Take a look at Philippians 1:21-24. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”
Paul wrote this from a Roman prison. He really doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him. He may be put to death or he may be set free. He may be executed or exonerated. He’s thinking, “Am I going to live, or am I going to die.” But then he thinks, “It really doesn’t matter. For me to live is Christ and for me to die is gain.” No matter what happened, Paul was thrilled with the prospect. He’s in prison, but he’s not moaning and groaning and complaining.
When bad times come to us we do one of three things: either we resent them, or we resign ourselves to them, or we rejoice in them. Paul rejoiced in tribulation. When Paul says, “I may die,” you can almost see a twinkle in his eyes. I think he was almost smiling when he said it!
We’re just going to examine two points this evening. The first point is: “For me to live is Christ.” The second point is: “For me to die is gain.”
When Paul said, “For me to live is Christ,” he’s not talking about his physical existence; he’s talking about his new spiritual life. First, he means that the source of his life is Christ. Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul knows that salvation is not his good work for Jesus, but Jesus’ good work in him. But there are a lot of folks who think that being a Christian is the result of being a good boy or girl.
They think God is like Santa Clause, who’s making a list and checking it twice to see who’s naughty or nice. Then, when you die, He’ll balance the scales and if your good works tip the scales over your bad works, He’ll say, “Come on in.”
Folks, salvation is not attainment; it’s atonement! When the shed blood of Christ’s atonement is put on your account as salvation, you become a new creature and Christ begins a good work in you.
Has that new work begun in you? Are you born again? Can you say along with Paul, “For me to live is Christ?”
You can take Buddha out of Buddhism and you still have the teachings of Buddhism. But you can’t take Christ out of Christianity. When you get saved, you don’t get the Christian religion; you get Christ!
Jesus is the source of Paul’s life; therefore He is the subject of Paul’s life. In Philippians 1:2 Paul is telling the Philipian church, “Don’t feel sorry for me because I’m in prison. Hot diggety dog! This gives me a chance to preach the Gospel in Caesar’s palace!”
How else would an itinerant missionary get the chance to preach there? Paul’s chained to a praetorian guard and all day long he’s telling him about Jesus. The guard couldn’t get away from him! Every six hours they’d chain another guard to him and Paul would tell him about Jesus. Paul was establishing a church right there in Caesar’s household! The subject of Paul’s life was Christ.
If you’re ashamed of Jesus, you wouldn’t want to spend much time around Paul. He’d embarrass you to death! You can tell what’s inside a person by what they talk about. What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket! The Bible says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”
You say, “How boring…always talking about Jesus. Doesn’t that kind of hem you in?” Well, it would be like a minnow being hemmed in by the Atlantic! Do you know what Paul said about Christ? He said, “In whom are hid all of the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.” Why did the Lord hide it? He hid it so you and I could have the joy of discovering it!
Have you ever gone to the Word and found a new gem, or a new nugget? I’ve been preaching the Word for going on 4 decades and I’m just as excited about it as I’ve ever been! There’s always more to learn about Jesus, and the subject of Paul’s life is Jesus.
Jesus is not only the source and subject of Paul’s life; the standard of Paul’s life is Jesus. In Philippians 3:14 Paul is talking about his life’s ambition. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” That word “press” describes a runner who’d straining every nerve and fiber in his body to win the race. Paul’s goal in life is to be like Christ.
Not only was Jesus the standard of Paul’s life; the song of Paul’s life is Jesus. Remember, this was written from prison. Look at Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”
It doesn’t matter where you are or what the circumstances of your life are, there is a command for you to rejoice in the Lord. How can you do that? You can do that only in the Lord. Paul was in prison, but he was also in Jesus. No matter what happens to him, he’s singing a song and praising Jesus. Don’t feel sorry for Paul….or for any true Christian.
Not only was Jesus the song of Paul’s life; the satisfaction of Paul’s life is Jesus. Look at Philippians 4:11-12. “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
Paul says, “It doesn’t matter if I have a freezer full of filet minion, or if I’m eating a crust of bread. It doesn’t matter if I’m in prison, or in a palace. I’ve learned to be content no matter where I am.” He found his satisfaction in Jesus. By the way, you’ll never find satisfaction until you find it in Jesus. God made you to serve Him and until you do, you’ll be like a square peg in a round hole. You were made to find your satisfaction in Jesus.
