Friday, June 3, 2022

To Live is Christ. To Die is Gain.

 Read Philippians 1

The city of Philippi was named after Philip, King of Macedonia.  Philip was father to Alexander, whom we know as Alexander the Great.  Alexander’s empire had come and gone.  It did leave much of the world with a common language—Greek.

The age of the New Testament writings belonged to the Romans. Philippi was a Roman Colony.  What’s that mean?  It was Rome outside of Rome.  It was less a conquered city than an extension of Rome itself.  There were many Roman soldiers and officers who retired to Philippi.

After the assassination of Julius Caesar, there was a struggle for power in Rome.  Octavian was the ultimate winner.  The decisive battle took place near Philippi.  You know Octavian better as Caesar Augustus.

Paul’s second missionary journey began in Asia Minor as had his first, but it brought him west to the city of Troas.  It was there that he received a vision to continue into Macedonia.  Among his first stops was Philippi.

Paul had visited Philippi more than once.  On his first visit, there was no Synagogue, so he went to the riverside and found Hebrew believers and shared the good news.  Paul shared the gospel with all in this very Roman city, and many came to believe.

This was an organized church.  It’s hard to tell exactly how much time Paul had in Philippi, but he had enough to organize the church with elders and deacons.  There was some order in place to continue growing in God’s grace.

He did a little prison time in Philippi, but not much.  God had other plans for him.  Part of that plan was to bring the jailer himself—and his family to Christ.

Paul wrote this letter to these believers while being imprisoned in Rome.  The Philippi believers sent Paul a monetary gift of some sort and he was thankful for it.

Paul was thankful for much more than that gift. He was thankful that this church body was continuing its good work.  He was thankful that they stood ready to suffer for the gospel.

The first part of his letter contained words that are so familiar to us today, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

We are very much a work in progress.  We are one hundred percent saved from sin and death.  We were given right-standing with God in the blood of Jesus.  We are his masterpiece, but he has not finished working on us yet, and he will not stop.

We grow in God’s grace.

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It’s a prayer.  It’s an affirmation.  It’s our life.  While we take words of salvation to the world, God is still working on us.

Paul has a little monologue on his personal situation as he begins this letter.  He notes that he is in chains because he followed God’s will and spread the gospel to much of the known world.

We don’t know if Paul is being literal or metaphorical.  It’s most likely the latter with Paul having his liberty restricted.  Perhaps house arrest might be more accurate, or he could be chained to a wall.  In any case, his ministry was restricted to the palace guards and to his letters and messengers.

As he writes, he shares his personal thoughts. Here’s my 2022 paraphrase.

Oh, how great the reward to have these pagans take my life.  They would think they had achieved a victory of some sort, but the victory would be mine.  I would be with the Lord. I would be with Christ Jesus.  The crown of righteousness would be mine.  I would be in his presence for all eternity.

But how important is the mission that Christ gave to me!  He told me that I would suffer for his name. It is for his name.  This is the greatest thing that I have ever done.  I thought I was doing great things as a Pharisee, persecuting those who followed the way of Jesus, but I was wrong.  Christ himself set me right and gave me the most important mission of my life.

I am to take the gospel of life in Christ Jesus to the world.  Who am I to decide when that mission is over?

To live is to stay on mission.  To die is to know my reward.  I remain on mission until Christ himself tells me:  Mission Accomplished.

Here are Paul’s words translated into modern-day English. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Here is the way Tom explains it every year or so.  Who here is ready for Jesus to come and claim his own right now?  Who is ready?  Raise your hands.

Now here’s Tom being onery. Who here has shared the gospel with everyone they need to?  Raise your hands.

The number of hands in the air should have been the same.  Jesus, you can come and get me now.  I have done all the work that you gave me.

But, can any of us truly say that?  Have any of us talked to everyone who needs to hear the gospel from us?

The truth is that we will never know who might cross our paths at any given time.  For whom are we the designated messenger? Yes, we think of paradise, but our mission in the here and now often involves some suffering.

We don’t suffer all the time. We know abundant life in those wonderful moments and in those where we suffer for the name of Jesus.  We are to stand ready to see our mission—our commission—to the end. 

Most of us are blessed that we are not in prison or not without a place to live.  Our problems are what we now call first-world problems.  Few among us worry about where we will sleep or our next meal.

We may not like our accommodations.  We may not like beans and rice three times a week.  We may not have the smartest phone on the market, but we are blessed beyond measure.  We might just be blind to those blessings.

Paul noted personal satisfaction in continuing his mission.  He said, that he knows for him to continue, you may also continue to boast in Christ Jesus.  You may suffer in this world, but take heart, Christ Jesus has overcome the world.

You note that those last words came from John the apostle.  Don’t you love it when the words of those sent into the world by Jesus himself are in one accord.

Paul noted that it was something special to have received the salvation of God and the suffering that comes with it.  That sounds a little crazy.  Try it this way.

It is good to have received salvation through the blood of Christ Jesus and it is good for the world to disown you because you belong to the Lord.

We cannot serve two masters.  We are blessed to enjoy our lives, but our lives truly belong to the Lord and we stand ready to endure whatever comes our way to remain faithful to Christ Jesus and the mission that he gave.

To live is Christ.

To die is gain.

For now, we press on as we live for Christ in these remaining days that we have been given.


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