Second Reformed Church

Sunday, August 03, 2014

"In Life or in Death" Sermon: Philippians 1:18b-26

“In Life or in Death”

[Philippians 1:18b-26]

August 3, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Last week, we began to see Paul explain to the Philippians how he was faring in prison in Rome.  We saw that he was not concerned about people talking about him or criticizing him – what he was concerned about – and what filled him with joy – was he was able to advance the Gospel through his preaching in prison, that other Christians were emboldened to advance the Gospel through their preaching, and even some of those who were against Paul were advancing the Gospel through their preaching.    

            In the next section of the text – in this morning’s reading, Paul turns from talking about his present circumstances to his future circumstances.

            Here, we find Paul telling the Philippians four things:

            First, God works everything together for the good of those who love Him.

            Second, God will fulfill His purposes in us.

            Third, we ought to desire that Christ glorify Himself in our body.

            And fourth, we ought to desire the abounding of Christ’s glorification. 

            “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,”

            First, God works everything together for the good of those who love Him.

            Is Paul saying that if the Philippians pray hard enough, that Jesus will make sure that Paul is freed from prison?

            No, that can’t be – for a number of reasons – including that Paul almost immediately talks about his desires if he lives or if he dies.  Paul does not know what God’s Will is for him and the outcome of his imprisonment and appeal before Caesar.

            No, what Paul is saying is that he rejoices because – whatever happens – he knows that the Philippians are praying for him – that he will be steadfast and true to the Gospel whatever God’s Will should be for him.

            Paul is rejoicing because – whatever happens – Jesus is with him always – even to the end of the age – and the Holy Spirit will strengthen him to be steadfast and true to the Gospel whatever God’s Will should be for him.

            And Paul is rejoicing because – whatever happens – he knows that on the last day he will be vindicated by Jesus Christ, his God and Savior, Who took upon Himself all of Paul’s sins, and gave to Paul His Righteousness, so he would be able to stand in the judgment and be declared holy and righteous – welcomed into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

            The “deliverance” that Paul is talking about in this passage is his ultimate deliverance on the Day of Judgment – not whether or not he will be delivered from prison or live past his presentation of the Gospel to Caesar.

            Paul explained it this way to the Romans:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

            “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
(Romans 8:28-31, ESV).

            Paul explains that everything – everything – works together for the good of those who love God – all those who believe savingly in Jesus Christ.  Do you believe that?  If we believe it on the better days, the more difficult days won’t be as difficult.  Yes, we still have times of pain and sorrow and confusion about what is happening – but, if we know, somehow, God is working it all together for good, we have hope.

            And Paul tells us that everything that happens to believers happens for our good – and we know that it does, because God, Who loved us to salvation before we were created, is making us into the Image of His Son.  He predestined us to be His, called us, justified us, and glorified us – now – this is all in the present tense – even though it won’t be completed until Jesus returns.  All we who believe are secure in Christ and everything is working together for good.  Whether it is sickness or health, life or death, poverty or riches, family or singleness – all things.
            And Paul is telling the Philippians that he rejoices because he knows that whatever happens to him – he is right with God and will be delivered on the last day, if not before.  And He rejoices in their prayer for him and for God being with him to lead him.
            Let me mention again the fact that we have a church directory and a prayer list.  I encourage you to go through the directory and the prayer list and pray for the people in there.  Even if you don’t know the name or what the need may be – pray that each one would be steadfast and true to the Gospel – that God would give wisdom and strength to be the men and women we have been called to be.  Pray for each one’s joy in Christ, for satisfaction with what God has given, for hope.  Take a person or family each day.

“as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Second, God will fulfill His purposes in us.

Paul told the Philippians that it was his desire that he would glorify God in his body in whatever way God would be pleased to glorify Himself – whether that meant life or death for him – that he would not fear whatever would happen, but that Christ would be honored in his body.

How do you honor and glorify God in your body?

An example is the deaths of Bishops Ridley and Latimer, who had served under King Henry VIII and helped King Edward move towards biblical Christianity, only to be condemned to death by Queen Mary, who had embraced Roman Catholicism.

