The Paradigms of a Prisoner: Philippians Series #11
For millions of people, there is a pessimism about life and its meaning. We read in the Bible about those who wasted their lives with riotous living. How refreshing, to turn to a positive statement from someone who has found real meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life.
In Philippians 1:21, the Apostle Paul gives his amazing philosophy of life. He shows us life’s grandest paradigms, by which we view our life. Do you remember when you were in high school English class, and you were asked to write your philosophy of life? Paul figured out his personal philosophy of life and lived it until he could say, “I have finished my course.” In eleven words, of one syllable each, he says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I have often expressed to my daughters, “The secret to success is to find God’s will, follow God’s will and finish God’s will.” Is that the essence of dreaming and then doing what is most important in life?
Isn’t it refreshing to listen to someone who has found out what life is really about, who has found out that life can have a God-given purpose? Life can be wonderful, positive, and fulfilling. In this chapter, I will encourage you to not waste your life. You can personally cultivate the kind of faith-filled paradigms that will empower your life for years to come.
I. We Need To Develop A Powerful Philosophy
As we study these verses, Paul shares with us several aspects of his life. I want us to begin by studying his philosophy. Someone said that life is what you are alive to. For instance, you are at home and watching television. While you are flipping through the cable channels, you come to the home channel and your wife comes alive. You continue to flip further and you come to a college football game, and you come alive. Life is what you are alive to.
Or you and your wife are going into the department store. You walk through that store and you go by the dress section and she immediately comes alive. You walk a little further and you come to the sporting goods section and you immediately come alive. Life is what you are alive to.
A. Personally Alive
Paul says, “For me to live is Christ.” He says that what I am alive to is Jesus Christ. For Paul, Jesus is the basis of life, the beginning of life, the bounty of life, the beauty of life, and the benediction of life. For Paul, life is wrapped up in one sentence: “For me to live is Christ.”
I wonder if you can say that about your life today. Can you say, “For me to live is Christ?” Paul believed his life with Lord Jesus Christ is very personal. He says, “For me to live is Christ.” He does not say, “you,” but he says “me.” He’s expressing how personal this Christian experience is to him.
Being a Christian is not just a matter of going to church. It is not just a matter of subscribing to a particular creed. Christianity is a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ! One of the wonderful truths in the Bible is to discover that God is personally interested in you and me. We are living in a very impersonal world. Instead of people being known for their names, they are known by a number.
The Word of God instructs us that God is personally interested in us. Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice, and I know them by name.” You read in the Bible about the antichrist, and you will find out that those who are his have a number, 666. But God’s people do not have numbers. They have names. God knows you and you are very special to Him.
B. Practically Alive
I want you to understand that our philosophy should be personal, but also practical. He says, “For me to live is Christ.” He’s talking about really living. Do people really live? Many people don’t really live. Many people just exist. They are just going through life. They are existing. They do not really understand why they are living.
For many people, life is a grind. They get up at the same time in the morning. They eat the same meal for breakfast. They get in the same car. They go to the same office. They go through the same routine every day of the week. They head for the weekend, and they do the same things there. For them, living is merely existing. For them, living is merely getting by. It’s just buying so many cars and so much food. It’s having so many pieces of clothing to wear. They are not living. They are merely existing. Many people think that’s what living is on this earth.
Life is not just how many things you can accumulate. It’s not just how many toys you can acquire. “For me to live,” the Apostle Paul is saying, “I have found out the meaning of existence. I have found out the purpose of life, and for me living is Jesus Christ.” Many people never understand that your faith in Jesus Christ affects your daily life. Everything about your life and every aspect of your life should be touched by your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s philosophy of life was, “It’s personal to me. It is practical to live.” But not only that, he says that it is possible for me to live is Christ.
C. Presently Alive
It is interesting that Paul uses the simple word “is” to illustrate “when” he was in Christ. We know the where for taught us in Ephesians that we are seated in the heavenlies with Christ. Here, he says for me to live is Christ. He is not planning on it when he finds the time. For him, Christ was in his every day and in his every way. Can you say this? Is Christ as real to you as the book you are now holding in your hand? The book you hold is not a “was” or a “will,” but it is an “is.” A lot of us do not practice the presence of the Lord enough in our lives. Instead of the daily grind, we should experience the daily find! Christ is presently with us, and we can live for Him, with Him and in Him.
