Philippians 1 – To Live is Christ, to Die is Gain

You can download the full PDF here: Philippians 1 – To live is Christ

These are my expanded notes from a sermon I preached on June 19, 2015.

Background:

            Paul probably visited Philippi in 49AD. Acts 16 tells us about his journey there. Residents of Philippi were very proud of their Roman citizenship as shown by their accusation against him in Acts 16:21, of “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” Paul utilized his Roman citizenship to his advantage—complaining that he and Silas were treated unjustly as citizens of Rome (Acts 16:37). So the imperial cult was very important to the people of Philippi, and this is why in Paul’s letter to the church he started there he uses analogies from that context. We see why it is significant that he mentions his witness to the “whole palace guard” (1:12-13, 4:22), his reference to our heavenly citizenship (1:27, 3:20), his use of titles of the emperor for Jesus (2:11, 3:20-21 – Lord and Saviour), his sorrow over those who gave into cultural pressure and abandoned the faith (3:18-19) and his promise of the “peace of God” rather than the “Pax Romana” (Roman peace) as the security of the believer’s peace of mind.

            We read in Acts 16 that Philippi apparently didn’t have the necessary amount of Jewish men to establish a synagogue (10 men minimum), so instead he found a place of prayer by the river where some women gathered for Sabbath (Acts 16:13). This is where Paul meets Lydia, his first convert there (Acts 16:14). She was a Gentile follower of Judaism, a merchant of purple cloth—so probably wealthy—she would have been like a high ‘fashionista.’

            Secondly we find the demon possessed slave girl who Paul exorcises in Jesus name (Acts 16:16-18). She used to predict the future by the power of the demons, but now that she was set free her masters were enraged because they loss their income from her, so they dragged Paul before the court. There was a strong aversion to Jewish proselytizing in Philippi as seen by their words in Acts 16:20-21. The magistrates strip, beat and imprison Paul and Silas (Acts 16:22-24). So when Paul reminds the Philippians in his letter of their suffering being the same as his, he is calling them back to this incident probably (Phil 1:30). Paul uses this common experience of suffering to show how it leads ultimately to vindication by God’s triumphant grace.

            Lastly, we see the conversion of the Roman jailer when Paul and Silas are miraculously set free from the prison (see Acts 16:25-34). These were probably some of the people Paul had in mind as he was writing to the Philippians’ church. We see how the Gospel infiltrates and saves people from all strata of society—a rich merchant lady, a demon possessed slave girl, and a Roman soldier—so that truly there is neither, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Chirst! Paul uses such language of friendship throughout this letter, and it shows his great affections for them as seen in 4:1: “my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, dear friends.” This makes Philippians a unique letter in the NT, because there is not much rebuke in it, but rather a friendly encouragement to continue strong in the faith—and one many Christians have found very inspiring and uplifting to continue fighting the good fight.

(Read Philippians 1)


Looking at the text:

Two things which frame the letter:

1. Verse 5 – κοινωνία in the Gospel

“…because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:5-6)

            His joyful thanksgiving for their partnership (κοινωνία – koinōnia) in the gospel is based upon his conviction that this partnership is the good work of God. Philippians 1:6 is widely interpreted as a basis for personal confidence: God began the good work of salvation in me, and he will complete that good work in me. Of course, the good work of God includes God’s work of salvation in the individual. But as true as that individualistic application of the text is, it misses the connection of God’s good work to koinōnia. The good work that God began was the formation of a corporate entity: the partnership (koinōnia) in the gospel. Those who belong to this koinōnia enjoy a friendship deeper than the blood relationship of brothers and sisters on the basis of their mutual participation in the saving work of Christ announced by the gospel. How many have experienced this on mission trips or even just ministering together for the gospel? There is a special deep connection that binds believers who labour together for the Lord, and even more so for when they suffer together for the sake of Christ. Their koinōnia as friends is also a koinōnia as partners in the work of proclaiming the gospel.[1]

