I'd like to read that this morning. It's found in the first chapter of Philippians in verse twenty one. It's rather an unusual statement. Paul said, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
What is Paul really telling us here? What is it about this statement that makes it the most perfect interpretation of what it means to be a Christian in all the Bible?
Well, first of all, I'd like to notice a little background as to when, why, and maybe circumstance under which Paul made this statement. It was about 50 AD, Paul was in the city of Troas on his second missionary journey. One night he received a dream, and in this dream he saw a man standing, and that man was calling out, "Come over and help us. Come to Macedonia and help us." Paul and his companions (at that time Silas was with him, Timothy and Luke), They recognized this as a call from God so they immediately responded, and started on their journey. They went by way of Neapolis and finally reached Philippi.
This city of Philippi became the first city in Europe to receive the gospel of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. On their first Sabbath there, they joined a small group of worshipers down by the river as they celebrated the Sabbath. There they met a lady by the name of Lydia. Now Lydia must have been quite a business woman. She is called a "seller of purple." She apparently sold cloth. In the city of Thyatira there was a guild that had developed a special way of dyeing cloth purple. It must have been very beautiful. And she was called, "a seller of purple."
After she heard the story of the gospel through Jesus, she and her family accepted Christ as their Savior and became the first converts to Christianity in Philippi.
During the following days as Paul and Silas were preaching in the city, there was a young woman, possessed of a demon that kept following them around and she would always cry out, "These men are the servants of the most high God. These men are the servants of the most high God..." Finally, Paul became quite agitated and he turned and cast the demon out of that young woman.
It seems that she had some masters who controlled her and they were making quite a bit of money off of her psychic powers and they became very angry when they saw the source of their income fade away. So they went out and began to stir up a mob against Paul and Silas and it got so bad that they were taken prisoner, they were beaten with rods, and thrown in prison. While they were in prison, there they were singing, and praying. You know, it's quite remarkable, isn't? Here are these men with their back beaten and probably bleeding, chained in prison, and here they are praising God and singing hymns.
Well, the Lord sent an earthquake and shook the jail open and the jailer was afraid that all the prisoners would escape. So he was about to take his own life, for that was the penalty for allowing the prisoners to escape. Paul jumped in and stopped him and said, "We're all here. You don't have to do this." He was very thankful, so he bathed their wounds and eagerly listened to the stories of salvation. He and his whole house were baptized and became charter members of the church there in Philippi.
Now, this is the way the work began. This is the way the church there in Philippi was organized. Lydia and her family, the jailer and his family, and a few others. They became the charter members of the church.
Several years later, as Paul was returning to Jerusalem on his third missionary journey, he was trying to get back to Jerusalem to be there during the celebration of the Passover. He saw he wasn't going to make it, so he stopped at Philippi to spend the eight days of the feast with his loved Philippian believers. He had a good time there. It was actually the last time that Paul would have some real relaxation and rest and fellowship for a long time.
In the book, Acts of the Apostles by EG White we are told that the Philippians were the most loving and true hearted of the apostle's converts. During the eight days of their feast, he enjoyed peaceful, happy communion with them. Of all the churches, of all the converts that Paul had, it seems that those people there in Philippi were his favorites. I suppose that this was true because they returned with the greatest devotion and enthusiasm his love.
When Paul finally got to Jerusalem, he was arrested and imprisoned. He was taken down to.... You remember the story how the Jews were about to plot against him and take his life. They moved him down to Caesarea. He went through some interrogation there. He remained in prison for two years. Finally, he was shipped off to Rome. He appealed to Caesar. Shipped to Rome for trial. On the way he went through shipwreck. In Rome he spent two years as a prisoner in a rented house under house arrest. While he was there the Philippians were very concerned about him. They knew that he had some needs, so they decided they would take up a collection and would get some gifts and they would send someone to Paul to take these things to him and help him out. So they chose one of their members there in Philippi, a man by the name of Apraphroditus. They sent him to Rome with their gifts. You know, we're told again in Acts of the Apostles that of all the churches, that of Philippi had been the most liberal in supplying Paul's needs.
You know, as you read Paul's writings you find that there were some of the churches that he wouldn't take any help from, he wouldn't allow them to help him at all. But he gladly received the help from the Philippian believers because of the true spirit and manner in which they were given.
Well, Apaphroditus reached Rome. He was helping Paul, ministering to him, took the gifts to him, and while he was there, he became very sick and it seemed that he was going to die. So, it was a very serious situation. But finally he did improve enough to travel and Paul was anxious to send him back to Philippi because the believers there were concerned about him as well as being concerned about Paul. But Paul wanted to send a message. He wanted to write a letter and send it by Apaphroditus, a message from his heart to theirs. And that's the way we have the book of Philippians in our Bible. It was a warm letter. True friends, expressing his gratitude, love, giving some spiritual counsel and encouragement.
