Dying to live - Living to die
What is the meaning of life? A question that has been asked for generations and millennia. Why are were here on earth and what’s the point of living? What’s is the point of our existence?
Now, this is deep stuff for a Sunday evening - and these are philosophical questions, and many of these questions come with answers that are as confusing as they are philosophical.
I did a Google image search on the meaning of life so that I could get some quotes for the powerpoint without having to type them out. Here are a few...
This last one is interesting...
The meaning of life is just to be alive. As if being alive and living is all that we have to do. That’s fine if you’re an animal.
But when it comes to our purpose in life - we need to be clear on what that is. Because, we call ourselves a Christian, then we have a purpose to our lives and fulfilling that purpose will bring glory to God and honour to Jesus… but not fulfilling that purpose will bring shame and dishonour.
Today we’re going to take a long hard look at ourselves and ask ourselves if we are really truly living up to our PURPOSE as a Christian.
You see, if you’re not a Christian, your purpose in life can kinda be whatever you want it to be. You’re your own boss, so to speak, so you can pick one of those definitions that we just saw and run with it.
Be the best you can. Be yourself. Choose life…whatever…or at least that’s what they think.
But if you ARE a Christian, then your purpose in life is completely different. And if you’re a Christian you’re NOT your own boss. Your life ISN’T your own - you’ve been bought at a price. Christ has shed his blood and paid a price for YOU, releasing you from slavery. So YOUR purpose is whatever God says it is.
The problem is that in our society, so many Christians don’t really think of their lives like that. So many people pray a prayer to Jesus in the hope that that will sort out their future in that they will go to heaven, because that’s the gospel that has been preached.
But so often they haven’t been told that the Christian life is MORE than the forgiveness of sins. So many people haven’t been told that their lives have to turn around, that their focus of living needs to be shifted off themselves and ONTO Jesus.
And so many Christians think that their life is still their own and they can do whatever they want with it. That they can live whatever way they want or DO whatever they want - and they can live for themselves but still go to heaven because they’ve ‘said a prayer’. Let me tell you that’s NOT the case.
There are many people, in our society, and let’s face it, in OUR CHURCH, who call themselves Christians but go about their everyday life with very little time for Jesus or serving him.
Take Samantha, for example...
Samantha calls herself a Christian. She goes to church on a Sunday morning. She works as a teacher, which is a busy job and she enjoys the down-time during the holidays. Samantha likes keeping fit and would attend the gym a few times a week for classes and socialising.
Or take Michael, for example...
Michael works for an accounting firm. He works long hours and is exhausted at the end of the day. He calls himself a Christian and he would attend church most Sundays. He plays golf on a Saturday, and also goes to football training every Monday night.
Anything wrong with these people? Of course, I haven’t told you their full story. But let’s say neither of them are caught in adultery or anything like that. They aren’t committing any blatant sin. Let’s say their marriages are good, they don’t overindulge in food or alcohol to the point of being sinful. They are good people....
AND YET, both of these people might not be fulfilling the purpose of their lives, because they are travelling through life with little thought for Jesus except for maybe on a Sunday morning.
For them - to live is NOT Christ.
In verse 20, Paul talks about his hope that he will not be ashamed but Christ will be honoured in his body whether in life or death.
SO now, let’s turn the spotlight on us (me included). Could it be, that we are bringing shame on ourselves and dishonouring Christ in our bodies without realising it?
Could it be that we are going along in our lives and blissfully unaware that we are NOT living up to our life’s purpose? Could it be that for some of us, to live is ‘me’, and Christ gets a tiny percentage for an hour or two on a Sunday?
Scary thought, isn’t it? And yet it’s a reality for many people in the world, in our country, in our churches, and - dare I say it - in this very church too.
So what do we do?
Well, to know what the meaning of life is for a Christian, we need to know what it means to be a Christian.
So let’s take a look at what it means to be a Christian from our passage today...
First of all, the term ‘Christian’ was first coined in Antioch and is reported in Acts 11:26...
And the term was used as a derogatory term - it was slagging off these people who followed Jesus Christ. But the Christians wore this title as a badge of honour.
But here’s the thing - the term means, ‘little Christ’ - like a miniature model of Christ - a replica - a scaled-down replica of Jesus himself.
And so when we call ourselves Christian, we are taking on the name or the title of Jesus - and we are therefore taking on all the characteristics of Jesus.
And so IF we call ourselves Christians. If we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, we HAVE TO be like him. We HAVE TO want what HE wanted. We have to have HIS goals.