Also, the strength of Paul’s life is in Jesus. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” It’s not that Paul kept Christ: it’s that Christ kept Paul. The Jesus who saves you and the Jesus who’s coming for you, is the same Jesus who keeps you saved and who wants to work through you.
I’ve heard people say, “Well, I just serve God in my poor little old weak way.” Well, knock it off!! He doesn’t want you serving Him in your poor little old weak way. He wants you to serve Him in His mighty, glorious, dynamic way! He wants to do something in and through you.
Next, the supply of Paul’s life is Christ. Look at Philippians 4:19. “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
He won’t supply all your wants, but He’ll supply all your needs. Sometimes you want things you don’t need. Sometimes you need things you don’t want. Your dad might have told you that you needed a spanking. He was probably right….but you didn’t want one! You don’t have a need in your life that Jesus can’t supply. If you do, then this verse is a lie.
That’s what Paul meant when he said, “For me to live is Christ.” But now let’s look at the other side of this thing. He also said, “For me to die is gain.” “To live is Christ” is describing days of grace. “To die is gain” is describing days of glory. But how do we know that dying is gain?
“Mr. Scientist, will you tell us if there’s life after death? You’ve unlocked the secret of the atom and you’ve probed the far reaches of space. Tell us if there’s life after death.” He says, “We don’t have the answer. As a scientist I have to deal with things that can be seen, felt, weighed and measured. We can’t prove that there’s life after death. But in all honesty, we can’t disprove it either.” “Well, thank you for being honest in saying there may be life after death, Mr. Scientist.”
“Mr. Philosopher, will you tell me if there’s life after death? You deal in the realm of thought and reason, so tell us if there’s life after death.” He says, “Our observation is, as we study man that he hopes to live again. It’s in his instinct that he hopes to. But we can’t say for certain that man will live again.”
There’s a painting in Boston called: The End of the Trail. It’s a painting of an old Indian sitting upon his pony. They’ve come to a ravine and you can tell that both the Indian and the pony are very aged and facing death. The ravine pictures death. The old pony, being an animal, has his head bent over looking down into that ravine. But the old, weather-beaten Indian sitting astride that pony has his arms outstretched. He’s expecting more. He doesn’t know what, but there’s something about man that causes him to expect more.
All we can say as a scientist is, “Maybe.” All we can say as a philosopher is, “Man hopes to live for ever.”
So we go to the historian. “Mr. Historian, you’ve studied history and know the nature of anthropology. Tell us, will man live again?” He says, “We’ve studied the record of history and can tell you that man expects to live again. All people everywhere expect to live again.” “Thank you, Mr. Historian, but I was looking for something better than that. I don’t want maybe, or hope, or expectation; I want something that’s sure.”
So I go to the teacher of ethics and say, “Tell me, you have studied right and wrong. You know what ought to be and what ought not to be. In your study of moral order can you tell me if man will live again?” He tells me, “Man ought to live again. It’s only fair that man should live again. If there’s no Heaven, there ought to be one. If there’s no Hell, there ought to be one. The same shouldn’t happen to Adolph Hitler and Corrie Tin Boom.” But I don’t want to know what ought to be. I want to know, “If a man die, shall he live again?”
Let’s ask the Apostle Paul. I’m tired of scientists, and philosophers, and moralists, and historians. Is there an answer from God? “Paul, if a man die, shall he live again?” “Yes.” “How do you know, Paul?” “I know because I met the risen Savior on the Damascus road. I know that Jesus lives. God has taught me by revelation that man shall live again.” “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Why is dying gain, Paul? He says in Philippians 1:23-24, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”
Paul says, “If I had my way, I’d check out right now. I want to be with Christ.” That word “depart” is one of the richest words in this text. It was a nautical term used by sailors. It meant to loose the moorings and to set sail. So, when a Christian dies, it’s like loosing the moorings and setting sail.
Have you ever been to the harbor and watched a ship sail out to sea? There are people on the dock who have loved ones on that ship. They wave their handkerchiefs and blow kisses. Some of them stay there until the ship dips over the horizon. You can hear them say, “There she goes.”
But the ships destination is another harbor on the other side of that horizon. There are people standing there saying, “Here she comes!”
