as “...departing and being with Christ...”

And because of his conviction that death would usher him into the immediate presence of Christ, Paul was able to view death not as loss but as “gain”...

3.      In Acts 7 is a detailed account of the death of Stephen, the first Christian to be martyred after the death of Jesus...the Bible provides us an interesting detail about the death of Stephen...as the stones were raining down on him, taking his life away, the Scripture says Stephen “...gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God...”...and then as his death approached Stephen cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”...when a believer dies, that person is immediately welcomed into the very presence of Jesus...

Conclusion

In one succinct statement, the Apostle Paul sums up the total existence of believers.  We live for Christ in this world and we live with Christ in the next world.  That’s why Paul could write in Romans 14:8, “…if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

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