Faithlife Sermons

Honoring Christ in Life or Death

Philippians   •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Your word, O God, is sweeter than honey. It is life to our very souls. You have given it to us that we might know You, and serve You, and find our delight in You. So, as we come now to study a portion of it, we ask that You would see fit to open our eyes to see the truth. Quicken our minds that we may understand the truth. Stir our hearts that we may love the truth. God, grant that through the preaching of Your word we would grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is for His sake that we ask it. Amen. I invite you to turn in your Bible to . As you find that place, please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
“For me to live is me, and to die is terrible.” I think that’s closer to the way most people in the world actually feel. But a person who feels that way will not honor Christ in life. And they will not honor Christ in death. And that’s what I want to talk to you about tonight, Honoring Christ in Life or Death.
The Apostle Paul was writing from prison. He told the Philippian believers that his imprisonment had actually turned out for the good of the gospel. He said he believed both he and the gospel would be vindicated when all was said and done. He said, “Whether I am released from prison, or executed, Christ will be honored. He will be honored if I live. He will be honored if I die.” Verse 20 says it this way, “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” How does he know that? That’s what he tells us beginning in verse 21. You could begin verse 21 with the word because. Paul says, “Christ will be honored in my life or in my death because I long to leave, but I live to labor.”
So how can we honor Christ in life or death? I want to call you attention to three elements in the text that will help us answer that question.

I. A perspective to adopt (V 21)

Honoring Christ in life or death begins with having the right attitude regarding life and death. We must have a biblical perspective toward both life and death. And we see what that perspective is in verse 21. First, we see the believer’s perspective toward life. “For me to live is Christ.” Paul is saying, “Christ is the motive for all that I do. Christ is the inspiration in all that I do. Christ is the goal of all that I do.” Just like all the planets in our solar system revolve around the sun, which is at the center. For Paul, Christ was at the center. Every single aspect of his life revolved around the Son of God. As believers, you and I should see our lives the same way. As long as I am alive my reason is Christ. How different that is from most people in our society.
Philippians 2:21 NASB95
For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.
But this shouldn’t be true of believers.
Most people live in the service of self. Believers live in the service of Christ. Most people live to gain the treasures of earth. Believers live to gain treasure in Christ’s kingdom. “To live is Christ” means that every thought, word, and deed is aimed at pleasing Him. Every pursuit has Christ as the driving force behind it. He is the first consideration in every decision. And the first priority in every endeavour. Your purpose for your life should be to accomplish His purpose for your life. Your perspective on life should be this: “Christ is the Son at the center of my life and every part of it revolves around Him. My work, my family, my relationships, my hobbies, my finances, my dreams, my plans. It’s all about Christ.” That’s the right perspective for those who want to honor Christ in life.
Colossians 3:4 NASB95
When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
Most people live in the service of self. Believers live in the service of Christ. Most people live to gain the treasures of earth. Believers live to gain treasure in Christ’s kingdom. “To live is Christ” means that every thought, word, and deed is aimed at pleasing Him. Every pursuit has Christ as the driving force behind it. He is the first consideration in every decision. And the first priority in every endeavour. Your purpose for your life should be to accomplish His purpose for your life. Your perspective on life should be this: “Christ is the Son at the center of my life and every part of it revolves around Him. My work, my family, my relationships, my hobbies, my finances, my dreams, my plans. It’s all about Christ.” That’s the right perspective for those who want to honor Christ in life.
But we also see the right perspective for those who want to honor Christ in death. “To die is gain.” The word “gain” simply means profit. Paul is telling us that he considers death a profit, not a loss. He is saying, “for me to die would be to my benefit.” Think about it. No more struggle against sin. No more longing to see the Savior. No more suffering and pain. For Paul death would mean a transfer from a Roman prison to a royal palace. The Christian lives this life in preparation for the next life. That means our earthly life isn’t what we value most. Most people in the world view death as something to be avoided at all costs. Why? Because death steals from them everything they value. But for believers death is the doorway to everything we value.
2 Corinthians 5:6–8 NASB95
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
Your death will not honor God if in dying you feel you are leaving behind everything that matters most. If you want to honor Christ in life or death you need the right perspective. And here it is. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Or to say it another way. Christ is what I live for in life and what I long for in death. So, this is the perspective to adopt. But if we’re going to honor Christ in life or death there is also a tension to feel.