            This concept of koinōnia is important to framing the text of Philippians as Paul is encouraging the Philippians toward unity in this one purpose of the gospel. We see this thought continued in chapter 2:1-11 where he encourages them that if there is any encouragement in Christ, to being united, not be selfish, esteem others more highly, look to the interest of others—and all of this by looking to Jesus as our ultimate example of this model. True unity of fellowship happens when believers are in koinōnia for the sake of the gospel. A church that has lost its focus on the gospel and evangelism will soon lose its unity also. It is the most important message, and the reason we’re left on this earth to spread.


2. Verses 9-11: An Exposition of Paul’s Prayer

            I believe this prayer also helps set the tone and frame for Paul’s letter, for in it he states what his desired outcome for the Philippians is. So let’s track with Paul’s flow of thought in his prayer and dig into what he and the Holy Spirit is saying to us. I’ve included my labelled mapping of the verses above so you can follow my path through the passage.

Phil-1_9-11

1.            Firstly, he prays that their love would abound more and more. However, this is not a mere sentiment or fluffy feeling he is talking about, because he follows it up (A & B) “with knowledge and all discernment”. This is a love that is not void of the intellect, but rather comes with or through it. He is speaking of a love which is birthed out of knowing Christ through his Word. This is why he pairs it with “all discernment”. Knowing plays a vital role in the life of the Christian in kindling passion for God.

            The intellectually lazy Christian is biblically an oxymoron. Paul knows that if these Christians are to stand fast in the trials of life, holding on to the faith in the face of persecution and death, persevering in love for one another—it has to be grounded and rooted in Christ through something more than just mere fickle emotions. It is this love which is born out of knowing Christ that Paul later in Philippians 3:8 says makes him “count all things loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” It is the knowledge of Christ as who He is that outweighs every earthly gain and makes it seem like “dung” to Paul. Christ is to be treasured. The only way He will be highly treasured is for Him to be intimately known. The only way we will know Him like that is to study His word. For the sake of our faith and joy—we must not be lazy in our minds. Jonathan Edwards said that “religious affections are not all heat without light”—there must be some illumination happening there for it to be genuine Christian affection for Christ and His truth.

2.            He follows this up with a purpose clause, “so that”. The purpose of Paul wanting them to abound in love with knowledge and discernment is so that they would “approve what is excellent”. 1 Corinthians 13:6 says that love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” This is the type of love that Paul hopes would abound in them. It is a love that approves and rejoices in what is excellent. Though knowing Christ via the scriptures, they would see the surpassing worth of Christ, and forsake all other illegitmate pleasures of sin and this world—approving what is excellent and this would lead to them being “pure and blameless for the Day of Christ.”

3.            Thirdly, we see that this becoming pure and blameless by approving what is excellent prepares them for Christ’s emminent return. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) The Day of Christ is both that terrible day of judgment on all evil and injustice, but also the blessed hope of those in Christ! May we live in light of that glorious Day! No person will stand before God on that Day and regret sacrificing too much, praying too much, or giving too much. I’m pretty sure none of us when we are standing before the glorified Christ will say I wish I spent more time in trivial pursuits and chasing material gains. All these things will pale in light of His glory and grace.

4.            Fourthly, by abounding in love, with knowledge and discernment which enables them to approve what is excellent, being pure and blameless which prepares them for the Day of Christ, they are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” We see that there is no conjunction here, it is not a new idea he’s intruducing, so it is a continuation of the thought. This process of knowing Christ more leads to bearing fruit as it is how we are rooted in him (Col. 2:7), so that we bear fruit (John 15:8). We can look at Galatians 5:22-23, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Against these fruits there is no law, therefore we are prepared for standing before the Judge.

