Text: Philippians 1:12-30
What does it take to keep people together? This question lies behind a good marriage, but it is also the key to deep and lasting friendships, as well as business ventures, political alliances, and even healthy and successful churches. What causes some folks to stick together and other folks to split up and go their own way? Sometimes people try to answer this with the general notion of “compatibility.” Some personalities just “click,” they might say. Others appeal to shared values. The answer is actually both more specific and more basic. The key to sticking together is having a shared desire, a larger goal which everyone wants to realize. It’s having the same mission.
But how do you get that? Now, that’s the really tricky question. It isn’t enough to take the desires we already have and then go look for others who happen to have the same ones and pair up with them. No, for Christians, we have to critically examine our desires and submit them to the mind of Christ. In fact, it’s even more extreme than this. We have to give up our own desires completely. We have to surrender them to Jesus, along with our whole life, and we have to find our new life in Him, seeing His life in us and in those around us.
This all brings us to our sermon text today. The Apostle Paul says that “to live is Christ.” And he means just that—his life is for a purpose, the purpose of being like Christ and having Christ live in him. In fact, his life is not his own. It is Christ’s. This conviction is what drives his entire ministry, his sense of mission, and his philosophy for life in the church. It allows him to be content in the face of pressure, persecution, and suffering, and it gives him confidence to take pious risks, to rush into dangerous situations for the sake of the gospel. He knows that to die is gain, and so whatever life he lives must be the life of Christ. And so this is true for us as well today. Jesus calls all men unto Himself. He calls you to give up your life and follow Him. And for those of you who have placed your trust in Him, this means that your life is not your own. Your life is now Christ’s life.
Confidence in the Face of Death
The first thing that should strike us is the Apostle Paul’s confidence in the face of death. He simply is not worried. He wants to assure the church at Philippi that everything is working out for the best, even when it looks like it has taken a turn for the worst. “These things which have happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (vs. 12). And the reason that Paul is not afraid of death is because of his belief that he is, already, united with Christ. Listen to what he says in Philippians 1:19-20. “I will rejoice… For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” There simply is no possible outcome which worries Paul. If he dies, then he gets to live with Christ. If he lives on earth, then he gets to magnify Christ in his body. Whether things seem to go well or poorly, the Apostle Paul sees it all as a win.
Paul isn’t afraid of dying. “In nothing shall I be ashamed, whether by life or by death… For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (vs. 20, 23). “To die is gain” (vs. 21). Now, can we talk this way? How would you respond if someone said they thought it would be better for them to go ahead and die so that they could be with Jesus? It seems a bit wrong, to want to die, to leave this world. But the sentiment is perfectly biblical. Everybody dies. You cannot hang on to your life. In fact, there is a sense in which you must hate it. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). What do you think bearing a cross means, after all? It’s not your best life now. It means giving up your life.
But there is another sense in which we should not desire death. We should not be actively trying to exit this world, nor should we despise the good gifts that God has given us. Those would be false interpretations. In fact, Paul tells us why he needs to continue living in this world. It is so that he can carry out the mission: “Nevertheless, to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (vs. 24). “If I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor” (vs. 22). And what is that fruit? It’s the ministry, the people of God. Paul’s life is for a purpose. He has a job to do.
We should be clear about this. According to Paul, the reason that God doesn’t take him to heaven to be with Jesus right now, something that Paul admits he would like, is that his life has a purpose. But the purpose isn’t Paul’s own interests or fulfillments. It isn’t so he can have a nice family, make some money, and enjoy the finer things in life. No, it is so he can be used by God for other people. Paul says that he is confident that he will “remain” and “continue” for the people’s “progress and joy of faith” (25). His remaining with them will result in increased fruit.
Union with Christ
All of this is actually quite radical. The only reason that Christians shouldn’t die and be taken up to heaven right now is because God wants us to do a job. He has plans for us, and we must use our remaining time on this planet to carry out that task. In fact, our life is not even our life anymore. It’s Christ’s.