Now, we fail in every area of this, but there needs to be a movement towards this.
The stark reality is that there are many many Christians in the world and in our churches in Northern Ireland and possibly even here who aren’t even trying to be a replica of Jesus - and that’s the frightening part. They’ve said their prayer and they THINK that that’s enough to get into heaven…and as a result there’s very little of Christ or his character in their lives and they aren’t bearing fruit… and you know what Jesus said happens to those who don’t bare fruit...
So, if being a Christian means being a scaled-down replica of Jesus - let’s get uncomfortable for a few minutes and ask ourselves, how do we compare to Jesus?
Because Jesus was about forgiveness. Jesus was about spending time with the Father. Jesus was about prayer. Jesus was about helping the poor and needy. Jesus was about loving our enemy. Jesus was about SERVING and sacrificing…and that’s where many of us haven’t even got off the starting blocks. But that’s where we can learn from Paul.
Because Paul was a ‘little Christ’ - he was the epitome of what it means to be a ‘Christian’ - and because of that he knew the meaning of life and it changed his whole outlook.
Paul is in prison, as we know, awaiting trial that could lead to his release or his death.
And if we’re looking on as non-Christians we would be forgiven to think that Paul’s release would be the better option. Not to Paul.
To Paul, death is the better option. Let’s look at verse 23...
I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;
Paul would rather die. But not in the sense that life had gotten on top of him and in his despair in prison he was crying for the Lord to take his life.
No - all along, Paul would rather die. In prison or at home. Paul would rather die. Now, let’s clarify something - he wasn’t suicidal. But in any area of life - in the bad times AND the good times, Paul would rather die because dying meant being with his Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ - and that changed his whole outlook on life.
Because if your GOAL is to die it changes how you live.
One of the commentators I used this week, the same one who translated Christian as ‘little Christ’ is a man called Stephen Lawson. He writes this...
No one is ready to live until they are ready to die. You must know that the end of your life is certain before you will joyfully risk danger day by day...
You see, when I say that even in the good times Paul would rather die, we think to ourselves, ‘how sad.’ And we think that way because the society we live in makes us think that death is awful, that it’s the end. That death is a bad thing. That after death there is nothing.
But for a Christian that’s should be our goal too…but Being with Christ in death will only be our goal if we’re with Christ in our life.
Having our eyes fixed on eternity with Jesus will only be our desire if to live IS Christ. Because if to live ISN’T Christ, we may not be sure where we’re going when we die.
In other words, the more our lives are all about Jesus, about learning from him and living FOR him and serving him - the more our LIVES are about Jesus, the less scary death becomes, because death means being with that same Jesus forever.
In fact it makes your last day on earth the best day of your life!
But for those who aren’t Christians then death doesn’t just mean losing life. It means losing everything. And for the humanist society we live in, death IS bad.
Paul was able to say...
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
And, like I said, that should be our goal as Christians - to be able to say that too.
So if we aren’t living for Christ then the phrase becomes this...
For to me, to live is __________ and to die is ___________
Fill in the blanks yourself...
To live is money, to die is leaving it all behind.
To live is to be popular, to die is to be forgotten.
To live is friends and family, to die is to lose them.
The only way death can be seen as gain over life, is if to live IS Christ.
If we orient our lives TOWARDS Jesus and make our lives all ABOUT Jesus, then, and only then can we see death as better than life. Because death means departing and being with Christ, which is far better than life.
I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;
So for me to be able to say, ‘for me, to live is Christ,’ my life must be all about Christ. My life must be all about serving him and loving him and knowing him and being with him…
That’s why we go to church, midweek, read our bibles - to learn from him and so that our lives are all about him.
Now we’re on a journey in this - but the more our lives are all about Jesus the easier it is to travel through life and into death, because death means being with our Lord forever.
But while Paul would rather be with Christ, he knew that living meant more to those to whom he was ministering.
If the trial granted Paul’s release, then he could go on ministering and preaching the gospel...
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!
Paul could say that because his whole life was serving Jesus - and so living meant more souls saved and more people preached to and a greater spread of the gospel.
To PAUL, the meaning of life was to BE Christ, to be a ‘little Christ’ and serve Christ, and work at telling everyone about Jesus - that was what life meant to Paul.
That’s what being a 'Christian’ means. It’s not JUST saying a prayer and hoping you’ll get into heaven.
So back to us…back to Michael and Samantha....