That’s what death is like for the child of God. We stand on this shore and say, “Oh, they’re gone!” But they’re not gone. They’re on their way to Jesus and to a reunion with all the saints of all the ages.
Suppose babies in their mother’s womb had some way to talk to each other. Two babies are talking about a third baby who was just born and given to loving parents. One of the babies in its mother’s womb says to the other one, “Say, did you hear about Sam? Sam passed on. Too bad about Sam.”
But what has Sam passed on to? He’s passed on to a loving mom and dad! Folks, we’re living in the womb of time and we’re getting ready to be born into eternity! Paul says, “I have a desire to just loose the moorings and sail on out of here!”
But this wasn’t just a nautical term: it was also a military term. In the military it meant to take down your tent and move on. The Apostle Paul was tired of living in that old tent. He would one day drop this robe of flesh and go on to the everlasting prize. He would be clothed with a heavenly body.
Paul says, “Don’t drive your tent pegs too deep, because we’re moving out soon.” This world is not our home, we’re just passing through.
I want you to reach into your pocket and get that invisible fountain pen you have there. And I want you to get that invisible piece of paper on the table there. I don’t want your neighbor to see what you’re writing….that’s why we’re using the invisible stuff. You know who you’re sitting by. You know they’d peek if they could! So use your invisible ink and finish this sentence: For me to live is __________.
Don’t put the answer you think should go there. I want you to be brief and honest. Write down the thing that means the most to you….because that’s what it means for you to live for it.
Some of you will have to write: For me to live is money. Some of you will write: For me to live is pleasure. Some of you will try to be a little more noble so you’ll write: For me to live is church work. Others will write: For me to live is family. Another will write: For me to live is education. Another will write: For me to live is popularity.
Have you written down your answer? Were you honest? Read it back to yourself. If you’ve written anything other than: For me to live is Christ, then you must finish the sentence this way: For me to die is loss.
Suppose you wrote: For me to live is money. Then for you to die is loss because you can’t take your money with you. Someone asked, “How much did Howard Hughes leave when he died?” Answer: He left it all!
You say: For me to live is pleasure. All right, finish it. For me to die is loss. There are no fun and games in a Christ-less grave.
Maybe you wrote: For me to live is family. Then for you to die is loss because you’re going to kiss them all goodbye.
If you’ve written anything other than: For me to live is Christ, then you are an idolater.
Becky is second in my life….and she likes it that way. I’m second in her life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She loves me better because she loves Jesus the most.
Some of you are living because you want the acclaim of this world. You’re saying: For me to live is popularity and fame. But dying will be loss for you. You’re not going to be satisfied making the Who’s Who list in Hell! Time and decay will pull down all your monuments.
If you wrote: For me to live is education, then dying will be a loss for you. One of these days that brain will turn to dust and your education will be nothing more than splendid ignorance if you don’t know Jesus.
Paul says, “For me to live is Christ! He’s the source of my life, He’s the subject of my life, He’s the song of my life, He’s the satisfaction of my life, He’s the strength of my life, He’s the supply of my life. Therefore, praise God, for me to die is gain!”
Are you ready to die? Unless the Lord comes first, you’re going to die. What’s the most important thing in your life?
A man who’d lived for Jesus for many years was dying. Some of his loved ones came to see him on his deathbed. One of them said, “Dad, would you sign your name to this legal document before you go on? Dad, if you would, it would help us with a whole lot of legal difficulties that we might otherwise have. We hate to mention it now, but would you please sign your name? It needs to be done.”
Facing eternity, the old man, with a quivering hand, took the pen and signed his name. They said, “Thank you, dad.”
Shortly after that he was looking upon the face of Jesus whom he loved. And when they picked up the document and looked, to their amazement he had signed: J-E-S-U-S….the only name that meant anything to him at that time.
Folks, you may think that something is important right now, but there’s coming a time when the only name that will mean anything to you is J-E-S-U-S.
If you wrote anything else on your paper, wouldn’t you like to take this opportunity to erase it? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. And just as the Lord began a good work in the Apostle Paul, He’ll begin one in you.
That doesn’t mean you’ll all of a sudden become perfect. No one in this room is perfect, but Philippians 1:6 says, “He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”