We see this teaching, that our life is now Christ’s life, throughout Paul’s letters. In Galatians 2 he says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Notice that statement, “It is no longer I who live.” In a sense, there is no more Paul. He’s dead. There is just Christ. Christ is in Paul. This is what the doctrine of union with Christ means. When we are united to Christ, we are given all that is His, chiefly salvation, but the other side of this means that all we have and do has to be given to Christ. Our life now is not our life. It is Christ’s life in us.
This is different than how many people think about Christianity. They tend to begin with themselves, and then when they understand their sin and salvation, they move to thinking about Christ and what He has done for them. But they tend to come back to themselves and end there. They see their salvation, and then they look for ways that Jesus can bless their lives, what they want and what they love. But we don’t need to think this way. Once we move from ours sin and salvation to thinking about how Jesus gives us grace, we need to not move back to ourselves as something outside of Jesus, but we need to stay in Jesus and find ourselves in him. Union with Christ is a two-way street, and the salvation life that we now live is a life “in Christ.”
This is why we see these expression “in Christ” and “Christ in me” in Paul’s letters. In 2 Corinthians 13:3 Paul says, “Christ… [is] speaking in me.” And in 1 Timothy 1:16 Paul says, “for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering.” Whose longsuffering do we see in Paul’s salvation? We see Christ’s. After coming to faith in Christ, everything that Paul does with his life is meant to show Jesus. In fact, his entire life is just supposed to be Jesus’ life. “To live is Christ.”
When we are converted to Christ, we are united to him. We are baptized into his death, and we put on the new man. The life we live is Christ in us. And this means that all we do in life has to be Christ. Christ in us. This is why Paul can be confident in the face of death. He knows that Christ has conquered death and that now, on the other side of Easter, earthly death is but a doorway to the next life, the life eternal. This is also why we can be confident in the face of death. There is quite literally nothing to lose.
Confidence in the Face of Life
We have seen this week what it looks like for Christians to sacrifice their lives for Christ. It’s a huge and astounding thing. But for most of us, confidence in the face of death is not the actual pressing need. If faced with dying for Jesus, things would be made pretty simple. Most of us would, or at least we would say that we would, be true to our faith. There’s a heroic simplicity about it. In that extreme scenario, with the gun pointed at your head, we would be willing to die rather then deny our faith. But the more difficult challenge for those of us living in relative comfort and ease is not dying for our convictions so much as living. What if Jesus calls us to a long life of struggle, frustration, suffering, annoyance, and self-sacrifice? Can we have confidence in the face of that kind of life? Can we still be excited about Christ and willing to live thankful and content lives?
The biblical answer here is actually the same as it was when faced with death. Yes, we can and must have confidence to continue living in this life, no matter what may come, and we can and must have this confidence because we are united with Christ. Our life is not our own. It is Christ in us.
But notice what else Paul says here in Philippians. “It has been granted on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for his sake” (vs. 29). It has been granted to suffer. The word “granted” is literally “gifted” or “graced.” Out of the kindness and liberality of His mercies, God has given us the gift of suffering for the sake of Jesus. You’re welcome. And this means that suffering is a gift.
God gives us suffering. We must understand this if we are to properly live our lives in Christ. And of course, if we are living our lives in Christ, and if we are being like Christ, then that means that our lives are going to be like Christ’s life was. And what was his life like? It was a life of piety and compassion of course. But it was also a life of suffering. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:4-5). And that means that all who follow Jesus will suffer, and we will suffer for the sake of others.
We are not terrified by our adversaries. This seems crazy to the world. “To them [it] is a proof of perdition” (vs. 28). Yet to those in Christ facing adversity is exactly what we expect, and so having adversaries is proof of our salvation. It means that our life gets to be like Christ’s.
This guarantee of suffering and affliction ought to put some things into perspective for us. If we are not worried by the big challenges—suffering, persecution, and death!—then why are we worried or frustrated by lesser forms of suffering which we endure in our lives? Paul says, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God” (vs. 27-28). This means that in whatever comes our way, we should have the right mindset and attitude. We should not be afraid, discouraged, or even irritated, but instead we should be prepared and ready to rejoice. Again, in all of this we are getting to be like Christ.