D. Possibility Alive
As you read this, you might be thinking, “I would like to enjoy that kind of experience, but I’m not sure it’s possible.” I have tried to live the Christian life, and I can’t live it. I have tried to have this joy and peace and meaning in my life, and yet I do not have it. I just can’t do it. I don’t have the power to do it.” I have something to share with you. I don’t have the power to do it either. I can’t live it either. Paul says, “For me to live is Christ.”
When we come to Christ, we can experience “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). It is our faith in Christ that gives us the power to live the way you should live.
What is your philosophy of life today? Have you developed, in a single sentence, why you are on this earth? I encourage you to refine your thoughts and narrow your focus, until you can say, “For me…”
Often, I have been asked, “how have you maintained your focus over the decades?” When I came to Christ, at the age 12, I knew He had a divine purpose for my life. In those early years, I sought His face until I knew His will for my life. Knowing the “why” for your life, changes everything and brings focus for years to come. Let me illustrate this to you.
When I entered the University of South Alabama, in Mobile, Alabama, I only took the courses that would transfer to Central Bible College, where I planned to focus on a BA in Bible. When I finally did arrive at CBC, every single college hour was accredited to my account. On my first day of class at CBC, I knew I was only passing through onto what the Lord had for me to do in this life. Eighteen months later, I walked the graduation line and moved on to work on a MA in Bible, a MDIV in Pastoral Leadership at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, and a DMIN in Preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
While I was progressing through my study years, at the same time, I was developing my preaching ministry. When I was 23, we launched the nonprofit, Cutting Edge International. I was in my first year at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. As we formed Cutting Edge International, we developed our mission statement. Here it is:
The purpose of Cutting Edge International is to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus Christ gave to his disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Cutting Edge International seeks to fulfill the three-fold demand of the Great Commission. First, it seeks to evangelize the world with Christ’s power (Mathew 28:18). Second, it seeks to evangelize the world with Christ’s program (Mathew 28:19-20a). Third, it seeks to evangelize the world with Christ’s presence (Matthew 28:20b).
This Christ-centered “why” has eliminated the unnecessary out of my life. Every day is, “for me to live is Christ.” If you have anything more important than this, I would like to know what it is.
During those early years, I preached on the weekends, ministered in youth rallies on Mondays, and began preaching at youth camps in the summer months. During my first semester, I remember saying to my dorm mate, “I plan to do a lot of preaching while I am in CBC. He said, “You will not do much preaching. There are hundreds of preachers in this area. Why do you believe you will be preaching a lot?” I answered, “Because I am willing to preach anywhere. If you are willing to preach anywhere, there will always be a place for you to preach.”
Do you hear the powerful philosophy about life and the Lord? I challenge you to captivate your “why” and get started with your divine purpose today.
II. We Need A Productive Personhood
Keep in mind that Paul is writing this letter to the believers in the church of Philippi. In addition to starting this church, he won many of those people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has concluded that he is not going to die, but he is going to live. As he reflects about living, he looks at the whole idea of his purpose. In Paul’s ministry, we learn what the quality of life really means and how to have purpose and meaning in life.
Paul says in verse 22 and following, “But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor.” Then he says in verse 24, “Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” He is talking about the ministry he’s going to have with these people, and he is convinced that this ministry is going to be needful to them.
We need to notice, carefully, the focus of Paul’s life. He is not focusing on himself, but rather he is focusing on other people. In Philippians 1:24-26, five times he says, “You.” He talks about them. His focus is not on himself. He is living for the benefit of others. He is living his life not to satisfy himself.
Notice further what he says in verse 24: “Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” Next, he says in verse 25, “And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith.”
Did you notice the word “furtherance?” In Philippians 1:12, Paul writes about the furtherance of the gospel. Earlier in this book, I explained that the word, “furtherance,” means to cut in advance, to go before, to cut before. It’s the picture of advancement. It’s the picture of progress.
