To Live is Christ
March 19, 2017
One day, Paul was on the road to Damascus, when suddenly there was a light from heaven. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” This was the old Paul in his old life, breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He said, “Who are you, Lord?” And the voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Paul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. And for three days he was without sight.
And there was a man in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord instructed him to go to Paul and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight. Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
That was the beginning of Paul’s new life in Christ. And Paul indeed was shown how much he must suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name. He endured labor, imprisonments, beatings and near-death moments. He was beaten and lashed countless times by the Jews and once even stoned to death. He was shipwrecked three times. He suffered through toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Paul suffered much. And now, there he was in Rome, a prisoner in chains waiting to face a verdict of life or death from a Roman emperor.
The world would look at Paul and think of him as a crazy fool or a loser in life. I can imagine the Roman emperor looking at Paul and asking him, “So, was this all worth it?” And I can imagine that Paul would lift his head and look right into the eyes of an emperor and just smile.
Brothers and sisters, today’s sermon is simple. I ask you to imitate the faith and hope and love of Paul. I ask you to think like he did. I ask you to talk like he did. I ask you to live like he did. I ask you to love like he did. I ask you to join him and all the saints of old who went before us and traveled well, believers who were strangers and exiles on the earth, friends who desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. And I ask you to promise me that when you enter the new heavens and the new earth, that you find Paul and at least give him a big hug and treat him to a nice dinner. I do think you should consider him a BBC: “Best Brother in Christ.”
In verses 12-14, Paul rejoices about God’s plan for him and tells them that good things were happening because of his imprisonment. Most people would consider jail time a bad thing. And it would have been easy to question God and ask why he would allow such a bad thing to happen to Paul. Paul was stuck in chains. It might not have made sense to the Philippian church when Paul, the chief apostle to the Gentiles, had things to do, places to go, and people to see.
But Paul writes these astounding words: “…what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,” and “… my imprisonment is for Christ.” It turned out that the whole imperial guard and many other non-believers in Rome were able to come across the gospel of Jesus Christ because of Paul’s imprisonment. And it also turned out that believers heard about Paul’s imprisonment and actually became more bold in sharing the gospel with others. Paul’s imprisonment led to an advance of the gospel! This is amazing! Who would have thought that something so good would come from something so bad?
But Paul believed with all of his heart that this was all God’s plan. God was sovereign over Paul’s life. And Rome was no coincidence or mistake or surprise for God. If you read the book of Acts, you can see for yourself how the Lord orchestrated everything in Paul’s life and how everything unfolded in such a way that it all led to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. And if you read the book of Acts, you can know that Jesus made a promise to his disciples. He said that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. And that is exactly what happened. The advance of the gospel happened in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria. And the advance of the gospel and the promise of Christ was fulfilled at the end of the earth for Paul, which was Rome. There was a reason why Paul was in chains in Rome. And that reason was a very, very good one. That reason was actually a real person - a Savior, a God, and a King. Paul understood this. And Paul shared this important truth with the Philippians.
I can imagine Paul’s words really hitting home for one particular church member at Philippi. When Paul came to the city of Philippi to share the gospel of Christ, he was stripped and beaten and thrown into prison. And there was a jailer in charge of Paul. One night, there was a great earthquake and all the foundations of the prison were shaken. The doors were flung open and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, suposing that all the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer trembled with fear and fell down before Paul and asked him, “What must I do to be saved?” He told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Paul shared the gospel with the jailer and his family, and that night they were baptized and rejoiced in the Lord.
If Paul was not thrown into prison at Philippi, the jailer might have never met him and believed in the Lord. I bet when the jailer heard Paul’s words of encouragement, saying that the gospel was advancing laying hold of the imperial guard, he must have smiled and thought, “That’s so funny. The same kind of thing happened to me.” God showed mercy to the Philippian jailer. And now, God was showing mercy to imperial guards and others who were in Rome - all through the imprisonment and the suffering of Paul. This was how the advance of the gospel happened. Bad circumstances led to spectacular and surprising outcomes. And we are meant to read all of this and rejoice and say, “God, your ways are higher than our ways.” We are meant to see Paul’s story and rejoice with him about God’s wonderful plan.