They honored Christ in their bodies by preaching the Gospel and staying steadfast to it no matter what anyone did to them.  As the history recounts:

“When Ridley was asked if he believed the pope was heir to the authority of Peter as the foundation of the Church, he replied that the church was not built on any man but on the truth Peter confessed -- that Christ was the Son of God. Ridley said he could not honor the pope in Rome since the papacy was seeking its own glory, not the glory of God. Neither Ridley nor Latimer could accept the Roman Catholic mass as a sacrifice of Christ. Latimer told the commissioners, ‘Christ made one oblation and sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and that a perfect sacrifice; neither needeth there to be, nor can there be, any other propitiatory sacrifice.’ ….

“Both Ridley and Latimer were burned at the stake in Oxford on …, October 16, 1555. As he was being tied to the stake, Ridley prayed, ‘Oh, heavenly Father, I give unto thee most hearty thanks that thou hast called me to be a professor of thee, even unto death. I beseech thee, Lord God, have mercy on this realm of England, and deliver it from all her enemies.’

“Ridley's brother had brought some gunpowder for the men to place around their necks so death could come more quickly, but Ridley still suffered greatly. With a loud voice Ridley cried, ‘Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit...’, but the wood was green and burned only Ridley's lower parts without touching his upper body. He was heard to repeatedly call out, ‘Lord have mercy upon me! I cannot burn.Let the fire come unto me, I cannot burn.’ One of the bystanders finally brought the flames to the top of the pyre to hasten Ridley's death.

“Latimer died much more quickly; as the flames quickly rose, Latimer encouraged Ridley, ‘Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out’" (

Paul glorified God in his body – and he told the Philippians that he was sure – confident – that whatever God’s Plan was for him, God will do it, and it will fulfill God’s purposes.  Paul desired that he would not be ashamed whether he should suffer in his body or not, but with courage honor Christ and not fear whatever might happen to him.

Understand, Paul cared about what would happen to him.  Surely, he would prefer not to suffer and die.  But, as we saw last week – if his suffering and death would serve to advance the Gospel, then he was joyful to glorify God in that way.

How about you?

            To glorify God and honor Him in your body, are you equally as willing to be incredibly healthy and live a long, enjoyable life, as you are – for His Sake – not because you enjoy suffering – but for His Sake – to suffer horribly in your body and be mistreated in every conceivable way – or – anything between the extremes?

It isn’t always easy – that’s true.  There will be times of crying out to God for help and strength – for relief and comfort – we may even cry out with Job and ask “Why?”  And God may answer us the way He answered Job, “Who’s God here?”

Will we trust the God of the Bible – the One True God – and know that He is accomplishing His purpose through you and me?  Will we trust God and desire first and foremost that He would be honored and glorified through whatever way He chooses to use us to His Glory and for His Purpose?

Paul desired and prayed that he would be strong and courageous and not ashamed, but would continue to advance the Gospel, no matter how God chose to fulfill His Purposes in him – whether through his life or death.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

Third, we ought to desire that Christ glorify Himself in our body.

The other side of the coin, so to speak, is that we ought to desire that Christ would glorify Himself in our body – that He would use our bodies in such a way that we point to Jesus – that we show Him for Who He is.

Paul tells the Philippians that if God allows him to live after preaching the Gospel to Caesar, that will give him more opportunity for Christ to show Himself and His Gospel to the world through Paul.  Through the life of Paul and all his living – Christ making Himself known through him.

Do you desire people to look at you and interact with you and see that something is different – that they recognize Christ in you and through you and glorify Him for seeing Him there?  Do you want to live so others can see Jesus through your body? 

But, Paul says, if I die – if God’s purpose is fulfilled in my being put to death for the sake of the Gospel – then I gain – I will be in greater union and fellowship with Jesus – I will be in His Presence in Paradise all the sooner!