            Now, this is not to say that we are saved by our good works, but rather that the good works which flow from having a saving knowledge of Christ are the evidences that we are truly saved. The evidence of a new relationship with God is a new relationship with sin and that we want to do the things which please Him because we treasure Him! This is why the very next verse in Galatians says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

5.            Lastly, Paul sums up the purpose of all of this—everything that he has prayed for them (and us)—it is to the glory and praise of God. John Piper has a famous saying that, “I am most satisfied when God is most glorified in me.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism says it this way, “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Also it continues that God has given the His Word contained in the Scriptures as, “the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.” This sums up nicely Paul’s prayer here and frames the purpose and outcome which Paul wants to see happen in these believers’ lives and ours. This is why we are diving into our study today—with the hope that this prayer will be answered in our lives. It is with these 2 points that Paul frames his letter – koinōnia and love that abounds to God’s glory.


Verse 21—To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain

            Paul then rejoices in the Gospel advance where he is—that the whole palace guard has heard the Gospel now through his imprisonment. And even that it has caused the brethren to become bold by seeing how bold Paul was. He even rejoices that people are preaching Christ to try to add to his afflictions because he knows the power of the Gospel is not in the messenger, but in the message and the Holy Spirit working through it to convict people. Why is he rejoicing?

            Here we come to a definitive statement in Philippians 1, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In fact, Paul seems to be having difficulty choosing between the two (v. 23)! This is the secret to Paul’s rejoicing. Paul must have been a frustrating person for those who opposed him. If you threatened him and told him not to preach, he’d reply like Peter, “I’d rather obey God than men.” (Acts 5:29) You throw him in prison, and he converts all your guards. If you beat him, he’d say “I count not the sufferings of this world worthy of comparing to the weight of glory awaiting me.” (2 Cor. 4:17) If you take away all that he has he says, “I count all things loss for the sake of Christ.” (Phil 3:8) If you kill him, he says, “dying is gain!!” (Phil 1:21) Paul is unstoppable because Paul realizes that he’s already a dead man walking. Indeed for all those redeemed in Christ, we all are! I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

            You can’t threaten a dead man! Paul is truly free from this world—this is how we are to live. Christianity is not that we add Jesus to our lives. It is that we exchange our life for His! The Gospel call is to a cross! “If any many desire to come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow after me.”(Luke 9:23) When we come to Christ, we are united with Him first in His death—whereby we crucify the flesh, our desires, our sinful life—then are raised to life together with Him so that our life is now found IN HIM. You have died to your self-autonomy, your life is Christ’s now—and that is gloriously good news!

Ignatius of Antioch that great early church father of the first century, was given the chance to recant but instead said these words before going to face execution by wild beasts:

“Now am I beginning to be a disciple. May naught of things visible and things invisible envy me; that I may attain unto Jesus Christ. Come fire and cross and grapplings with wild beasts, [cuttings and manglings,] wrenching of bones, hacking of limbs, crushings of my whole body, come cruel tortures of the devil to assail me. Only be it mine to attain unto Jesus Christ.[2]

The farthest bounds of the universe shall profit me nothing, neither the kingdoms of this world. It is good for me to die for Jesus Christ rather than to reign over the farthest bounds of the earth. Him I seek, who died on our behalf; Him I desire, who rose again [for our sake]. The pangs of a new birth are upon me.”[3]

            What makes a man so bold a witness as to willingly embrace death? It is when he has seen Christ as more valuable than life itself! Even the way verse 21 is written in Greek—there is no verb in between. It’s simply “to live Christ, to die gain.” It’s like you can put an equal sign between them and say, “to live = Christ and to die = gain.” Or indeed, that only in Christ is true life found!!

