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A LIFE AND DEATH ISSUE   Philippians 1:19-26 Jul 19, 2009 Given by: Pastor Rich Bersett [Index of Past Messages] Introduction Once during an election season, an acquaintance of mine, an unbeliever, asked me candidly why it is that Christians get so bent out of shape about abortion when there are so many other pressing issues being debated in the public square, like unemployment, crime, poverty and women’s rights. The question came at me like a left hook and I was momentarily speechless. Then, in a rare moment of coming up with an intelligent response on the spot, I said, “I guess because it’s a life and death issue once you believe the fetus is a human life.” My friend was the speechless one after that. I like to think that my response not only answered his question, but raised a couple more for him. This morning we consider a brief text that deals with a life and death issue, particularly for the author of the letter, the apostle Paul. I’ve organized my thoughts about the passage with an outline of straight A’s. We will look for divine wisdom and direction about the Christian life by using Paul’s as our example, his Assurance, Ambition, Ambivalence and Affirmation. Stand with me and let’s pray to that end and remain standing for the reading of the Word. Philippians 1:19-26 I. Assurance Shackled though he was, for preaching the gospel, Paul seems to be quite a confident man in verses 19-20. He is rejoicing, not only that Christ is being preached in spite of the bad motives of some, but also because of the confidence he is feeling. Of what is he so assured? Well, after you walk among the prepositional phrases and dependent clauses of these two verses you come to it: deliverance. I know, I’m confident, strongly assured) that all that has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. Then, in verse 20, he adds that he eagerly expects and hopes for a victorious outcome. It appears Paul has a get-out-of-jail-free card. Not really! He makes it clear later that it is quite possible that he may die—either waiting in prison for his appeal, or (more likely) he may be executed as a result of the judgment against him. The jury is still out on this one (in this case, the jury isn’t even selected yet). So what does he mean by my deliverance? He means deliverance in a broader sense. You see, Paul was not only shackled by the physical bars and chains of the prison. He was also, as you and I are, a prisoner of this life—its pain and disappointments, its worries and concerns, and (in Paul’s case) persecution, beatings, imprisonments and constant trials with the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities. For the Christian, who has in his heart the hope of all that is to come in heaven, the struggles of this life make us wish we were already there. He says it later on: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. Friends in Christ, this is deliverance at its very best. We long to be home with the Lord, especially when this sin-riddled world turns up the heat on us Christians, when the labor of trying to live in holiness is intense and when the evil around us chafes like sandpaper on the skin. Wouldn’t you sometimes love to just trade in your life on the new model? One day we will. I believe Paul used the term deliverance intentionally to cover both options: he might get out of jail, or he might be dead within a few days. His deliverance (which is shorthand for the moment the Lord steps in) isn’t contingent on his release or his execution. Either way, he is delivered, and it is a spiritual victory! Please notice there are two strong reasons why his circumstances will turn out for his deliverance. Verse 20 says through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Let me say this as clearly and emphatically as I can: there is great power, authority and efficacy in the prayers we pray for one another. Paul was a master intercessor himself. He could have prayed for himself, and we can be sure he did, but he counted on the prayer support that only brothers, sisters can provide. The second reason for his assurance, he says, is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. There is no question in any of our hearts about our innate weakness and how desperately we rely on the power only the Spirit of God can give us. Just think how these intercessions and the power of the Spirit work in tandem, the prayers of the saints around you stirring up the Holy Spirit in you who empowers you for the work to which you are called, and the Spirit calling and urging the brethren to pray for one another. Paul says these strategic Christian resources are what bring him this strong assurance of his deliverance, both temporal and eternal. My brothers and sisters, never flag in your zeal in these two vital categories: keep on praying for one another, and keep on being filled with God’s precious Holy Spirit. II. Ambition But there is something even more powerful than that assurance at work in Paul, and that is his ambition. You know, his life is not dependant on his getting out of jail. He is centered on something far grander. He wants more than anything else for God be glorified through his life. He eagerly expects and hopes that he will have sufficient courage to stay the course, to remain com- mitted and vigilant in his ministry, so that Christ will be exalted. This is the goal and ambition of the apostle, and the ambition of anyone who has been purchased with the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 2:9 says that’s why God saved us and made us his chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, SO THAT we may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. That is the Christian’s ambition. If you are living for lesser things, you are living beneath the privilege of the higher purpose God wants for you. Paul says it doesn’t matter whether Christ is exalted in his life (should he be freed from prison to keep serving Him), or exalted in his death (if he is martyred for the sake of the gospel). Paul is the stellar disciple: living to serve Jesus, willing to die for Him. Less than a week before Martin Burnham's abduction by Muslim guerrillas on the Philippine island of Palawan in May 2001, the New Tribes missionary gave the devotional at a Wednesday evening service at Rose Hill Bible Church in his small hometown outside Wichita. Some of Burnham's last words in the United States were also