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To Live is Christ

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Philippians 1:12-30

 

What are you living for?

I’m aware that there are two main groups here today, that I’m speaking to.

First, there’s the regulars of Chatswood Baptist Church, here in one sense, because you’re here for church! But also because it’s my last Sunday here as your pastor, and of course, I want to speak to that and encourage you to keep serving Jesus faithfully as you send me off to Islington Baptist.

But then second, you might be here especially to witness and support either Sarah or Cassandra as they get baptised at the end of the service. Maybe you normally go to church somewhere else, or maybe you don’t, and perhaps it’s all a little foreign to you.

Or maybe you’re not in one of those groups; maybe you’ve just rocked up today and you’re thinking, who are you, who’s Sarah, who’s Cassandra? Just teach me the Bible! If so, don’t worry, I won’t ignore you!

The point is, I recognise that we’re not all here for the same reason, and we’re not all coming from the same place in terms of beliefs and connection to this church. But I think the Bible passage we read out earlier, that we’re going to reflect on together now, is fitting and helpful for all of us.

You see this passage raises a really important question for all of us: What are you living for? What the Apostle Paul shares about his own circumstances and his hopes and values prompts us to ask that question. What are you living for? How can you tell what you’re living for? And how’s it working out for you? They’re pretty important questions, aren’t they? Seems like the kind of questions we would want to have answers for… and good answers.

Now a good indicator of what you’re living for is the way we react to what happens in life, and the choices we make. Our reactions and our choices reveal a lot about what we are living for. The Bible passage we’re looking at actually highlights this for us, which we’ll unpack in a little while.

But if you just stop and think, you see it’s true. Our reactions and our choices reveal what matters to us – what we’re chasing after and prioritising in life.

So to pick the big obvious one. If we are living for financial success – if that’s what life is all about – then we will react to a promotion and raise at work with joy. That’s a win, that’s what we’re looking for. We will probably react to stock market crashes with anxiety. And we will make small decisions and big, long term decisions that reflect the overarching priority of securing wealth. You’ll choose a career path that will lead (hopefully!) to wealth, rather than prioritising something that ‘feels meaningful’ even if it doesn’t pay well.

Or consider travel. If travelling the world and experiencing culture and buildings and natural beauty around the world is what life is all about for you – then you’ll be able to see it in your reactions and your choices. COVID will have been a major downer for you. Locked borders, no travel, plans being cancelled at the drop of a hat – This is the stuff of nightmares. You’ll have been frustrated and depressed. But even so, you would still have been making choices that reflect this ultimate purpose. Saving up for the next trip. Planning holidays. Considering the possibility of leaving your job and actually moving to another country for a while to experience new things and places. You won’t tie yourself down in relationships, roles and responsibilities that prevent you from being able to travel when you want to. You’ll spend less money on a car to save it for another trip – unless you’re travelling in your car!

We might be living for all sorts of things – fulfilling our sense of self, for comfort, pleasure, recognition, family, raising successful children… we have lots of ways that we might answer that question, ‘what are you living for?’

But in the Bible passage we read earlier, we are encouraged to consider and embrace a particular answer to this question. And it’s the answer that Sarah and Cassandra are actually giving through their baptism. Their baptism declares that they are living now, and from now on, for something in particular. In fact, for some-one in particular.

Being baptised as a follower of Jesus is to declare that for you, to live is Christ. Your life is all about Jesus, God’s promised saviour and king. He’s at the centre. And the good news about Jesus is the over-riding influence in your life. It doesn’t mean you have arrived at a spiritual maturity where you live this out perfectly. It means you recognise Jesus deserves to be at the centre of your life, and you’re committing yourself to living with him at the centre.

As we unpack the passage from the Bible we read earlier – from the first chapter of the book of Philippians – we see the Apostle Paul testifying that this is his motto in life. For him, to live is Christ – that’s what it’s all about. And he shares how that dramatically shapes the way he reacts to his circumstances – the way he views life and the things that happen to him and around him. And it profoundly shapes his desires and choices – his priorities in life.

And we see from what Paul shares in this letter that this approach to life has a very significant benefit. It works out very well in the end. Not only does it allow him to experience joy in very difficult circumstances; it transforms the way he can view death itself. He can say that for him, death is actually gain. And this is because, for him, ‘to live is Christ’. His approach to life – what is valuable, and what it’s all about, means that death can’t undermine what matters to him. In fact, it’s a win.

And this is big! Death is no small problem – in case you didn’t already think that.