When people speak evil against you falsely for Jesus’ sake, you are getting to be like Christ. When they are rude to you or try your patience, you are getting to be like Christ. When they don’t compliment you or give you your due, you are getting to be like Christ. When they take advantage of you or just don’t notice you, you are getting to be like Christ. Your life is Christ’s. And so rejoice, and then make the most of it. Put yourself to work being like Jesus to the world.
Notice also what Paul says in verse 30. “Having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” This means that we are undergoing the same kind of adversity and facing the same kinds of challenges as Paul was. Think about that for a moment. Because of his union with Christ, Paul underwent the same kinds of trials and tribulations as Christ himself. His life was Christ’s life. And now he says that we are undergoing the same kinds of trials and tribulations as he, Paul, is. From Christ, to Paul, to us. Union with Christ creates a sort of contagious lifestyle and mindset. It creates the “one spirit” which we are commanded to have. And it means that we will all have to make the same kinds of sacrifices and live the same kind of sacrificial lifestyles. We Christians are imitators, and we are makers— literal copiers. We make copies of Christ, first in ourselves, and then in those around us.
This understanding is absolutely essential for understanding the Christian life. You will be like somebody. You will copy them and follow their example. There are no pure individuals, and this is just a fact of our nature. Humans are images. But who you copy makes all the difference. If you try to copy those people who you feel are happy and successful, but you do so without copying Christ, you are bound to be disappointed. They will let you down. You will be frustrated, and when challenge and adversity hits, you will believe that you’ve failed. You will believe that something went wrong, and the temptation then will be towards despair and resentment.
But if you are copying Christ, then you know what to expect. You won’t be frustrated when you face adversity, but instead you expect it and can rejoice. You are getting to be like Jesus, and your suffering will lead to fruit in the lives of others. They will rejoice in your life, sufferings and all, just as the Philippians were able to rejoice in Paul’s, and as we all rejoice in Christ’s.
Let me ask you, parents, what were you expecting when you had kids? Was it going to be all giggles, smiles and warm feelings? Or was it going to be a lot of repetition, cleaning up mashed peas, spilled water, replacing that broken lamp, and a fair amount of crying, sighing, and head-scratching? And so what sort of picture of Jesus are you giving your kids to imitate when you respond to all of those normal things in life? What if they begin to share the struggles that you have and to respond to them the way you do? Will they be imaging Christ then or someone else?
This is also true for our friends, both in the making of them and in the keeping of them. We have to see them as images of Christ, and then we have to consider how we can image Christ towards them, in both the good times and the bad.
This works the same way at your job. Bosses have to see Jesus in their employees, and employees have to see Jesus in their bosses. Sometimes that second part is harder to pull off. We Americans are somewhat trained to buck authority and to resent even having a boss, but as Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody.” Can you see a picture of Jesus in your boss”? Can you imagine looking like Jesus towards your boss?
And finally, this understanding that our life is now Christ’s life should give us a boldness and confidence to take risks in life! “I know that this will turn for my deliverance… according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing shall I be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death.” (19-20) No matter what happens, Paul knows that Christ will be magnified. Paul’s life is not his to lose, and so he can only win! This gives him confidence and boldness. He knows the end of the story, and he knows that Jesus wins.
And this is true for us today. Our lives are not ours to lose. We have already died, and now we live in Christ and He lives in us. And so this means that we can only win. So go out and die for Christ. And even if you don’t literally die, you have to go out and die to yourself— your earthly goals and aspirations— in order to live for Christ. And so go be bold and have the confidence to live for Christ. To live is Christ and to die is gain! For the Christian, it’s all good because it’s all grace. It’s all Christ. So rejoice in this, that just as you have been united with Christ in His death, you are now united with Him in His life and yours.
Let us pray.