the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John, said Ralph Burnham, Martin's uncle, during yesterday morning's service at the church. "His very last words were, 'Follow thou me,'" Ralph Burnham said, his voice choking up. "Martin not only spoke of following him, but he took on that responsibility. Of course, at that time neither he nor any of us expected how far he was going to be required to go to. But he was willing to go." Martin Burnham, 42, kept that attitude throughout the 376 days he and his wife, Gracia, 43, were held captive by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. Just before a Philippine military raid on the kidnappers that led to Martin's death and Gracia's freedom, the two huddled together in a hammock under a makeshift tent. "Martin and Gracia had really been thinking that there would be a chance that they would not make it out alive," said Martin's brother, Doug, relying on a phone conversation with Gracia. "Martin said to Gracia, 'The Bible says to serve the Lord with gladness. Let's go out all the way. Let's serve him all the way with gladness.'" The two then prayed in their hammock, recited Scripture verses to each other, and sang. They laid down to rest. Then the rescue assault began and bullets began to fly, puncturing Gracia's leg and Martin's chest. TO ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST, TO DIE IS GAIN. We tend to admire the people who, like Paul and the Burnhams who are willing to lay down their lives for the kingdom of God. And when we think of emulating their passion and Christian ambition, we find ourselves saying, “But I’m no Paul – I’ll never do anything great like that for the Lord! I’m just a 21st century Christian with a gift of mercy or teaching or giving.” That’s just it! That’s what He has given you. Serve Him with all your heart. Make it your ambition to do the best you can in the power of the Holy Spirit, girded on by the prayers of the church, and serve Him with martyr-like abandon! Such are God’s heroes! But lest we mistakenly forget that the great ones like the apostle Paul are also human, look at the humility he demonstrates in the next verses. You’d think an apostle of this stature would have it all together, have it all figured out. But he doesn’t. He admits that, though he has Assurance and Ambition for the Lord’s work, he is sometimes a little ambivalent. III. Ambivalence Paul admits to being confused. He says that he doesn’t know whether he wants to live and continue serving Christ and the church in this life, or if he just wants to die and be with the Lord in person, which he admits is better by far. Of course it’s not really Paul’s choice to make, is it? No, and Paul really isn’t saying it is, he is simply inviting his readers in to his personal quandary, as he works through his thoughts on paper. Some time ago I was ordering a personalized gift and was asked by the clerk what I wanted printed on the gift. I must have glazed over as I tried to come up with appropriate phrasing, because she said Would you like a pen and paper to help you think? Indeed, that’s exactly what I needed. Sometimes you just have to write out your feelings before you can fully process them. It’s the stuff that journals and diaries are made of. So we are invited into this soliloquy Paul is drafting. It’s strange to us—such a wise apostle not really sure of what he thinks, but it’s honest, and it’s real and it’s what the Holy Spirit directed him to record for us. There is another question at play here: isn’t death something we are supposed to be afraid of? How could Paul say something like, I desire to leave this world and be with Christ? Most people are just afraid of death. I remember a youth conference once where the speaker for the evening began his message with the question, How many of you here tonight want to go to heaven? Enthusiastically, twelve hundred teens waved their hands in the air and screamed with excitement. Then he said, There’s a bus leaving right now, line up and let’s go. Something in the way he said that made it seem eerily believable. You could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium. They tell me that if a honeybee stings you that’s all the stinging he will do. Because they leave their stinger in the flesh of their victim, honeybees can only sting once. The great hope of the Christian is that Jesus took death’s stinger for us. Corinthians teaches that the sting of death is sin (and our guiltiness and condemnation), but Jesus has paid that debt for those who trust Him. Therefore, as Hebrews 2:14-15 says, by his death he destroyed him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. We’ve made peace with death. 1 Corinthians says, the last enemy to be destroyed was death (1 Corinthians 15:26) and Death has been swallowed up in victory—he gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:54-56) As Paul knew and taught so clearly, when the Son of God died he died for our sins, according to the scriptures. Ephesians further clarifies: In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (1:7) For the believer, death died on a cross-shaped altar on Golgotha, and the only death that matters now is the one we die when we are baptized into the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3), and we put on Christ’s righteousness as a gift. So for Paul dying was a far better option than more jail time, beatings, shipwrecks and persecution. Better for us, too! Listen to Paul’s back-and-forth self-talk: I know, I eagerly expect and hope that I’ll have the courage, to live is Christ, to die is gain, IF I am to go on living, what shall I choose? I am torn between the two, I desire to depart, but it’s more necessary for you that I remain. Then, finally, …okay, yeah, convinced of this I know that I will remain… The luxury of martyrdom will have to wait! Even after working through his feelings, he still can’t be sure, can he? Verse (27) starts with Whatever happens… There is another point that begs address. You really can’t walk away from this passage without some word of explanation about verses 23 and 24, and the contrast of departing and being with Christ, and remaining in the body. Everybody’s question is, How does this work, now? I thought when you die as a Christian you wait until the Lord comes and rise to meet him in the air, ala 1 Thessalonians 4!? Then I read Paul saying if he dies he will be with the Lord. Paul also wrote in 2 Cor. 5:8 that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. And