Paul is expressing, “I am convinced that my ministry is needful to you so that you will make progress in your Christian life, so that you will advance in your Christian life.” It is possible to grow in your Christian life. In I Timothy 4, verse 15, it says, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them, that your profiting may appear to all.” It is the same word. “That your progress, that your advance may appear to all.” We can grow. We can mature in the Christian life.
One of the ways people grow and mature in their Christian life is by the mentoring of other people; older, more mature Christians being a blessing to younger inexperienced Christians. Paul mentored Timothy. If you really want to enjoy life, I would encourage you to find some young Christian and be an encouragement to them.
Paul is saying, “I am convinced that my ministry to you is needful.” His ministry is not only needful but believes his ministry will be joyful. In verse 25 we read, “I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith.”
Do you bring joy to other people? Are you a source of joy? When people see you coming, are they glad or are they sad? In the lives of other people, are you a misery or are you a ministry? Paul says, “I am convinced that my ministry to you will be joyful and that it will bring happiness in your life.”
Helpfulness and happiness go together. The more helpful you are to other people, the happier you personally are going to be. In fact, happiness is kind of like a perfume. You can’t splash it on others without splashing some on yourself. If you want to be miserable, then just live for yourself. If you want to be joyful, then live for other people.
Booker T. Washington, an incredible scientist, said, “In meeting men in many places, I have found that the happiest people are those who do the most for others, and the most miserable are those who do the least.”
Have you found that to be true? Have you found out when you get interested in other people and have a ministry in their lives, it brings personal joy? Our lives should be a joy to other people; and in so doing, it will be a joy to us.
In Paul’s ministry he says, “I believe it is needful for you.” He says that it will cause furtherance of your joy of faith. Then, he says, “I want to be fruitful in your life. Look at verse 22, “But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor.” Paul is teaching that he wants to have some fruit in their life.
The Christian life is like a fruit tree. In Psalm 92:12-14, we read, 14, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.” What a statement!
There are some fruit trees that become unproductive. They quit bearing fruit. That is not true about the Christian life. I don’t care how old you get in the Lord. According to the Scriptures, you can still bear fruit in old age.
Paul has taught us his philosophy: “For me to live is Christ;” and his purpose: “I am convinced that I am going to stay here for a while longer.” Did you know a Christian is immortal until God gets through with him? If God has a job for you to do, you will stay here until God does that job in and through your life.
III. We Need A Positiveness For Problems
We have now come to Paul’s quandary in life. Paul has already summed up the great exchange with these words, “To die is gain.” He has already said that he is convinced that God wants him to live a little bit longer. Now, notice what he writes at the end of verse 22 and into verse 23: “Yet what I shall choose I do not know.”
Notice in verse 23, these words, “For I am in a strait betwixt two.” The word there is used to describe a traveler who is going down through a narrow passage with rock walls on each side. It is so narrow that he can hardly turn from side to side.
If you have ever seen any of the pictures of the ancient city of Petra, you have seen the narrow passageway that people have to go through to get into Petra. It is so narrow that they can hardly turn from side to side.
A. A Delightful Dilemma
Paul is saying, “I am hemmed in.” Paul is saying, “I have a delightful dilemma. Either I will live here, and if I do, I will have a ministry in your life; or I will die, and that will be gain.” He has a delightful dilemma. Paul is saying, “I don’t know whether it is better to live or whether it is better to die.”
For most of us that’s not a dilemma. Most of us will choose life every time. Most of us faced with the decision of living or dying will choose life every time. That’s the way we are made. Yet, Paul wrote, “I am in a quandary. I am hemmed in. I am pulled in two directions.” He says, “I have a desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better, but also a desire to stay here and minister to you.”
Paul really believes what he says about death. Do we really believe what we say we believe about death? Has it really gripped our hearts, as believers? Do you believe that death for the believer is to depart and be with Christ and it is far better? Do we really believe it?
Why would Paul say something like that? I think, as a born-again Believer, he could say it, and we can say it, because for the believer, death means escape from earth’s sorrows, earth’s problems, to be with Christ.
The word depart in verse 23 in “Having a desire to depart,” it is a very picturesque word in the Greek language. Sometimes it is used as a military term. It is the picture of a battle-worn soldier who is getting ready to pull up the stakes of his tent and to move out. For Paul it was his desire to pull up the stakes of this old earthly tent and depart for heaven.