You will notice as you read the book of Philippians that Paul didn't have to reprove the church there for any kind of special problems, moral corruption, false doctrines because they didn't have theses problems there in the Philippian church. Their bishops and their deacons were faithfully doing their work. They were suffering some persecution from the pagans, but in the whole letter there is only one little hint of a problem there in chapter 4:2. It seems that there was a little bit of disagreement between two of the ladies of the church. But I don't suppose that was too serious.
But, anyway, Paul write to them in love, thanking them for their concern and for their gifts and expressing his desire to see them again. But in the letter he acknowledges his grave situation. It's very possible that he will be found guilty and executed, never again have the opportunity to see his faithful believers here on this earth. So, here we find Paul really in prison, going through great trials, not knowing whether he would live or die. And what does he say? What does he write to his dear friends there in Philippi?
I'd like to give you a little paraphrase: it makes it a little clearer as to what Paul said found in the first chapter of Philippians. Here he is in prison, possibly facing death, and he says, (Philippians 1:18, cf.) "I'm going to keep on being glad, for I know that as you pray for me and as the Holy Spirit helps me this is all going to turn out for my good. For I live in eager expectation and hope that I will never do anything that will cause me to ashamed of myself. But I will always be ready to speak out boldly for Christ while I am going through all these trials here, just as I have in the past and that I will always be an honor to Christ whether I live or whether I must die."
Now, this is remarkable. Here Paul is facing death in prison, and he says, "I'm going to keep on being glad." In the KJV it says "an I therefore do rejoice." I'm going to keep on rejoicing.
You know, in chapter 4:11 (KJV) he said, "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned , in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." Now, think about that for a moment. Whatever state I'm in I've learned to be content. Now that's a very remarkable statement. He had learned a lesson few people in this world ever learn that life does not consist in satisfying our selfish desires but life consists in moral and spiritual achievements. Paul had learned to be content whether he had plenty or whether he had nothing. Whether he was in prison or whether he was a free man. Now, Paul knew that nothing could happen to him, except that which God permitted. He knew that. He knew that whatever happened to him, God could bring something good out of it. He knew that God was with him and that God would never leave him. And he was rejoicing because he knew that God's purposes were being worked out in his life, no matter what happened. So, why shouldn't he rejoice? Why shouldn't he be glad?
Paul was content in great adversity because of his philosophy of life. That philosophy is stated in these words: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Paul realizes that Nero would probably find him guilty, order his execution. When he contemplates the question of life and death, he does it from a prison house, the door of which may open to life and renewed service, or may open to the executioner's sword. He shares his feelings with his dearest friends there in Philippi and he expresses his whole philosophy of life in this one verse. "To me to live is Christ, and to dies is gain."
What is he saying? He's saying, "Christ is the author of my life. I didn't really begin to live until I met Jesus." You know, he's thinking of that day some thirty years earlier when on the Damascus road he saw that blinding light, and he heard that voice from heaven full of tenderness and compassion, pleading with him: "Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Paul said, "That was my birthday. That was the day I was born again." Saul of Tarsus who had studied in the university of Jerusalem; Saul of Tarsus who served on the Sanhedrin, sat on the highest national counsel was a dead man. He didn't know what it meant to live. That day he began to understand what John tells us there in 1 John 5:11 (KJV), "And this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." As Jesus said in John 5:24, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come to condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." And as God's servant tells us in Desire of Ages - EG White, "Those who see Christ in His true character receive Him to the heart have everlasting life. And the Spirit of God received into the heart by faith is the beginning of eternal life." The very minute you receive Christ unto your heart, that is the beginning of eternal life. You have it now. You don't have to wonder. You don't have to worry. You have eternal life as long as you have Jesus Christ in your heart, as long as you have received Him as your Savior.
You see, the apostle Paul had full assurance that he had eternal life through Jesus Christ his Lord. More than that, when Paul said, "For me to live, he meant that for me to live is for me to reproduce Christ. He meant that life without was a reflection of Christ's life within his heart. That's why he said there in his letter to the Philippians, "Brethren, be followers of me." Paul said, "Follow me. You can safely follow me. You can follow my example, because I am following Jesus Christ every day." You see, God's servant says that Christ is no value to us if we do not know Him as the personal Savior. We must receive Him to the heart so that His life becomes our life.
When Paul said, "For me to live is Christ," he meant that Christ was the aim. Christ was the motive, the goal of his whole life. His highest striving was to be like Christ, to emulate Him. Christ was the centerpiece of his life. And now he could say, "God forbid that glory, save in the cross of Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified in me and I unto the world."
Then Paul says, "and to die is gain." Now, this is a strange and surprising statement. Especially coming from one who loved life as much as Paul. Paul liked to travel, but he loved to preach. Paul found joy in winning souls, winning new converts, raising up new churches. Paul had come face to face with death many times. Here he is writing from jail and from prison and he knows that he will probably be executed: he's facing death. And yet he says, "Death is gain."