            Salvation is an exchange, we give up our life for His. Rags for riches and beauty for ashes is the great exchange. Many would say they would die for Jesus, but if you’re not living for him presently—what makes you think you would die for him? Not in any way to discredit the value and amazing faith of the martyrs, but I’d be bold to say, it takes more courage to live a long life of faithful service to our Lord than to hastily say you’d lay down your life. The early church understood that you did not seek the martyr’s crown—it was something that God had to choose you for. You want to be a martyr? Pick up your cross daily and follow Him! If we do not die to ourselves daily, we will not understand that this life is no longer ours to live. And if we have not seen Christ beautifully for all that He is, dying makes no sense. Only the one who realizes the immense value of the treasure buried in the field will sell all that he has joyfully to have it! (Matt. 13:44)


Living Worthy of the Gospel – an exposition of verses 27-30

            Paul’s closing lines in chapter one are a good conclusion of what he’s been talking about so far—although this is continued in chapter 2 (remember there weren’t chapter divisions in the original). However, for now we will end with going through this section of scripture together. I have provided below my own translation of the Greek text to try to bring out some of the nuances I think we may miss reading some English translations. I’d encourage you in your own study to similarly underline, highlight and map out a passage to better follow the flow of though or argument.

Phil-1_27-30

1. Verse 27: A. Heavenly Citizenship

            Paul turns from his own circumstances and exhorts his friends by focusing their attention on “only” one significant demand. Some translations say “Just one thing!” This “one thing” is all which follows next in the imperative sentence. He commands them to “πολιτεύεσθε” [politeuesthe] which is an Present Imperative from the verb “πολιτεύομαι” [politeuomai] which derives from the word “πολίτης” [polités] meaning “a citizen”. He utilizes the Philippians’ high regard for Roman citizenship to communicate something significant. So the command he gives is literally to “live as a citizen”. But a citizen of what?

            He explains later in Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” In Ephesians 2:19 he says that through Christ we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Paul is reminding us that as Christians, our home is no longer in this world—we have a heavenly citizenship—and as such, we’re expected to conduct ourselves according to the great grace we’ve been shown.

            Someone who lives as a foreigner in a land that is not their home lives differently to someone who has made a place their home. So how are we to live as “foreigners on earth”? What does it say about us when we amass comforts and stuff here as if we were going to stay here forever? Would you spend money furnishing a hotel room? Now I’m not saying that we don’t invest or take care of the things we are given here, but rather that we live in light of eternity—knowing that this is not our permanent dwelling place—so why get overly entangled with temporary affairs? We work towards a kingdom that is yet to come fully, and toward an eternal reward. How are non-Christians to believe our message if we live as if this live is the only thing we have to live for? YOLO is not a Christian’s motto!

Worthy of the Gospel

            Paul starts here by admonishing us to live ξίως [axiōs] “worthy of the Gospel” or in manner becoming of the Gospel. St. Basil the Great (330-379AD – and no, he’s not the patron saint of seasoning) wrote about this saying:

“The Christian ought to be so minded as becomes his heavenly calling, and his life and conversation ought to be worthy of the Gospel of Christ. The Christian ought not to be of doubtful mind, nor by anything drawn away from the recollection of God and of His purposes and judgments. The Christian ought in all things to become superior to the righteousness existing under the law… He ought not to speak evil; to do violence; to fight; to avenge himself; to return evil for evil; to be angry. The Christian ought to be patient… and to convict the wrong-doer in season, not with the desire of his own vindication, but of his brother’s reformation… He must not talk idly… The Christian ought not to be enslaved by wine; nor to be eager for flesh meat, and as a general rule ought not to be a lover of pleasure in eating or drinking… The Christian ought to regard all the things that are given him for his use, not as his to hold as his own or to lay up… No Christian ought to think of himself as his own master, but each should rather so think and act as though given by God to be slave to his like minded brethren…”[4]

            The Gospel is a high calling to walk worthily of. It is actually a calling to which we are totally incapable of fulfilling—which is the point! Paul says in Colossians 2:6, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” How did we receive Christ? By first recognizing our need for Him. We needed Him to do in us, that which we could not do for ourselves. This is not just the entry point of salvation, but also the continuing driving force of Christian living. As we received Christ—as helpless beggars of His grace—so too are we to walk in Him! Growth in Christian maturity is an increasing dependence on God.

