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(009) Philippians V: The Meaning of Life

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Philippians V: The Meaning of Life

Philippians 1:20-26

November 25, 2007

I am happy to let you know that we kind of have a website again. It’s actually a blog, but it is online. You can subscribe to a Podcast of the sermons just in case you don’t get enough of me on Sunday. The address is

The meaning of life

What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What is this all about? That is kind of considered the biggest philosophical question of all time.

·         But of course we all know the real answer: It’s 42.

·         And I have just shown you how much of a geek I am, because that is from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Or if that doesn’t work for you, you could also watch Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life,” which is even funnier, and geekier. But I can’t recommend it because it’s quite crude.

·         But worse than that, it is funny in a depressing, nihilistic, life-is-meaningless sort of way.

·         It’s British humor.

It ends with a bunch of people going to heaven, presented as three-star hotel, decorated in white, where everyday is Christmas. To top is all off is the B-grade Vegas-style show.

·         An eternity of that would be hell, not heaven.

In today’s study in Philippines, we are going to hear what Paul says about the Meaning of Life. As he looks at death sitting in jail, he tells us what life is all about.

·         We will also see how Paul is motivated by the hope of an eternity spent with Christ.

Let’s turn there now: Phil. 1:20, page 831 in your pew Bibles.

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. 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! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 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 joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Philippians 1:20-26 NIV 

To live is to die

Death is a part of life. With rare exceptions, to live is to die. There have only been two – Enoch and Elijah.

And losing people is also part of life. There probably isn’t a person here who has not been affected by death in some way.

·         Even this week, as many of you know, the stepfather of Art Gibbons, who is one of our elders, passed away unexpectedly.

The first death that personally impacted me was when I was 15. Alison was the 12 year-old daughter of a family that we were very close to. She had Downs Syndrome and died of heart failure.

I remember how much fun she was, even though she could be a little ornery. I remember how much she loved singing worship songs. And I remember watching her fade in the final year.

·         As much as I loved Alison, I choose not to go to the funeral, because I was scarednot so much of death, but of grieving.

·         And my mother did not press us to go, because she wanted to protect us from death.


Q: Isn’t that how we respond to death?

In spite of its inevitability we try to ignore it and pretend it won’t happen to us.

There was a time, not too long ago, that death was far more visible. People died at home, in their beds. Everyone had watched someone die. Now they die surrounded by machines.

·         We want to avoid death, to avoid thinking about it until the last possible moment.

Perhaps that is a trick of Satan’s. How much better for him if all of us died without giving death a thought, unprepared, and never thinking about what’s next.  

·         From a pastor’s stand point, funerals are great because they force people to consider their own morality.

When we live fully aware of our own mortality, we live differently. Most of the time, we live better.

The meaning of life

In Philippines, Paul is facing death awaiting trial and possible execution. The Philippians fretting over the possible loss of their mentor and friend, but it’s obvious that his death will be a lot harder on them than on him.

·         He faces death with peace and hope

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. Philippians 1:20 NIV 

As he faces death, his only concern is that Christ be exalted, no matter what happens. But talking about life and death seems to send him down a philosophical trail:

Q: What is the meaning of life and death?

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul tells us meaning of life:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21 NIV

·         As profound as it is short, this statement is the simplest summary of the Christian life I can think of.

It even had a really catchy sound to the Greek hearers. They had a motto: zh/n Crhsto.j (Zayn chraystos) which meant “Life is good,” not unlike the old Miller Lite Commercials.

·         But Paul says zh/n Cristo.j, (Zayn christos) “To live is Christ.”

To live is christ

When Paul says “to live is Christ” he’s saying “life means Christ,” which is how a couple of translations translate it.

To Paul, physical and spiritual life is summed up in Christ. Life is filled up with and occupied by Christ. Everything Paul does, loves, hopes, obeys, and preaches is inspired by Christ and is done for Christ.

·         Christ, and Christ alone, gives inspiration, direction, meaning, and purpose to existence.

·         He is the meaning of life.

To die is gain

If to live is not Christ, then death won’t be gain, because it will be the end of everything were tempted to call “living.”

Q: How do you fill in this blank: “For me, to live is _____.”

For many people, the answer would be “To live is career,” or family, money, sex, friends, church, or food. If any of these things are your life, then death can only be loss, because they are temporary and passing.

It’s not that any of them are bad; all of them come from God, and are part of what make life a joy. But they make a lousy purpose for life. And without Christ, they will lost at death.

But if Christ is our life, our central purpose and motivation, then death will be gain, and many of these things, family friends, and even money, can have eternal value.

·         Some day I will do a sermon on how to invest money eternally.