Now Paul can only say this because he first affirmed that life is Christ. If Paul had said, "For me to live is pleasure, to have a good time, to enjoy every physical sensation I can possibly squeeze out of life," death would bring an end to all of that, and he couldn't say, "Death is gain." If Paul had said, "For me to live is power, to create as much prestige and status and control over other men's lives as possible," death brings an end to power and position. Or if Paul had said, "For me to live is money. For me to live is to amass all the wealth and all the possessions I can gather together in my stay on earth," You see, death is the ultimate withdrawal. We all leave this earth as we enter with empty hands.
Paul knew that when he fell asleep in death to him it would only be a moment as it were until he would open his eyes and see Jesus, and this was the greatest desire of his life. He wanted to be with his beloved Jesus. He wanted that more than anything.
Paul said in his letter to the Philippians 1:22-24 (KJV), "But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." He said I would really like to keep on living, to be with you, to help you, to encourage you, to minister to you. But I also want to be with my dear Lord and Master. which is far better, he said. Or to die is gain.
Now he's not saying that he thinks that he will be with Christ the moment of his death. Actually he is explaining his desire, which is to leave this present troubled existence and to be with Christ without reference to the lapse of time that may occur between those two events. With the whole strength of his ardent nature, he longed to live with the one whom he had so faithful served. You see, Paul knew, as God's servant tells us in Desire of Ages, "To the Christian, death is but a sleep. A moment of silence in darkness, the life is hid with Christ. When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." See, he makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 15:51,52 (KJV). He says, "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, and the dead in Christ shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." We know that trumpet sounds at the second coming of our Lord in the clouds of heaven. And Paul knew that when he fell asleep, for him time would cease and it would only be like the snap of your finger when he would open his eyes and then he would be with Jesus and all his trials and sorrows and struggles would be over. No more weariness, no more pain. Now he's with his beloved Savior forever and ever.
I think this is what Paul was talking about when he said, "to die is gain." "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." What a beautiful summation of his commitment to Christ, of his whole Christian experience, of his trust and love for his Lord!
Well, happily, Nero did acquit Paul and let him go for a brief time. He was able to travel and labor among the churches again. And he possibly even visited Philippi, we don't know for sure. But then once again he was taken and put in prison. This time he was put in a dungeon with just a little hole in the top so that they could let down a little food. Before he was put in prison, though, he faced this trial. What a heart touching situation when Paul was called in before Nero. Here were the Romans and the Jews: they were accusing of setting fire and burning the city of Rome. Sad to say, there was no one with him. Even the members of the church had gone away and left him here and Paul stood alone, as it is described by God's servant, without money, without friends, without counsel, the aged prisoner stood before Nero. There we see Nero, his countenance bearing the shameful record of the passions that raged within. The face of the accused, the face of Paul, telling of the hearted peace with God. Paul's experience had been one of poverty, self denial, suffering. Those there had been present at many trials and looked upon many a criminal but never had they seen a man who wore a look of such holy calmness as did the prisoner before them. Faithful among the faithless, loyal among the disloyal, he stands as God's representative. His voice is as the voice from heaven. There is no fear, no sadness, no discouragement in word or look. Strong in the consciousness of innocence, clothed in the panoply of truth he rejoices that he is a son of God. His words are as a shout of victory above the roar of battle. He declares the calls to which he has devoted his life to be the only calls that can never fail. many, who that day looked upon him saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
There he is in that prison. Suppose one day someone comes along, calls down through that little hole in the top of the prison dungeon to Paul in the darkness below. He says, "Paul, do you still pays to be a Christian and go through all this suffering?" Paul says, "for I reckon the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us."
Paul finally gets word in the cell that a lot of the converts have gone back on the truth. "What do you think of it now, Paul? You remember all that work, all that hardship? All you went through. Remember the time you were beaten five times with forty stripes? You were beaten with rods, three times you were stoned, you were shipwrecked, you were hungry, you were thirsty, you were in perils often. What do you think about it now, Paul?" "I know in whom I believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." "But Paul, hasn't your love grown a little dim? Aren't you a little bitter because God has let you go through all these terrible experiences?" "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, nakedness, or perilous sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord."
You see, the dying face of Jesus could not be erased from his mind. he saw it on every stone of the cell even when his eyes were closed. Then one day the soldiers come. They lift him out and they say, "Forward march!" Now we see an old man with long white matted hair and beard. His clothes are about rotted off. His shoulders are stooped, his body is racked with fever and pain, his eyes are dim. He's brought out to a spot and is commanded to kneel while the soldier takes his sword from the sheath. "Now Paul, what do you think of Christ? Was it worth it? If he's so wonderful, why doesn't He deliver you now?" Paul looks up into the blue Italian skies and there he sees the face of Jesus as it lay on his breast, hanging on the cross, and with a feeble smile Paul says, "I've fought a good fight. I've finished my course. I've kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the Righteous Judge shall give me at that day. Not to me only but to all them also who that love His appearing." And with a swish the sword descends. Peace came at last to that great soul. The burdens were rolled away. And he waits the hour when Christ will call him forth again. No, not to death, but to be with Him forever. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
May these words of Paul describe the experience of all of us who wait for the coming of our Lord and Master in the clouds of heaven.
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