2. A. Standing firm – στήκετε

            Paul wishes to hear that they are standing firm—unified in the faith. In one spirit, here Paul isn’t necessarily talking about the Holy Spirit, but rather the human spirit. It is like how we would express persons in unison as being ‘in one spirit.’ He also strengthens this by adding “with one mind”—emphasizing the common mind or having the same attitude together.[5]He then explains what this “standing firm” looks like by the following participles, positively with συναθλοῦντες (B) and negatively with μὴ πτυρόμενοι (C).

B. Striving together – συναθλοντες (verse 28)

            Paul uses an interesting word here, “συναθλοῦντες” from the verb “συναθλέω” [sunathleó]—which is a compound word, “sun” + “ahtleo”. “sun” simply means “with” and from “athleo” we get our English gloss “athlete”. The word has the sense “to compete together with others” or “cooperate vigorously with”. It brings to mind athletes competing together for a prize. Sound familiar? (see 1 Cor. 9:24, 2 Tim. 4:7, Heb 12:1) This is how we’re to stand firm in one spirit and mind—not stagnant, but actively “motivating one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Why? For the faith of the Gospel. It is the Gospel charge that brings the church together in unity for one purpose. How is your life reflecting this?

C. Fearless – μ πτυρόμενοι

            Paul uses a double emphatic negative here, literally, “not being afraid in nothing”—just in case you had any doubts. It explains negatively what standing firm looks like.

“πτύρω, found only here in the Greek Bible, in its other occurrences is almost always employed in the passive voice and means ‘to be frightened, terrified, let oneself be intimidated’. It could denote the uncontrollable stampede of startled horses. The Philippians’ opponents tried to throw them into a panic or to strike terror into their hearts. If, however, the believers stand firm as a congregation, one in heart and mind, then at no point should they be intimidated by their adversaries.”[6]

            And we’re not to be afraid of the ντικειμένων”  [antikeimenōn] – literally translated “the ones opposing you”—could have a wide range of applications including enemies of Jesus, opponents of believers, the Antichrist and even Satan. So Paul is desiring for us “not being afraid in nothing by anyone or anything opposing you.” That is the level of fearlessness we can have because of Romans 8:31-39:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

3. Evidence of destruction and Salvation

            This living as citizens of Heaven, worthy of the Gospel, standing firm in unity and striving together for the work of the Gospel boldly without fear of opposition is νδειξις” [endeixis] or “undeniable proof” or “an obvious demonstration” of destruction and salvation. Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 says, For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” Our lives which are lived out earnestly for Christ and the Gospel is part of what God uses to convict sinners or encourage fellow believers. Our testimony is that important. This is why we must strive to live worthy of the gospel!

            I think of the story of “The Cross and the Switchblade”—a true story of David Wilkerson, a young preacher from Pennsylvania who went to New York city and influenced some hard gang members. In it, he meets with one particularly ruthless teen—Nicky Cruz. Nicky Cruz threatened Wilkerson, “You come near me and I’ll kill you!” The lanky country preacher responded, “Yeah, you could do that. You could cut me up into a thousand pieces and lay them in the street, and every piece will still love you.” That sort of unrelenting love, standing firm, unafraid of opponents, unsettled and scared Cruz and he eventually gave his life to Christ. Wilkerson’s ministry eventually birthed Teen Challenge, an inner city ministry that continues to minister thousands of men and women with drug and alcohol addiction.