II. A tension to feel (Vv 22-24)

There is a tension Paul felt. On the one hand there is the desire to continue in this life and labor for the Lord. On the other hand there is the desire to go and be with the Lord in glory. What I want you to see is that the presence of this tension honors Christ. This is a tension all believers should feel. As long as Paul remained alive he had the opportunity to work hard for Christ. And he had confidence that his hard work would produce results that would honor Christ. That’s exactly what we see in verse 22. So, for the Christian, to live is to labor. As long as we live we have the opportunity and privilege of working hard for Christ’s honor.
On the other hand, to die would mean to go and be with Christ. Paul knows that he doesn’t get to decide if he lives or dies. His point is that given the choice as to how his imprisonment would play out, he’s torn between staying on earth and working for Christ. Or going to heaven to be with Christ. Look at verse 23. “Hard pressed” paints the picture of someone standing with a wall on either side, pressing in so close that he cannot run to the right or left. His personal desire would be to depart and be with Christ. The word “depart” has been used to describe a ship being untied in port and released to set sail. Paul is saying, I would rather set sail for glory to be with my Savior, for that is far better.” Far better has the sense of “much more than a better thing.”
Can you sense the tension here? As long as we live we can work hard and produce fruit for His glory. But if we die we will be with Him in paradise. We honor Christ when we see life as an opportunity to work hard for His glory. And we honor Christ when we desire above all things to be with Him and see Him in all His glory. When we feel this tension it means Christ is our first concern in life, and our first concern in death. That’s how it should be. That honors Christ.
Suppose a man is torn between two job offers. One job would pay enough that his wife wouldn’t have to work outside the home. But he would have to work 6 days a week. The other job would give him Saturdays off so he and his wife could spend the day together. On the one hand he wants her to have the freedom to be home if she wants to. But on the other hand he wants to have that extra day off so he can spend time with her. In both cases his first thought is his wife. But no matter which job he chooses, his wife will be honored. Can you see that? When we feel the tension between living to labor for Christ and wanting to go be with Christ, He is honored no matter what happens.
If we want to honor Christ in life or death there is a perspective to adopt, and there is a tension to feel. And we can also see that there is a resolution to make.

III. A resolution to make (Vv 25-26)

Paul didn’t have the freedom to choose if his imprisonment would end in life or death. But he did come to a conclusion about the matter. Paul said in verse 24 that he knew it would be better for the Philippians if he stayed alive. Knowing that, Paul decides that given the choice he would choose to remain here. In verse 25 he tells us why? It is for the Philippians “progress and joy in the faith” that Paul desires to remain. The faith can be seen in two ways. It can be the beliefs that we hold to as Christians. Or it can refer to our Christian life and experience. Paul’s reason for wanting to be released from prison was to help the Philippians grow in their knowledge of Christ. He also wants them to make progress in their actual living of the Christian faith. We might call it growth in Christian maturity. He wants them to grow in Christian knowledge and maturity. And he wants them to find greater joy in these things. And Paul wanted to remain alive so that the Philippians would glorify Christ when they had the chance to see him again. Paul made a resolution. “I want to leave but as long as I live I’m going to labor.” That’s the resolution you and I as believers need to make. I long to be with Christ, but I resolve that as long as I am alive I will work hard for the glory of Christ.
And Paul wanted to remain so that the Philippians would glorify Christ when they had the chance to see him again.
After graduating from Edinburgh University at age fourteen in 1827 and leading a Presbyterian congregation of over a thousand at age twenty-three, Robert Murray McCheyne worked so hard that his health finally broke. Before dying at age twenty-nine he wrote, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message.” It’s not that he didn’t want to go be with Christ. But he wanted to live so he could continue to work for the Lord and reach people with the gospel.
You will not honor Christ if the reason you want to live is to indulge your sinful appetites. If your own personal pleasure is the reason you want to stay here, your life will not honor Christ. As a church, and as individuals, we need to understand that as long as we live our responsibility is to use our gifts, talents, and resources for the cause of Christ. And we need to resolve that we will do that.
Ephesians 4:11–13 NASB95
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11–12 NASB95
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

Big Idea: Long to leave, but live to labor.