For the past month in church we’ve been reading through a book from the Old Testament, part of the Jewish Scriptures before Jesus came along, called Ecclesiastes. And this book explores the grim reality that death seems to rob life of all its significance and purpose. If this life ‘under the sun’, as the Teacher in the book keeps expressing it, is all we have – if we’re trying to seek some kind of gain for ourselves or other people through pleasure or career or working for justice or creative works, then we’re ultimately going to be frustrated. The events of life are too random and then death is the final blow. When we live for money or travel or popularity or anything in this world… it doesn’t end up working out very well for us. In the end, we’re frustrated and left with nothing.

But the good news of Jesus – the gospel of Jesus Christ – offers a better way. When we live for Christ, we have a purpose and a treasure at the centre of our lives that cannot be taken away, come what may.

And that’s what I want to encourage Cassandra and Sarah in today – to affirm them in their decision to be baptised as followers of Jesus, and remind them of what they’re testifying to.

And I also want to encourage all of you visiting today in support of them to consider this message. You may be followers of Jesus yourselves, or you may not be. And if you’re not, it’s great that you’re supporting them by being here, even if you don’t quite get why they would be doing this. I want to encourage you to hear what they are saying to you in this moment, to hear and consider the idea that for them, as for the Apostle Paul, ‘to live is Christ, and to die is gain’.

But I also chose this passage to preach from because I think it’s very fitting for my last day here at Chatswood Baptist Church. Philippians has been one of my favourite books of the Bible my whole adult life, and this passage is up there at the top. And I think it is really helpful for us to process this ‘goodbye’, which most of us are at least a little bit sad about… it gives us a perspective to see it all from. And I think this passage, and things Paul says in it, express simply and powerfully what we want for each other going forwards…

So let’s dive in, and explore what Paul shares and reflect on how that speaks to all of us here today…

 

Paul’s Perspective in Prison

The first thing we see is the way Paul’s perspective on life profoundly shapes the way he interprets his circumstances. You see Paul is in prison for being a Christian. He has been harassed and accused by Jewish leaders back in Jerusalem and has appealed to Caesar to hear his case, so he’s in Rome under arrest awaiting his trial. And it’s important to appreciate that one very real outcome for Paul is to be executed.

 

Looking around at what matters

And yet, how does Paul view his circumstances? What does he focus on?

He notices how everything that’s happened has actually led to more people hearing the good news about Jesus. That’s what matters to him and what he sees as significant. Not the chains. Not the lack of proper food; the discomfort, or the prospect of unfair punishment… he sees how his imprisonment has led to heaps of people hearing and considering the gospel of Christ.

12          Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. 14 Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly.

The ’imperial guard’ refers to the Emperor’s elite troops who were stationed in Rome, and amongst other things, were rostered on to guard prisoners. Apparently they took 4 hour shifts. For Paul that meant a new soldier to talk to about the reason he was in chains every four hours. If he had walked in to Rome as a free man and asked to have 4 hours with every soldier in the Imperial Guard to explain the gospel of Jesus, he’d have been chased out with the pointy end of a spear. But because of his chains, now the whole palace guard – all nine thousand of them! – knows why Paul is there. And not just the guard – ‘everyone else’!

And it’s not just through his own efforts, and the soldiers and servants talking to each other about this passionate prisoner. Paul explains that other Christians have been encouraged by Paul’s example, and have themselves begun to share the gospel of Jesus more fearlessly. Rather than being put off by seeing Paul suffer for the gospel, they are actually encouraged and stirred up in their convictions.

 

Looking Past Petty Rivalry

Paul doesn’t enjoy being in chains. It’s not trivial to him. He wants justice. But he notices what it has meant for the advance of the gospel, and that’s what he really cares about.

So much so, he can even look past the fact that some people are preaching the gospel of Jesus for bad motives – even deliberately trying to cause trouble for Paul whilst he’s in chains. He explains from verse 15…

15 To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. 16 These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.

This doesn’t mean Paul doesn’t care about motives. He cares a lot about them! And it doesn’t mean he would recommend any of these malicious preachers as a guest speaker for your next church event. If he had opportunity, I’m sure he’d have some strong words to these guys, for their own sake more than anything else.

But at this point, Paul’s simply saying, on one level, who cares why their doing it – in the end, the good news about Jesus being God’s promised saviour and king is being proclaimed! More and more people are hearing it and considering it and turning to God in repentance and faith. And so, Paul can rejoice, even as people deliberately stir up trouble for him, because he can see the good that comes from it – the good that he really cares about.

 

Looking Forward in Hope

And this perspective which shapes his reaction to his circumstances shapes what he hopes for in the future. As he considers the different possible outcomes of his imprisonment and trial, he explains, what he really wants is to honour Jesus courageously in what he does and says, whether that’s in the way he copes with condemnation and execution, or in his release and freedom.