What are they doing to serve Jesus? How are their lives serving him and spreading the gospel? How much time are they spending with Jesus during the week?
Ok, they have jobs and careers, possibly families. They’re busy. I get that - but where is the time for Jesus in their lives? Going to church once on a Sunday? Is that IT? If both of these people are not giving ANYTHING back to the Lord then how are they being ‘little Christs’? Can they honestly say that to live IS CHRIST?
And the frustrating thing is that if they would realise the joy it is to have more and more of Jesus in your life then every decision they make, every day they have can be an opportunity to live for Jesus and that, in turn, makes death even more rewarding.
What about us? Is being a Christian something you do on a Sunday?
In this church there are many who attend on Sunday morning or evening - just once a day, some maybe twice…
I’m going to ask a tough question - if that’s ALL we do, is that as much of Jesus that we need? Can you say that to live IS CHRIST? What about Monday to Saturday? How do we live for Jesus then, learn from Jesus throughout the week? How do we serve Jesus?
For so many people, if they’re honest, they can’t say, ‘for me to live is Christ.’ Because to them living is ONLY Christ for an hour on a Sunday.
In my adult life, I have heard so many people say time and time again that they don’t have time to come to the midweek - work is so busy and then there’s getting children to bed. And they can’t help out in anything in the church cos they don’t have the time...
AND YET they’d move heaven and earth to be at football training on a Monday night or at the Kingspan stadium on a Friday night, or they’re not too busy to play bowls a few evenings a week.
Think of Michael and Samantha - even though they say they’re busy and exhausted at the end of the day, they make sure they go to the gym or to football training.
So it’s NOT about being busy... it’s about priorities.
At a stage in my life, I used to make a similar excuse too. I used to say that I was tired after working and that I had children to put to bed etc. and that’s why I never came to the midweek, but then my priorities changed and I realised that if I was to be taken seriously in the church I needed to be committed to the midweek. When that happened, I went to the midweek - it wasn’t about being busy - it was because my priorities weren’t right.
Now what did that say about what my meaning of life was?
Thankfully, not all of us in this church are like these people I’ve been describing. There are MANY people here who are examples of what being a Christian or a scaled-down version of Christ is like. And if you can say that you’re striving for that I want to encourage you in that - you are fulfilling your purpose in life!
For some people here, they are striving to make their live all about Christ. It does my heart good when I come to a house to visit and there is a bible sitting on the coffee table or beside a chair. It does my heart good to see people come to the midweek to learn more about Jesus. It does my heart good to see people offer up some part of their week and serve the Lord at tots or to help out at funerals, or to visit people in the nursing homes as some of this congregation are doing.
Those people are living FOR CHRIST. They are working towards the goal of being able to say, ‘for me, to live is Christ’ - and I want to encourage those people because they are fulfilling their purpose in life.
And you know what - it does God’s heart good too.
Paul says this...
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.
For Paul, living meant SERVING Christ, dying meant being WITH Christ. It was a win win. But he knew that the Philippians needed him more than he needed to die.
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.
‘It’s more necessary for you that I stay alive. And so I will do whatever I can to stay alive for your progress and joy in the faith.’ Paul sacrificed his desire to be with Christ so that others could experience life with Christ.
And he did it because his live was ALL ABOUT CHRIST.
If we call ourselves 'Christians’ then we bear the name of Jesus and he calls us to serve him and make him our LIFE. Because when we make Jesus the meaning of our lives AND MAKE OUR LIVES ALL ABOUT HIM, it makes the meaning of our life so much more enriching and, in a strange way, it makes our death something to forward to.
I’m going to leave you with 2 stories, and then we’ll pray...
The first is from John Piper, who writes...
I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the Feb 1998 Reader’s Digest:
A couple took early retirement from their Jobs in the Northeast 5 years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot yacht, play softball and collect shells. Picture them before Christ on the great day of judgement - thinking they had lived the dream and had an amazing life - ‘look Lord, see my shells’ THAT is a tragedy.
Second story is this...
In 1555, Nicolaus Ridley, a former bishop of London, was burned at the stake in Oxford because of his beliefs. On the night before Ridley’s execution, his brother offered to remain with him in the prison chamber to be of assistance and comfort. Nicolaus declined the offer and replied that he meant to go to bed and sleep as quietly as ever he did in his life. Because he knew the peace of God, he could rest in the everlasting arms of his Lord to meet his need.
You can only think like in death when Christ is your life.