God appointed certain men to work in His kingdom. And their work in the kingdom is to equip all other believers to work in the kingdom. This means everyone from the pulpit to the pew has a work to do in the kingdom.

Big Idea: Long to leave, but live to labor.

You will not honor Christ if the reason you want to live is to indulge your sinful appetites. If your own personal pleasure is the reason you want to stay here, your life will not honor Christ. As a church, and as individuals, we need to understand that as long as we live our responsibility is to use our gifts, talents, and resources for the cause of Christ. And we need to resolve that we will do that.

Big Idea: Long to leave, but live to labor.

Big Idea: Long to leave, but live to labor.

What did Paul mean by his statement in verse 21?
I pray that your sincere desire is to honor Christ in life or death. If that’s going to happen you need to adopt the right perspective. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” You need to feel the tension between want to live on and labor, and wanting to go be with Christ. And finally, you need to resolve that as long as you are here you are going to work hard for Christ. Let me try to summarize it this way. This is how you honor Christ in life or death. Long to leave, but live to labor.
What would an attitude like Paul’s look like in your life?
What would an attitude like Paul’s look like in your life?
“Lord, my heart’s desire is to be with you and see your glory in all its fullness. Nothing could be better than that. But as long as you see fit for me to remain here I will work hard for You.” I want to close with the words of a hymn. But I am going to change one word.
What are some of the things in this life that distract you from the hope of eternity?
What are some of the things in this life that distract you from the hope of eternity?
Rise up, O church of God!
How does Paul’s definition of life differ from how many people today view the purpose of life? Where do you see this tension most clearly lived out in our community?
How does Paul’s definition of life differ from how many people today view the purpose of life? Where do you see this tension most clearly lived out in our community?
Have done with lesser things.
Why did Paul consider that it would be a personal advantage to die? Why was he willing to lay aside this desire to continue his ministry with the Philippian Christians?
Why did Paul consider that it would be a personal advantage to die? Why was he willing to lay aside this desire to continue his ministry with the Philippian Christians?
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
How would your life be different if we all sacrificed our personal interests in an effort to minister to others in the group? How would our group be different?
How would your life be different if we all sacrificed our personal interests in an effort to minister to others in the group? How would our group be different?
To serve the King of Kings.
What impact did Paul hope his ministry would have on the Philippian Christians?
What impact did Paul hope his ministry would have on the Philippian Christians?
What in our culture makes it difficult to focus on Christ above everything else? What’s at stake if Christians prioritize these things above Christ?
What in our culture makes it difficult to focus on Christ above everything else? What’s at stake if Christians prioritize these things above Christ?
“For me, to live is . . .” Given your priorities and schedule this week, how would you honestly finish this sentence? What needs to change in your own life in order for you to be able to agree completely with Paul?
“For me, to live is . . .” Given your priorities and schedule this week, how would you honestly finish this sentence? What needs to change in your own life in order for you to be able to agree completely with Paul?
What are some things that might happen in our community if everyone at our church lived their lives solely for Christ and His work through them?
What are some things that might happen in our community if everyone at our church lived their lives solely for Christ and His work through them?
How does the gospel give you confidence in life? In death? Read to help you answer.
How does the gospel give you confidence in life? In death? Read to help you answer.
Who do you have the opportunity to impact with your confidence in Christ and your ministry of the gospel?
Who do you have the opportunity to impact with your confidence in Christ and your ministry of the gospel?
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