A life lived wholly sold out for the Lord is often the best apologetic. Even the apologist’s theme verses is:

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14-16 ESV)

            However, not to let it go to our heads as if this were our doing, Paul reminds us at the end of verse 28 that “this is from God.” We have nothing to boast of except in the cross. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

4. Verse 29: Graced to believe and suffer

            All of this is because of Grace—God’s undeserved favour on our lives. Not that we were deserving of forgiveness, reconciliation, or blessing—in fact the bible tells us just the opposite.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:1-5 ESV)

            Grace is amazing! It is only by grace that we who were once dead, blind, enemies of God are made alive and anew in Christ. Indeed in the following verse in Philippians 1:29, that is the very word that Paul uses. He says, all of this is “because it has been χαρίσθη [echaristhē] to you.” That verb χαρίζομαι” [charizomai] comes from the word “χάρις” [charis] which we translate “grace.” And oh how we love grace!!! But notice what Paul says we’re graced with? Not only to believe, but to suffer? Graced to suffer!? Where does Paul get this crazy idea from? Well… Jesus.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12 ESV)

But Paul isn’t a masochist—he doesn’t see suffering as an end in itself.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)

In fact—the other NT writers also echo this:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV)

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14 ESV)

            In Acts 5—the disciples rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ. In Acts 14, Paul is stoned and left for dead, but gets up and the next day he’s preaching the gospel again and strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.(Acts 14:22 ESV) Paul encourages the Philippians who are undergoing persecution, that they are having the same struggle that they saw in him when he was there, and also that they hear of him now that he’s away. He reminds them of his time in jail and how the Lord delivered him and brought glory to His name. Suffering as a Christian is not optional. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV) That’s a promise you don’t hear a lot of people claiming these days! Certainly not the blessing you hear from the prosperity gospel!

            Anyone who has been a serious Christian for a length of time knows this all too well. For a large part (about 90%) of the Christians who live in parts of the world where they are persecuted and even martyred for their faith, they know it. We know it when we face our own trials for the sake of Christ. When our faith is tested, when we’re ridiculed for standing for Christ or a Biblical worldview. When though we follow Him, yet are we afflicted with disease and sickness, loved ones die, accidents happen and the evils of this world tear at our hearts. We follow a crucified Lord, and His charge to His disciples is to “take up your cross daily.” We follow Him in a world system that is set against Him, sent as sheep among wolves, as light in darkness. According to Peter, we “share in Christ’s sufferings” and in doing so know Him more intimately through them. In fact, this is exactly where Paul takes his argument later in this letter, he says:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV)

            Knowing Christ… “that I may know him” Paul says. How infinitely sweet is this knowledge that it would make even suffering and death pale by comparison!? Indeed, “O death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55 ESV) That is the Christ I want to know! The Christ who’s savour is better than life itself! Oh that I may taste and see that the Lord is good! It is because of this that Paul is willing to gladly endure suffering, because in it, He knows and experiences Christ the more. It would be plain insanity were it not true. But “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV)

            However, there is one important truth we hold on to more than just a final eschatological hope—that is that He is with us now, in our sufferings. Right there in the Great Commission is the Great Comfort, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This is how we are graced not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake. How many have felt this comfort of Christ in the most desperate and hopeless of times? How many have known His presence tangible when they stood up for the Gospel? For those who have known the sweetness of His presence—they know that it is worth all the money, possessions and even hardships of this life. We only taste it now and yet it is enough to give us spiritual diabetes! Imagine in the age to come when we shall forever bask in His presence! These foretastes of heaven are only the sprinkle, a mere drip… imagine when we are under the full waterfall of His love and we know Him as we are known, face to face with Grace amazing!

            If you do not know Jesus in this way, or if this just doesn’t make sense—if you’re not a believer and all this talk about dying being gain seems ridiculous—you’re right! It makes no sense until you’ve tasted and seen that Christ is all that you need and more. I pray that the Lord would reveal Himself to you and become the delight of your heart, that you may comprehend with all the saints what is the height and depth and breadth and width of the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge, so that you would abound in joyous enjoyment of Him now and forever!

Amen.


ENDNOTES

[1] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 50.

[2] Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 151.

[3] Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 151.

[4] Basil of Caesarea, “Letters,” in St. Basil: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Blomfield Jackson, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895), 128.

[5] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 150.

[6] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 152–153.

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