Paul goes on in verse 18…

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice 19 because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all courage, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Paul uses the word ‘salvation’ here to refer to God helping him stand firm and honour Christ, right to the end, come what may, rather than give in to fear or compromise to save himself suffering. That’s what matters to him – that’s what he sets his heart on as he looks to his own future.

If I was rotting away in prison, facing the possibility of execution, I know my natural instinct would be to prioritise my release ASAP. I would see ‘salvation’ as being vindicated in my trial, or ideally, released before hand. Naturally, I value safety, comfort and personal freedom. And I’m sure Paul would have preferred to be safe, comfortable and free himself. But those things don’t dominate his perspective. What he really hopes for is the courage to stand firm in his faith in Christ, come what may. That is the greater good for him personally.

 

The Conviction Shaping Paul’s Perspective

And as I’ve mentioned up front, Paul has this perspective because of what he is living for – because of what he thinks life is really all about. And Paul now expresses the convictions that lie beneath his reactions and priorities.

“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” explains Paul in verse 21.

That’s the motto he lives by and that shapes his reactions and his choices. It enables him to see past discomfort and imprisonment to rejoice in the cause of Christ, because the enjoyment of Christ is the very meaning of life. It enables him to face the possibility of execution without freaking out, because ‘to die is gain’.

Why is it gain for him to die? Because to live is Christ!

You see how the two aspects of his statement are related? The second half is the consequence of the first half. It’s because, for Paul, ‘to live is Christ’ that he can then also say, ‘to die is gain.’ He’s not saying, “I really like Jesus, and so that’s what my life is all about. But I also think it’d be cool to die – so that’s great too.”

No, he explains in the following verses that to ‘depart’ (i.e. to die), means to be with Christ, which is far better for him personally than any other option. And this is because, for him to live is Christ.

Let’s say you’re a parent, and for you, to live is to enable your kids to have every opportunity in life and to succeed – to be happy, healthy, wealthy and respected. You live for those good report cards. The happy smiles on your kid’s face. To see them succeed in school, at work, with friends and in marriage. You work long hours and make sacrifices to do what you can to make it happen. You sit through long, boring awards ceremonies, which are frankly like being in prison!, but you rejoice, because your child is walking across the stage.

If it came to it, you’d even give your life if it meant ensuring, knowing that your child would enjoy the success and happiness you want for them. To die for that cause, to ensure that outcome, would in the end, just be gain for you personally.

Well, when we live for Christ, and not our children or anything else in this world, dying for him doesn’t just ensure some good outcome for him or the gospel. It means being with him. The struggle is over and we’re welcomed into the eternal joy of being with him personally. Not by faith anymore, but by sight.

 

Not just ‘escape’, but enjoying fellowship with Christ

I think it’s important for us to really absorb this point. That Paul really means death would be gain for him, because to live is Christ. The two go together.

You see it’s not just about being released from the struggles of this world into some ‘perfect eternity’. Eternity is good – it’s gain – because it means the full enjoyment of the thing, the person, that is at the centre of life itself.

I’ve just finished watching the Netflix series ‘the Good Place.’ I didn’t bother watching it when it first came out, but ended up coming back to it – curious to see where they really went with the whole concept.

In case you haven’t seen it or heard of it, the basic premise is that a woman, Eleanor, wakes up and is told she’s dead and is now in ‘the good place.’ But the complication is that Eleanor knows she doesn’t belong. She was a jerk in her life and all the nice things they seem to have on record for her just didn’t happen. There’s been a mistake.

Now, that’s just the beginning of the twists and turns in the series, and I won’t ruin it all. But I will ruin the very end (block your ears if you want). When she and her friends finally sort everything out and are welcomed into the good place as fully deserving, good human beings… there’s a problem. Eternity is boring. Even when you can get whatever you want and do whatever you want. Once you’ve flown around on magical unicorns for the 700th time… do you really want to keep doing it?

As a Christian watching the show, there’s lots of interesting ideas to wrestle with, but I think the big stand out is how empty the idea of ‘heaven’ is if you take God out of it. It’s quite insightful really. You see, our world wants the Kingdom of God (a life of eternal peace, justice and beauty) without the king – with ourselves at the centre of it all. But the Good Place shows this is ultimately an empty hope. Eleanor ends up choosing oblivion in the end, having arrived at the decision that life, even perfect eternal life, doesn’t hold anything more for her.

Paul isn’t living for Christ as a transaction – so that when the time comes he gets to go to the good place. He’s not just looking to escape suffering here and find some relief.