But for that to happen, there is that important “if/then.”

·         If, for me to live is Christ, then to die will be gain.

To die is loss

For many people, death will not be gain.

When the pagan Greeks and Romans heard, “to die is gain,” they would have nodded their heads: Centuries of Greek and Latin poetry, theater, and philosophy held that death was gain

They viewed death as a release from earthly troubles and no more than that. It meant walking away from present ills into the unknown, probably nonexistence.

·         But they were mistaken.

For them, death will not be release, but loss. God will grant many people them their final wish – life without him.

According to a recent survey, nearly 75% of Americans believe in heaven and hell, but only ½% believes they are going to hell. 

·         Apparently we all think we stack up pretty good when compared to someone else, even if that someone else has to be Hitler.

Q: Are they going by their entry requirements or God’s?

If your life about isn’t about Christ, but about yourself, then heaven will not a welcoming place, because heaven will be even more about God and less about us than earth is now.

·         If, for me to live is me, then death will be loss.

The big qualifier

Everything Paul says about death being gain with Christ rests upon one huge assumption. If this big “if” is wrong, then Paul, and all who believe and live as he did, are absolute fools.

If there is no life after death and no resurrection from the dead, death will not be gain. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul responded to false teachers who taught there is no afterlife:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. — 1 Corinthians 15:19 NIV

If there is no such thing as heaven, Christians are the biggest suckers ever to walk the earth. Death is only gain if there is something beyond this life.

Paul lived his entire life in light of eternity, in the hope of heaven, and if there is no heaven then there is no hope, and then we are all fools.

Paul doesn’t refer to heaven by name in our Philippians passage, but it serve as the background of all Paul says about death. As Paul considers life and death, he weighs them out:

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! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Philippians 1:22-24 NIV

Paul is torn between heaven and earth. The word “depart” is a military term, meaning “to break up camp.” To Paul, this world and these bodies are just temporary dwellings

·         He was waiting for his real home.

A trip to heaven

Heaven was such a solid hope for Paul, such a firm reality, one that affected his everyday life. It helps that he had actually seen it. In 2 Corinthians, Paul indicates he went to heaven.

I think that that experience shaped his life, and focused him on what was really important. Perhaps his deep longing to be with Christ was a result of the little taste he got. 

·         When Paul says that our current sufferings don’t compare to heaven’s glory, he knew what he was talking about.

Unfortunately, Paul was not allowed to share what he saw, so the Bible says relatively little about what heaven will be like.

As I said last week, the Bible is sufficient, not comprehensive. God is silent on many things because He knows we are incapable of understanding them.

·         God doesn’t want us to be distracted by speculation.

What ever the Bible tells us about heaven wasn’t written to satisfy curiosity, but to affect how we live our present life.

·         The here ‘n after should affect our here ‘n now.

If we have a firm grasp of the reality of heaven, it will affect how we live, just as it affected how Paul lived. Paul said a lot of things about the hope of heaven and how it should affect us.

I want to look other things he wrote about heaven and three aspects of heaven that affects how we live: Heaven is 1) our present hope, 2) our perfect home, and 3) our current reality.

1.  Heaven is our present hope

We usually use the word “hope,” to mean wish – “I wish I could win the lottery.” But when the Bible says “hope,” it might as well be a fact, because of who’s backing it.

·         If I gave you a check for $1,000,000, you would just laugh.

·         What if Bill Gates gave you that check?

There’s a much better authority behind that check. God’s promise of heaven is a good hope, a better gift than Bill’s check. We’re just more reluctant to cash that check in!

Not forgotten

Here on earth, I sometimes find myself weary of living in this fallen world.

·         I get tired of the suffering caused by human sinfulness.

·         I get tired of constantly struggling with my same sinfulness.

·         Marilyn gets tired of me struggling with the same sinfulness!

Jesus promised to return and set everything right, and to take us home to be with Him.  But that was like 2000 years ago! Sometimes it feels like God has forgotten us.

Q: How do we know he hasn’t? What if the apostles were wrong?

Paul talks about our longing to be with God and be free from sinfulness and suffering, and God’s guarantee return for us.

Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling... it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. – 2 Corinthians 5:2, 5 NIV

·         The gift the Holy Spirit that indwells every believer is the guarantee that he’s coming back for us.

Shortly after I proposed to Marilyn, I put her on a plane back here as I finished college in California. I didn’t leave her empty-handed; I gave her a ring as a promise I would come back.

·         That engagement ring was something meaningful and costly.

·         It was like $100!

The Holy Spirit is God’s deposit, the most expensive ring He could find. The Holy Spirit’s residence in the believer is the God’s promise that He will come back to take us home to heaven.

