To Live is Christ (Phil. 1:18b-26)

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A Reason to Live

Philippians 1:18b-26  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,  for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted 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 go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith,  so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

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In our last study (click here), we saw that Paul was in jail for his faith, for he was well-known for his preaching of the Good News about Jesus Christ.  Whereas he had proclaimed the truth outside in public view before, now he was imprisoned and being called on by God to defend the Gospel privately in the Roman courts and judicial system.

His words in the previous verses show his concern for the Philippians as he tried to encourage their spirits and realize that his imprisonment ultimately was bringing about good for the advancement of the Gospel.  In these verses though, we see that Paul has taken a close look at what had happened to him and realized that he was at a crossroad in his life.  He knew that God was quite capable of rescuing him from the situation, but at the same time, he recognized the possibility that he might die as a prisoner.

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As I think about what Paul is saying here, “Living is good, but dying is better,” I must take this in context and see this is a statement of great faith, not the last wish of a desperate man.  Since his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus (see Acts chapter 9), Paul had spent pretty much every day of his life serving the cause of Christ, proclaiming the Gospel, and planting churches across lower Asia and southern Europe.

For Paul, the most real and most meaningful thing to do on earth was to bring honor to Christ in everything he did.  But as he contemplated his possible death, he said that would be even better.  Why?  Because he knew that he would spend eternity with his Saviour in the glorious realms of Heaven.  The struggle for Paul was that he felt caught between living and helping people for Christ’s sake, or to die and to be with Christ forever.

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Now I will be very honest here and say that I am in no way close to the man that Paul was.  I do identify though with his desire to serve Christ throughout his entire life.  Except for a few minor detours, most of my life has been in training for Christian service, or has been in active pastoral or missionary service.  To contemplate anything else seems unthinkable.

I will be honest though and say that in these past three years of living with my muscle disease, that I had despaired of being of any use to the Kingdom as I secluded myself at home while enduring the constant fatigue and pain.  But then I had a good talk with God about this (and my wife, bless her soul), and came up with a similar attitude as Paul’s in this passage.

I was determined to do as Paul said, to “exalt Christ in my body“.  The literal Greek phrase here is, “I will cause Christ to be honored (magnified/exalted) in my body”.  The words “in my body” could be translated as “in everything I do”.  It is the idea of showing great respect “to a person on the basis of the importance of such an individual”.  Now I believe that no man must be ultimately put up in such high esteem that all others should bow before them.  Only the Man, Jesus Christ deserves this honor.

What I have found while I carry this disease in my body, is that as I continue to offer my service to Him, traveling to do His work (especially in the area of helping to bring God’s Word to people in their own language), is that people give praise to God as they see Him working in and through me.  I have truly seen more people blessed while I work with this infirmity, than I did while I was strong and healthy.

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The point that I see Paul making in this passage is that what we do in this life is meant to bring honor to Christ.  And one of the main reasons why God allows us to remain alive on earth after we have given our lives to Him, is that there are others to whom we are to minister in the name of Christ.  This coincides with what Paul says, that he wanted to see them “grow in their faith” and to have “a deep sense of joy” in their faith.

That too is my prayer.  For many years I have been a Bible translator and now recently, a consultant to translations.  In these past 6 months, God has also opened up this “Armchair Ministry” of The Listening Post.  But even if it is to simply nurture the faith of my family members, attend my small group Bible study, or be a good neighbor, I have learned and am still learning that I am here to “live for Christ”, and to honor him in whatever I am doing.

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God’s Perspective (Phil. 1:12-18a)

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Looking At Things From God’s Perspective

Philippians 1:12-18a  Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

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In our study of Philippians, it was hinted at in verse 7 that Paul had suffered imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel.  Now he makes it very explicit that he in fact is a prisoner, and it is because he preached Christ that he is in chains and being called on to defend publicly the claims of Christianity.  Meanwhile, there are some Christians who continue to preach Christ, but not out pure motives, but out of selfish motives which are causing a disturbance among the true believers of Christ.

For this fledgling church in Philippi, things seem to look very bad.  The founder of their church, and the man who could be the most encouraging to them is in jail.  And there are glory-seekers and hot-shot “preachers” who appear to be causing trouble for this small, but growing Christian movement.  From their perspective, everything looks bad.  And so Paul writes these verses to show them that in reality, what looks bad, is in effect really a good thing.

Consider this quote, “The letter to the Philippians was written in part to address their concern for his circumstances in prison and its affect on his ministry. From their perspective, imprisonment meant a huge setback. Paul shatters this notion in 1:12, claiming that his circumstances actually served to advance the gospel rather than holding it back.”  (Runge, S. E. (2011). High Definition Commentary: Philippians. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

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I think this is an important spiritual principle of life for us to learn well.  What we may consider to be bad and detrimental to the advance of the Kingdom and God’s work, can actually be something that God can use in a more powerful way than we can ever imagine.  Romans 8:28 promises us that God can bring good out of every situation.  I have seen that to be very true in these last three years of my ministry and life.

At the beginning of 2008, I felt like I was on top of the world in my ministry experience.  And in fact, I was being asked to help with training nationals in East Africa, to return to Papua New Guinea on a regular basis as a translation consultant, to help open up a new field of work in the subcontinent of Asia, to teach new missionary recruits in the States, and to be the head of our mission group in Canada.  And then this muscle disease hit.

I literally went from being a globe-trotter to barely walking across our living room floor.  Over the coming months of 2008, every aspect of global ministry had to be released and let go except for occasional trips to PNG to do consultant checking work.  I thought that it was the end of my ministry life.  But instead, as I trust God to give me strength, I have seen God bless others in mighty ways that I might never have seen happen before as they witnessed God’s power working through me to get this work done.

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The second thing that discouraged the Philippian believers was seeing many other people “preaching the gospel” but in such a way that these people were getting all the attention and glory.  Paul talks about these kinds of people and he uses the Greek word “eritheia“.  This is a strong word and can be translated as “rivalry” or perhaps better “selfish ambition”.

The “Translator’s Notes on Philippians” says that “Paul meant that these people wanted to be important. They wanted people to respect them and obey them rather than Paul, so they tried to get more people to follow them than Paul had.”  Do you remember the evangelistic fiasco of Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker?  Or the scandal caused by Jimmy Swaggart?  What shame they gave to true Christians.

And then I recall meeting a missionary in the back hills of Honduras in 1979.  He spoke of all the thousands of dollars that he had gotten churches to donate to his work of planting churches.  Meanwhile, he had built himself a virtual rustic mansion as he did his work of “ministering” to the nationals.  I heard a few years later that his financial “irregularities” caused him to resign and fade back into American life.

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So what are we to think about these kinds of Christians who speak about Christ, but are often in it more for the money and the glory?  Paul says in verse 18, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.”  I must say that I feel bad for those who were hurt or disillusioned by these Christian hot-shots.  But then I also have to recognize that there were still many true and lasting decisions for Christ made under the Bakker’s work or under Swaggart.  And there are still some good functioning churches up in the hills of Honduras.

So the bottom line is this:  we are to serve our God with integrity and honesty.  And we are even to be thankful for the fruit that is borne even by these masquerading Christian leaders.  Above all else, we are to give thanks to God whenever the name of Jesus is exalted, whatever the motive might be.  We are to rejoice in this, just like Paul did while he was in prison.

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