Understand, Paul was not suicidal.  Paul was saying the same thing Larry Norman said in one concert:  “People used to ask me if I had any goals.  And I said, yeah, I want to die.  I want to be with Jesus.  But now I have a new baby, and I don’t want to die – today.”

They were not talking about suicide – and suicide is not an option for any reason.

What Paul and Larry were saying was, “If I was given the choice, the choice to die and be with Jesus now would be a great gain, because I would be in greater fellowship and union with Him – which is my hope and joy.”

Do you want to die?  Not, do you want to commit suicide.  Not, do you want to escape all the painful and disappointing things of this world.  But, do you desire to be with Jesus – in the flesh?

Paul said it was hard for him to choose – he wanted both – he rejoiced in Christ glorifying Himself through using Paul in his body in the ministry of preaching the Gospel and seeing people come to know Jesus and grow in Him and His Salvation – yet – he rejoiced in Christ glorifying Himself through His death – that He would be received into the presence of Christ and His Glory.

We ought to be a conflicted people.  We ought to desire to live as long and as well as we can that Jesus could use us to make Himself known.  And yet, we ought to yearn to be with Jesus in His Kingdom even now.  That’s part of what Paul means when he writes:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, ESV).

God has put the treasure of the Gospel in jars of clay like us so that it will be easy to see.  Christ glorifies Himself in our bodies – Christ makes Himself known in our bodies – as the world looks at us and our frailty and our failings – and yet sees something glorious – Who is Christ the Lord.

Paul told the Thessalonians:  “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:7-10, ESV).

There ought to be a deep desire to be in the condition of being home – in the fullness of the presence of Jesus.  And that should affect our living, should it not?  That we should live in such a way that it shows we desire to be with Jesus eternally and look forward to greater fellowship and union with Him?

And so Paul looks at the two possibilities:  that he will live through preaching to Caesar and his desire that God would use him in his fallen body to glorify God, or that he will not survive preaching to Caesar and his desire that God would glorify Himself through the destruction of his fallen body through death.

Paul said he believed it was more necessary that he live for the Philippians’ sake?  Why?  Well, as we read through the letter, we find that they were a “normal” church with misunderstandings, struggles, and sin, and Paul believed that he could be the greatest benefit to them by living and returning to minister to them.

 “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”
            Fourth, we ought to desire the abounding of Christ’s glorification. 

So now we have to ask ourselves, why does Paul say that he knows he will remain?

Didn’t Paul just say that he didn’t know what God’s Will was for him, but whatever it was, whether it be life or death, he desired to glorify God in it?

What we do not see in the English translation is that this is meant to be understood as a conditional statement.  That is, Paul means, “I know that if I will remain and continue with you all, it will be for your progress and joy in the faith…”

Paul – speaking in conditional language – tells them that if God allows him to keep on living – it would be to help in the maturing of and the giving of joy to the Philippians so that they would glory in Christ.  Paul was confident that God would use him as a blessing to the Philippians if he was released, and they would respond by abounding in Christ’s glorification.

We know that God’s answer was “no,” Paul was not to survive his encounter with Caesar.  Yet, Paul would still have wanted the Philippines to mature and have joy in Christ and to abound in glorifying Jesus.

We see this in many places in the Scripture – your primary reason for being – my primary reason for being – is glorifying Jesus.  We ought to – in every way – while we have breath – be seeking always to show Jesus for Who He is – the One God and Savior.

Paul wrote:  “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV).

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV).

And the beings of heaven sing:  “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11, ESV).

Paul looked at his future and saw that because he was a believer, God would work out everything for his good – whatever might happen – in life or in death.

Paul acknowledged the Sovereignty of God and His control over our lives in achieving His purposes.

And Paul said that he wanted to glorify God in his body, whether he lived or died, and encouraged the Philippians to seek to abound in the glorification of Jesus in our lives.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, from You and through You and to You are all things. To You be glory forever. Help us to be a people who trust You in all things – seeing Your Hand moving history as You have predestined to Your Glory.  Help us to stand for Your Word and to seek Your Glory in all that we do in this life and even in the way that we shall die. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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