Brothers and sisters, what is going on in your life right now? Are you in a bad situation? Do you feel stuck in a certain place, in some end of the earth? Are you wondering about God’s plan for your life? If so, I want you to take a long and hard look at your brother in Christ the Apostle Paul and see how he thinks and speaks about life.
When you get on a plane on a stormy day and take off the runway, you see dark clouds and rain and lightning all around you. But then the plane breaks through the very top of the clouds. And what do you see? You see a fluffy blanket of white clouds below you. And you see sunlight flooding the entire sky. If you were on the ground, you would only see the storm. But above the clouds, you see that there is something above and beyond the storm. You see the bigger picture.
Paul was afflicted in Rome, but not crushed. He might have felt perplexed, but he was not driven to despair. He was definitely persecuted, but not forsaken. He was struck down, but he was not destroyed. He did not lose heart. And this morning, may you not lose your heart as well. For your light and momentary affliction prepares for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as you look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. Paul did not see chains or an imperial guard. Paul saw the advance of the gospel and a harvest field in Rome.
In verses 15-18, Paul is happy that people were preaching the gospel of Jesus, even if they were preaching out of envy or rivalry against him. Apparently, Paul had enemies. There were people who envied him and thought of him as a rival. There were people who were selfish and ambitious and were glad to see Paul under chains.
It would have been easy for Paul to take all of this personally. Make no mistake, it was personal. But Paul did not take it personally. He did not care about his own honor. He only cared about the honor of Jesus Christ. Thus, since his enemies were proclaiming Christ, Paul was okay with it.
Who thinks like that? Someone who puts Jesus first. Someone who knows how much he has been forgiven. Someone who, in a good way, doesn’t care at all about himself. I cannot help but think about Stephen in Acts 7. After giving a sermon about Jesus, people rushed toward Stephen with a loud voice and cast him out of the city and stoned him. As he fell to his knees and died, he said these final words on earth: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Brothers and sisters, I want you to take a long and hard look at your brother in Christ the Apostle Paul. May you stop taking things personally and stop making things about you and start making everything about the Lord Jesus Christ.
In verses 18-26, Paul writes some of the most unforgettable words in all of Scripture. While he admitted that he wanted to die and be with the Lord, Paul chose to endure suffering and hardship and he hoped to live on for the sake of the Philippians. Paul chose what was better for others over what was better for himself. In the mind of Paul, dying by the hand of Caesar would be gain for him because it would mean being with the Lord in heaven. And Paul admitted that his desire was to depart and be with Christ. That would be better for him. That is what he wanted. But that is not what Christ wanted. Paul did not consider himself in this choice. He took himself out of the equation of life and replaced himself with the variable of Christ and the variable of others. “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.” “Your account” was more important than “my desire.” What was “more necessary” for the Philippians was more important than what was “far better” for Paul. Thus, Paul chose to endure suffering and hardship. And he was certain that he would continue on this earth for the sake of the progress and joy of the Philippians.
How can Paul be like this? And how can we think like this? The answer is rather simple. Paul was like this because of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed Paul ultimate mercy and grace. And Paul in turn loved his Savior and King. Thus, Paul declared these famous words: “For to me to live is Christ….” For many of the players in March Madness, basketball is life. For many lonely people, romance is life. For many average people, happiness and family and friends is life. For Paul, Jesus is life. To live is Christ. The Lord is everything to us who are in him. Jesus is all of our hope and glory now and forever. If there is no Christ, then there is no point. To live is Christ.
Brothers and sisters, let us chose what is better for others over what is better for ourselves. That is what we mean when we echo Paul’s grand statement: “To live is Christ!” Are you making a decision in your life with you as the main variable? Are you driven by “your desire” and what is “far better” for yourself? Can we consider the “account” of others? Can we chose what is “more necessary”? I hope so.
I want to chose this sermon now by reminding you that Jesus is coming back soon. That reality, that big picture, that person, changes everything for us. Brothers and sisters, whoever saves his or her life will lose it. But whoever loses his or her life for Jesus and for the gospel will find it. So I ask you this morning to give up. Consider your life forfeit. Smile at the face of death. Know that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain in Christ. Don’t be a loser. Travel well. And finally, don’t forget to find Paul when it is all finished and at least give him a big hug and treat him to a nice dinner.