Jesus promised the repentant criminal “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Mystery will for all time shroud this great theme of death and heaven. But try this on: The Bible speaks often of death as sleep. Most Bible scholars agree that the teachings on the second coming of Christ and the great resurrection will happen in the future, but those who die in the Lord are, as it were, asleep in Him until that time. What do you do while you are sleeping? Dream. We’ve all had bad dreams, but we’ve also had very good dreams. Imagine the most pleasant, comforting dream you can; multiply that good feeling times a thousand quadrillion. Now imagine falling into the deepest sleep you’ve ever known, and dreaming such a dream. During the dream you are reminded that when you do awake you will be with the Lord forever. When you sleep, except for your dreams, it seems like time goes into suspension. Hours pass, and it feels like a split second, doesn’t it? One day you will go to sleep, and you will dream of being with the Lord and it will feel like He’s right there with you. Then you will awaken, meeting Him in the air, and it’s all true! Forever! No wonder Paul wanted to go! As much as He loved serving Christ’s kingdom on earth, he admitted he would give it up in a heartbeat to enter heaven’s rest. So that was his ambivalence. It’s a lot like the ambivalence we face in prayer. We believe a thing is the will of God and we pray for it, but very often we find it hard to believe that we have it, because we know there is a chance we missed something and it could turn out to not be in agreement with God’s will. We WANT to have that level of faith and sometimes talk ourselves into believing that we believe like that, but in our hearts there is still ambivalence. But we still pray. I think we should take comfort in the fact that Paul wrestled with ambivalent feelings—and that about some very important stuff. Look, we all still see but only poor reflections of the glorious things of God, but then we will see face to face. We now know in part; then we will fully know, even as we are fully known. (1 Cor. 13:12) Keep seeking His wisdom in the Word, but understand that feelings of ambivalence are okay—they’re not sin, nor are they an indicator that you lack faith. When you pray and you feel like you pray anemic prayers, chalk up the fuzzy parts to ambivalence and say to God what the demon-possessed boy’s father said to Jesus: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! IV. Affirmation What did Paul do with his ambivalent feelings as he struggled through this quandary? He laid them down, sought the Lord’s wisdom, then got to work with what he had and with what he knew. He said (in verse 25) I will remain and I will continue. Once you have prayed through an issue, once you have labored through a struggle, then take whatever wisdom you do have and serve the Lord faithfully. That’s what Paul did. He said, “You know what? I’m still fuzzy on this thing, but here’s what I think about it, and I’m pressing on. If I’m wrong, I trust God will show me, and I’ll do my best to stay open to Him.” I love the quote from Dorothy Sayers: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a medium for creation” See this very point at Philippians 3:15-16 – All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Basically Paul concluded that the Lord was going to let him live, eventually get out of prison and continue his apostolic ministry, even to the point that he thought he’d see the Philippians again. It had come to that point for Paul, and his mind and spirit needed to be settled. So he said, “I affirm what I do know, and I will now continue to do what I believe the Lord wants me to do, aided and empowered by His Spirit, and buttressed by the prayers of the church. “ Ninie Hammon is the executive editor for The Southeast Outlook in Louisville, Kentucky, but in 1988 she worked as a reporter for a small newspaper in Lebanon, Kentucky. On May 14th of that year, newspapers throughout the country carried the story of the bus crash where 24 children and 3 adults died in what was called "the worst drunken driver accident in Kentucky" history. The bus carried the youth group of the First Assembly of God church in Radcliff, Kentucky. Though Ninie did not cover the story, many of her friends were reporters in the county where the children were from. Witnesses who survived the crash told of one particular passenger, Chuck Kytta, the youth minister of the church. Chuck was seated in the front of the bus behind the driver, and when the gas tank exploded a heartbeat after the collision, he was instantly encircled in flames. When Chuck saw the flames around him, witnesses said, he looked up, lifted his hands and cried out, "Jesus, I'm coming home!" Some of the kids said he was smiling. Ninie wrote, "I was not a Christian in 1988, so I couldn't make any sense of what Chuck did. Here's this guy so cool a bunch of kids call him "Banana," standing in flames moments from a horrible death and he's smiling?" No matter how hard she tried, Ninie could not erase from her mind the image of Chuck. Ninie wrote, "The only way to explain how a man could calmly accept, almost welcome, a painful death was to acknowledge that he understood some great truth I didn't, that he had something faith? hope? God, maybe? something!I didn't have. And try as I might, I couldn't help yearning for whatever he had that made death a thing to embrace rather than to fear." Two years later, Ninie would come to Christ. She says, "Chuck Kytta planted a seed in me that took root in my heart. One day, I will see Chuck in heaven. I'll tell him how the manner of his death pointed me toward eternal life." It doesn’t matter what God wants you to do, even if it does seem menial to you (or monumental)—it is important to Him. He calls you to just be faithful in what He has given you. Get your own sense of affirmation before God. The most important thing you will ever discover is what God has called you for, because then you will be ready to say with Paul, For me to live is Christ; to die is gain. I have an assignment for you—to complete two phrases: 1) My life’s purpose is to _______________________; and 2) I don’t fear death, because _______________________. See if you can get those blanks filled in before Jesus returns. Show last slide as we close.     [Back to Top]          
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