Phil. 1.20 thru 21 In Life In Death Abide in Me
“In Life, In Death, Christ is Exalted”
Text: Philippians 1:20-26
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.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday was observed on January 22 because it was the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized abortion in all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason. Since that decision in 1973, over 45 million babies have been killed through surgical abortion in this country. That’s around 3,600 every day or about one every 24 seconds.
Do those numbers make you feel uncomfortable? They should. On the other hand, some of you might feel uncomfortable right now for another reason. You have been led to believe that abortion should not be talked about in church. It’s too political. It’s too controversial. And you’re right—at least partially. Abortion certainly is political and controversial. But you are wrong to think we shouldn’t be talking about it in church. Think about it. God is the Creator of life, the Giver of life, the Redeemer of life, the Lord of life. Abortion, that which destroys God’s gift of life, the work of His hands, is an insult to Him. That’s why we had better be talking about it in our churches. God’s people need a reality check as to what is going on so callously and so brutally day after day in this country. Think! It is not something that is destroyed in an abortion. It is someone. It is someone created by God and for whom Jesus Christ died.
At this point, some of you out there may be really uncomfortable for yet another reason. Maybe you are among the 36,000 people affected by abortion every day. Maybe you have had an abortion or been involved in an abortion decision. Maybe the reality of your choice has caught up with you and you’re not sure how to deal with the regret and the guilt you feel. That’s another reason we need to be dealing with abortion in our churches. Because if we never talk about abortion from this pulpit, then we would never be able to say to you who are hurting, “God loves you in spite of your sin. The sin of abortion was nailed to the cross of Jesus along with the sins we all commit in our lives. There is forgiveness for the sin of abortion. There is forgiveness for you. In His forgiveness you will find the beginning of healing and a renewal of hope.” How remiss I would be if I never pointed you, who have been involved in an abortion decision, to the love and forgiveness of the cross of your Savior.
So, we need to be talking about abortion in our churches. But we are not going to talk about abortion today. Rather we are going to talk about a legacy abortion has given us. This is a legacy that affects us all, but especially the elderly, those who are disabled, and those with chronic or terminal disease. The legacy abortion gives is that death is the solution to a problem and that certain people are better off dead. This idea received national attention in 2005 with the Terri Schiavo case. Many thought she would be better off dead. But we deal with it on a more personal basis as well. Perhaps you have someone you care for who is old or ill. Maybe they have expressed the thought that they would be “better off dead.” Maybe you know those who worry about being a burden on the family or wonder what possible purpose God has for their lives. Maybe you know someone who has asked, “Why doesn’t God just call me home?” If you know someone who has thought like this, or if you have ever had these kinds of thoughts, I’ve got good news for you today! Christ is able to be exalted in both our living and our dying, and it is the abiding presence of Christ that comforts us and enables us both to live and to die in joyful faith. So, we pray the prayer of the hymn writer, “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.” Let’s look first of all at what Paul says about Christ’s abiding presence in death.
As Paul writes the Philippians, he faces possible death. He is in prison in Rome unsure of the outcome. But he is ready for death. He wants Christ to be exalted in his death. Paul says “to die is gain” and his desire is “to depart and be with Christ which is better by far.” Christ is exalted in this joyful confidence. Christ is the reason for it. It is because of what Christ has done in His life, death, and resurrection that gives Paul the assurance of knowing things would be better in heaven with Christ. It is okay to join Paul in wanting to be with Christ. It’s okay to want this for an elderly and feeble grandparent or a desperately ill friend. You know it would be better. You know it would be a gain. There would be no more crying or pain or sickness or loneliness. Christ is exalted in such thinking because He is the One who gives such confidence. He has been victorious over death and the grave. He forgives your sins; He makes you worthy of the heavenly mansion He is preparing for you. Because of Christ, death is but a narrow gate into life eternal. Yes, it is Christ’s abiding presence in our death that exalts Him as the One who has conquered death and brought life and immortality. It is Christ’s abiding presence in our death that comforts us, calms our fears, and gives us patience as we await His call to join Him in eternity. And so we pray, “In death, O Lord, abide with me.”
But death is not the only possibility for Paul. He may very well live! If so, he knows Christ will be exalted in his life. In fact, by the end of our text, Paul is convinced he will go on living. He is convinced that even though it would be “far better” for him to depart and be with Christ, it is “more necessary” for the Philippians and others that Paul keep living. God has some “fruitful labor” yet to accomplish through Paul. Christ will be exalted through Paul as He moves people along in their faith and increases their joy. Paul writes, “through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” Christ will be exalted through His abiding presence as He works in Paul’s life.
Death is not the only possibility for the elderly or disabled or ill or even the unconscious. Such folks may very well live a number of years. As we said, it is certainly okay to desire to depart and be with Christ for that would be “far better.” But God is in charge of the time of death. As the children’s book says, “God will decide when I should die, and the time will be just right . . . because God is very wise.” But as long as He gives life, we must believe that in God’s wisdom it is “more necessary” for life to continue. And as long as God gives life, God gives life meaning and purpose. God has some “fruitful labor” left to accomplish just as He did in Paul.
Now you might say, “But Paul was different. He was still young, able to travel, preach and teach, and tell others about Jesus. But what about people who are not so healthy, those who cannot get around well or maybe are not even aware of their surroundings? What possible ‘fruitful labor’ could they do?” But remember, it wasn’t Paul. It was the abiding presence of Christ in Paul that was accomplishing this fruitful labor. Christ was exalted in Paul’s life because Christ was the one who was at work in Paul’s life. We limit the power of God if we say He can work and accomplish things only in people who are young and healthy and up and around. He’s God! He can work in your life as well as in the life of Paul. He can work in the life of the chronically ill or the terminally ill or the bed-ridden grandma who is not aware of her surroundings. Christ isn’t exalted because of what we do. He is exalted because of what He does in us! In fact, you could say that the less we are able to do, the more Christ is exalted as He works through us!
Remember the man born blind? What a tragic thing this must have appeared to be to friends and family. But this man was born blind that the works of God might be displayed in him. He was born blind that Christ might be exalted in him. He wasn’t aware of it. Friends and family were not aware of it, but this man’s life had purpose and meaning. You may not be aware of how God is at work in your life, or in the life of the severely ill or disabled. But through faith in His abiding presence, you can be assured He is. Have you ever thought that maybe grandma is in that nursing home bed so others can care for her? Scripture tells us that when we serve those in need, we are serving Christ Himself. Think of it, grandma may very well be Christ to many, many people as they serve her. What a great honor! The same could be said about the Terri Schiavos out there who are severely brain damaged and a whole host of people that we think would be “better off dead.” Christ may not be done exalting Himself through them yet. What an insult to Jesus to want to kill those through whom He is still at work.
We can never be sure how the abiding presence of Christ might be at work in someone’s life. What we can be sure of is that Christ is at work! And I repeat, as long as God gives life, then God is at work giving life meaning and purpose. As long as God gives life, life has value and it is “more necessary” to keep on living. So we pray, “In life, O Lord, abide with me.”
Yes, we live in a culture that more and more is turning to death as a solution to the problems of life. More and more people are saying that certain others would be “better off dead.” Paul reminded us today that certainly it is “far better” to depart and be with Christ. But he has also reminded us that the timing for that is in God’s hands. If He gives us continued life, then in His plan, it is “more necessary” that we go on living. But you see, whether we live or die we know that Christ is at work and that He will be exalted. And so we pray, “Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes. Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. In life, in death, O Lord. Abide with me.” Amen.