Paul describes in II Corinthians 5 the life of a believer as being like a tent. It says, “For if our earthly tent be dissolved, we have a building of God, eternal in the heavens.” For the believer, death is like a soldier, striking stakes and moving on.
Sometimes it was used as a nautical term. It’s a picture of a sailor who has sailed through the stormy seas. Now, it’s time for him to land on shore soon and to be home again.
Paul is saying, “I have a desire to depart like a weary sailor.” In II Timothy 4:6, it talked about his death as a departure. “The time of my departure is at hand.” He’s saying, “I’m getting ready to break loose from the shores of time and earth and to embark on the great sea of eternity and land on the glorious shores of heaven one day.” As Believers, the heavenly shores are ahead of us, as depart from this stormy life.
Maybe you are going through sorrows. Death will be a release from these earthly sorrows. There are people who never have a waking moment without pain. It’s difficult for them to even sleep at night. The pain keeps them awake. They have an aching back or burning eyes. They have a pain wracked body. Death, one of these days, will mean release from earth’s pains.
Think about those tearful goodbyes, when we have to say goodbye to loved ones, watching them slip away into eternity. They leave an empty chair at the table, and they leave a void in our hearts. To depart and be with Christ means that one of these days no more separations.
To depart and be with Christ means that the day will come that we won’t have the battle of sin anymore. I like the hymn that has a line in it that says, “We’ll be saved to sin no more.” Isn’t that going to be wonderful? We will never again have to repent of sin. We will never again have a broken heart because of our failures. What a relief it will be when we cross to the heavenly side.
Why should we dread death? Do we really believe our beliefs? It’s kind of like a bird in a shell. That bird begins to struggle and push, and then in a little while that shell cracks open and the bird emerges. Does the bird mourn departure from the shell that has restricted it?
Think about that soldier on the front lines, and he’s battling the enemy. He’s facing danger every moment. His meals have been poor and pathetic. Then the word comes in the field, “Come off the field. You are going to have a few days of R and R, some relaxation, food and rest.” Does the soldier mourn leaving the fox hole and the pathetic food for rest and peace and joy?
“Having a desire to depart and be with Christ,” means release from earth’s problems.
B. A Divine Departure
Notice what he says, “Having a desire to depart and be with Christ.” Death for the believer means realization of Christ’s presence. There is a sense, of course, in which we are with Christ right now. Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” That means that Jesus is with you right now.
However, there is a sense in which to depart is to be with Christ in an even fuller way. In life, Jesus is with us. In death, we are with Christ. Can you imagine how that will be? One of these days we will step into the very presence of Jesus Christ.
Don Wyrtzen, wrote Finally Home with these words as the chorus, “Just think of stepping on shore and finding it heaven, of taking a hand and finding it Gods, of breathing new air and finding it celestial, of waking up in Glory and finding it home.”
These are the delights of death for the believer. No wonder Paul said, “I can’t figure out which I would rather do, to stay here or to go there.” Why could Paul say that? You can’t have Paul’s philosophy of death until you have Paul’s philosophy of life. I challenge you to get a piece of paper to write on and a pen. I want to help you find out what life really is for you this morning.
The first words you should write are: “For me, to live is ______” Then, I want you to fill in the blank.
There are two words in that verse which cannot be changed: to live and to die. You can’t change those two words. We are all going to live, and we are all going to die. You can’t change those two words, but you can change two other words here. “For me, to live is _____.” I want you to be honest about it, fill in the blank as to what life is to you.
Maybe it is, “For me, to live is my money.” “For me, to live is popularity.” “For me, to live is football.” “For me, to live is my boyfriend or girlfriend.” “For me, to live is my business.” “For me, to live is my family.” Just be honest about it.
If you put anything down there except Jesus, you’ve got to change another word. “For me, to live is,” and if you put down anything but Jesus, “to die is loss.” You come out the loser when you say anything in your life is life to you except Jesus.
“For me, to live is money, to die is loss.” “For me, to live is popularity, to die is loss.” “For me, to live is my business, to die is loss.” “For me, to live is my boyfriend or girlfriend, to die is loss.”
I hope you can truthfully say, “For me, to live is Christ.” Then, you can write it out, “And to die is gain.”