Paul knew that life down here can be tough sometimes, as we have seen, he suffered more for his faith than any of us. The hope of heaven that he had seen gave him strength to embrace it.

Because he knew that dying meant gaining heaven and Christ in his fullness, he had the strength to embrace suffering.

·         The hope of heaven gives us strength in the present.

Even though doesn’t give a lot of specifics the Bible describes a little bit of what heaven and its descriptions can be summed up by saying that:

2.  Heaven is our perfect home.

When we talk about heaven, we are trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. The Bible uses symbols and figurative language trying to describe it, but the words will always fall short, so we do our best to understand.

God’s house

Jesus describes it as a home:

In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. – John 14:2 NIV

King James and some other older version use the archaic term “mansions,” which doesn’t make much sense – how can you have mansions inside of a house? Modern translations say “rooms.”

Obviously this is figurative, but Jesus didn’t describe heaven as mansions spread out, like a heavenly suburban sprawl, but as a community, under one roof.

This is a picture of house in Jesus day. When you got married, you didn’t move out, you added another room to the house.

·         I hope you like these people, because you’ll be sharing a house with them forever!


The Bible also describes heaven as a place of permanence and perfection. Even at its best, this world is temporary; things die, decay, and rust. Nothing here is permanent.

When heaven’s described as having emerald walls, pearls gates, and streets of gold, God is describing the permanence of heaven. Pure gold is one of the few substances that doesn’t tarnish. The gold in Tut’s tomb was as bright as the day they made it.

·         Perhaps God created gold to teach us about permanence.


The gold, trees, and mountains of this world are a shadow of the next. Every good thing we know is an echo of the reality in heaven.

But because this world is all we know, it is difficult for us to imagine anything else. So the Bible compares heaven to this world, but emphasizes that it exceedingly better.

The problem is we get very attached to these imperfect things that should teach us about heaven.

·         Because we can’t understand heaven, we think it will be boring, less than this world.

As a child, I remember getting ready to go to Disneyland, praying that Jesus wouldn’t come back yet. Sure, heaven was going to be cool and all, but this is Disneyland we’re talking about.

·         Heaven will not be any less than anything we have on earth; it will be more, and more beyond our comprehension.

·         Heaven teaches us to become less attached to this world.

As we suffer and hurt in this world, it should draw our eyes to heaven. When things break down and don’t work, they should turn our eyes to the perfected version.

Not only is heaven our present hope and perfect home, it is also:

3.  Heaven is our long-term investment

Jim Elliot, a missionary who was martyred, said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

·         The reality of heaven calls us to invest in eternity.

In light of eternity, most of our pursuits and goals are shown to be short-sighted. We must invest ourselves in things that will not be lost at death.

And this is Paul point in Phil. 1:21: When our lives are fully invested in and founded in Christ, death can be gain, because it will be the fulfillment of everything we truly want.

should I stay or SHOULD i go now?

To close, Paul seems to struggle with whether he should stay on earth to help the Philippians or depart to heaven:

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 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 joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Philippians 1:23-26 NIV

Commentators argue as to whether Paul really had a choice, and whether or not he thought he’d be set free. But in any case, he says, that given the choice, he would stay and help his friends.

·         we don’t really have a choice – God calls us home in his time.

We can choose what we will do while we are waiting. Serve ourselves, which is very short-sighted investment, or serve others and bring them into the Kingdom of God.

·         That’s a good long-term strategy.

In the end, we don’t know how much time we have, 1 hour or 100 years, so we must serve on earth while we keep our eyes on heaven, living for Christ, knowing that death will be gain.


Father, I doubt that any of us can truly say that “to live is Christ,” but we want to grow and make you our central meaning and purpose in life.

Help us to evaluate everything we do and invest ourselves in based on eternity, so that we will find that death is a gain.


Kids coming: Let your kids have fun and enjoy themselves, and after church teach them more about worshipping God.

Prayer request: Write them on cards, put in basket. We will pray for them at the end.


·         Pick toddlers up right after service.

·         Need more teachers 4-5 – no teacher for 12/9  12/16, 6-10

·         Check out the blog: I have want to know how you think Christians should respond to “The Golden Compass.”

·         Give first 5 minutes to God.

Prayer requests:

Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.
The following sources were used in preparing this sermon:

“The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Death,” a sermon preached by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church ( on 10/28/07

“Dear Philippians III: The Secret to Enjoying Life,” a sermon preached by Bruce Wersen of His Place Community Church ( on 2/9/03.

The New American Commentary (Vol. 32): Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by R. R. Melick.

The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek text by P T. O’Brien.

Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 43): Philippians by R. P. Martin.

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