He’s living for Christ, because Jesus Christ is what life is all about! And he’s looking forward to an eternity of the full enjoyment of fellowship with the God who made him and the whole world and who laid down his own life out of love for us, to bring us back to himself.

To live is Christ and, so, to die is gain.

When we get this this, if we embrace this view of life, we open the possibility of finding joy in more than our circumstances. We learn to find joy in the thing, the person, who actually is at the centre of this world. We live for the one that can make life worth living.

 

Longing to see others live for Christ

But as much as Paul longs to depart and be with Christ, he is torn. He literally says, he’s torn between the desire to go and be with Christ and his desire to remain and encourage others in their faith [see 1:22-26]. The way he values Christ as the purpose and meaning of his own life shapes what he longs to see happen in other people’s lives. It motivates him to make choices that help other people find joy in Christ.

When you really love someone you don’t just want to enjoy them for yourself, as if they’re some kind of ‘thing’ that you’re consuming. Your greatest joy is found in seeing them experience joy. Just like the devoted parent who really lives when they see their child light up with pride or happiness. Or the person who only really enjoys doing something when they’re with their best friend – seeing them enjoy it as well.

Paul’s ultimate joy is seeing others enjoy Jesus with him. It’s seeing the cause of Jesus himself advanced in the world. Paul lives to see Jesus lifted high and praised, as the person, the thing, that is truly worthy of our devotion.

And so, having expressed his own desire to be freed from prison so that he can continue to encourage others to live for Christ, he goes on to urge his readers to live their lives worthy of the gospel of Christ. This is the one command, the one exhortation, in this whole passage.

27   Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel, 28 not being frightened in any way by your opponents.

In one sense, this statement is really opening up the whole rest of the letter, where Paul unpacks what it really means to live lives worth of the gospel of Christ. But it’s also the implication for us if we take on board the convictions and perspective that he’s been sharing. If we live for Christ, then we will shape our lives around the good news of Jesus and the advance of that gospel in the world. We will make decisions that reflect our ultimate value of Christ above anything else. We will live as people destined for heaven to live with Christ. We will stand together for the sake of the gospel, longing to see others live for Christ. We won’t really be frightened of anything or anyone in the end, because what matters most to us cannot be taken away…

 

Will you live for Christ?

I don’t know what came to mind for you, when I asked at the start what you live for, and whether that’s really working out for you. It might have been a mix of things.

But I want to encourage you to live for Christ.

Not merely to accept certain truths about him, or to live in a way that you think makes you a Christian. But to live for Christ. To make choices and to see your circumstances as someone who values knowing Jesus Christ and experiencing his mercy and grace and goodness as your greatest good.

Sarah and Cassandra, I know you get this already to a certain extent, or you wouldn’t be getting baptised today – and we’ll hear from you personally sharing about this in a moment. But as we’ve discussed, baptism marks the beginning of the journey more than the end, and I hope and pray that more and more you will learn to say, with the Apostle Paul, to live is Christ and to die is gain. I want to encourage you that you are making the right call to line your life up with Jesus and his gospel and to live for him. I want to urge you as citizens of heaven, to live lives worth of the gospel.

Friends and family of Sarah and Cassandra, I want to encourage you to let their baptism speak to you today in light of this passage. Let it proclaim to you, that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Consider the depth and the power of that way of life. Be encouraged to keep following Jesus, and to clarify your own purpose and convictions about life. Or be encouraged to consider why you should entrust yourself to Jesus and to end up confessing that for you, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Do reflect on what you’re living for, and whether that’s really working out for you – whether it will work out for you in the long run.

I’m pretty confident that what would bring Cassandra and Sarah real joy is to know that you too are living for Christ.

Chatswood Baptist Church, know that to live is Christ, and therefore, to die is gain. Remember this truth and learn the depths of it. Encourage each other more and more to see your circumstances and your choices and your future with the gospel of Jesus as your greatest concern. You live in a part of the world where it is natural and easy to live for work, real estate, possessions, food and recreation. You need to push hard against the grain to live for Christ. You need to help each other remember what and who life is really all about.

You all know that the reason we are leaving Chatswood and going to Islington is for the sake of the gospel. The hope is that the gospel will be advanced through this move. It’s hard to say good bye, and it’s going to mean more work for some – at least for me, Mark and Philip! But if our hopes come to pass, and we see Islington Baptist once again as a thriving growing church, seeing people from that community turn their lives around and begin living for Christ… it will be worth the sacrifice of goodbyes and extra work.

And of course, there’s no better way for me to express my hopes for you as I go than Paul’s words in verse 27… Chatswood Baptist Church, just one thing: as citizens of heaven, live your lives worthy of the gospel of Jesus. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel.