To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain (Philippians Sermon 5 of 24)
October 12, 2003 | Andrew Davis
This morning we are going to focus our attention on one of the great statements that Paul made in his life, Philippians 1:21. “For me,” he says, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Now, one of the great moments in Shakespeare, I’m not a Shakespearian scholar. I wrestled with it as most of you did in high school literature and didn’t know what in the world that he was talking about, to be honest with you. But, upon more mature reflection, I’ve come to understand Shakespeare a little bit better. And one of the great and dramatic moments in all of Shakespeare’s works is Hamlet’s Soliloquy. As Hamlet faces the question of whether he should go on living or whether he should die by his own hand? Wrestling with that question to live or to die?
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep:
perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
You see, he’s wrestling with whether he wants to keep on living and whether he’d be willing to die. He’s wrestling with a simple question, “to live or to die?” And I find in Hamlet, repulsion rather than attraction. He’s repulsed by life and he’s repulsed by death. Both of them are repugnant to him. What makes life repulsive to Hamlet? The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. A thousand natural shocks.
Anyone who’s been living in this world long enough you know what he’s talking about. What is around the next corner? What’s going to happen to me next? How much more can a body handle? Some of you go through series of shocks, one after the other, and you begin to wonder, what have I done? There’s even a member of our church we were talking with this week and he’s wrestling with that, “Lord, what is going on? Why so many trials all at once?” A thousand natural shocks. The terrible ups and downs of mortal life, with all of its pain and disappointment and suffering. Well, that’s what repels him from life.
What repels him from death? Well, he says, to die to sleep. That sounds good. Perchance to dream, oh there might be something after death. Yeah, that’s the rub. There might be a judgment day. There might actually be condemnation. There might be hell, and that’s the problem. And so he is repulsed from death as well. And it leaves him morose and depressed, discouraged, suicidal. Repulsed by life with all of its suffering. Repulsed by death with its potential for eternal condemnation.
I. Paul’s Argument with Himself: To Live or To Die?
Now, it’s interesting in Philippians 1, we find Paul wrestling with the same question. But how different is his attitude? He’s neither repulsed by life nor repulsed by death. He is greatly attracted to life and greatly attracted to death. He wants to keep on living and he wants to die. He’s attracted by what an ongoing life of service to Christ will bring, and he’s even more attracted for himself to what awaits him on the other side of death. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He’s not repulsed by life with all of its suffering. He has embraced it. He wants to know Christ in his suffering; he wants to sing with Silas at midnight in a darkened prison cell again. He wants to feel the presence of Christ no matter what’s going on.
It’s attractive to him to keep on living, even though he’s in chains for Christ, even though he might die a martyr’s death. He might be executed really at any moment because the emperor is capricious that way. At any moment, it could be over for him. He’s accepted it. He’s delighted in it actually. He’s wrestling with it. His is a joyful choice. He’s attracted by life because of all the fruitful labor that it will bring. But he’s attracted more by death. He says in verse 21-26, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know. I’m torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. But it’s more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and will continue with all of you for your progress and your joy in the faith so that through my being with you again, your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.”
A noble theoretical quandary
You see him wrestling with life and death. Look, the life side of verse 21, “to live is Christ.” The death side, “to die is gain.” The life side, “If I’m to go on living in the body.” The death side, “I desire to depart and be with Christ.” The life side, “It’s more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” But this is not morbid introspection. You wouldn’t be depressed to be with Paul as he works this through. Actually, you’d be greatly ennobled. Greatly lifted up, greatly encouraged to be with Paul as he wrestles through. And that’s why he is doing this for the Philippians. That’s why he wrote it down. He wants them to catch his attitude. He wants them to be drawn into his heart, so that they also would come to the point that they can say the same thing, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Now, we know a profound theological truth is this: Man proposes, but God disposes. Paul’s saying in verse 22 and 23, “What shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two.” But then, in verse 27 he says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the Gospel.” Now what is he conceding there? He is saying, “In the end, Paul doesn’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s not been given to him to decide.” As he ruminates through, he knows that it’s not given to him to decide. He’s not the king of his life. He’s not in charge of the day of his death. Paul’s rumination is only theoretical. He has no power whatsoever to put it in the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “Who of you by worrying can add a single cubit to the span of his life’s race?” In other words, “You can’t push the finish line back 18 inches by anxiety. You can’t change it a bit because you’re not king. I am King.”
God has determined that day and that hour according to his wise plan. It says in Ecclesiastes 8:8, “No man has power over the wind to contain it. So also, no one has power over the day of his death.” Did you hear that? That’s profound, isn’t it? And so, we really don’t have the power to decide whether to live or to die, but we do have the ability to decide what attitude we would take toward life and death, and that’s the purpose here. What attitude do you have toward the remainder of your life, your years here on earth? What attitude do you take also to the inevitable day of your death? So Paul ruminates here, not because he thinks somehow that he’s going to seize control of the day of his death from the Lord, not at all. He doesn’t want to. He wants the Lord to be sovereign over that. But he ruminates for the joy of the Philippians, that they would have his joy in life and his joy also in death. I believe therefore that Christianity is the only truly healthy way to look at both life and death. I really think so. You want to have a healthy view of life, embrace this doctrine. You want to have a healthy view of death, embrace this. This is Christianity. To live is Christ, to die is gain.
The only truly healthy view of life and death
Islam does not give a healthy view of life and death as they submit to a tyrant called Allah, who is absolutely sovereign, accountable to no one, not even accountably consistent with himself. That’s no way to look at life and death. Buddhism looks on life as an endless cycle of suffering and misery from which we need to escape. There’s no purpose to it. The suffering on earth means nothing, and therefore, the only thing you can hope for is to escape from it. Hinduism sees it the same way, the endless cycle of reincarnation. And all you can ever hope for is escape; nirvana, emptiness, like a drop of water into an endless sea, so that you will cease being who you are; nothingness. Atheism holds out nothing for us. Nietzsche was constantly suicidal his whole life. He espoused suicide. He said this, “When one does away with one’s self, one does the most estimable thing possible. One thereby almost deserves to live.” What a horrendous way to look at life. How do you think Nietzsche left the world? By his own hand. God gave him over to it. Nietzsche had said, “The thought of suicide has helped me through many a restless night.” What a sick way to look at life. What a sick way to look at death. And how about Hedonistic Materialism? Everybody’s favorite way of dealing with life and death. “Let us eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we die. So let’s have a biggest party we can have.” Just like Belshazzar, the night that Babylon fell. “Let’s throw an even bigger party than ever before, and take our mind off of the inevitable.” Is it that a healthy way to look at life and death? I don’t think so.
II. To Live Is Christ
I want to drink in Paul’s attitude. I want it to imbue who I am. I want to understand Paul’s way of thinking about life and death. I want to know what he meant by, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” So let’s take it in two parts. Let’s look at the first part, “To live is Christ.” What did Paul mean by that? Let’s start with our physical lives. Our bodies, our physical lives here on earth. First of all, we must understand that Christ is our physical life. We cannot take a single breath without Christ. As a matter of fact, we wouldn’t have a body if it weren’t for Christ. It says in Acts 17:28, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” And the book of Colossians speaking specifically of Christ says, “For by Him,” Christ, “all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or powers, or rulers, or authorities, all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”
Now, you may not think that your body’s holding together very well, but it is Christ in fact, who is holding your physical body together, physically holding it together. So you would not have a physical life if it weren’t for Christ. Christ is your physical life. Furthermore, if you’re a Christian, Christ owns your physical body and your days on earth. 1 Corinthians 6 makes this very clear. It’s says, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.” Now, I could focus on the first half with good effect, but there’s the second part. Your body was made for the Lord. It’s the Lord’s. He made it for himself. Your body is the Lord’s, and the Lord for the body. The Lord is for your body. He gave himself for your body, also. By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” And then later in that same section he says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought at a price and, therefore, glorify God in your bodies.”
So when Paul says, “For me to live is Christ”, that means physically. Christ created my body, he redeemed my body, he constantly feeds and nourishes my body. It is his, for he bought it. And therefore, all of our days here on earth are measured out for a purpose and for his glory. Psalm 139:16 says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book, before one of them came to be.” Well, they were there for a purpose. All of Paul’s days had been measured out. And they have a purpose and that purpose is to glorify God. We are therefore kept alive at his will, for his purpose, for his glory. That’s the whole reason.
And so it says in James 4:15, instead of saying, “Next year we’ll go to this or that city, spend a year, carry on business.” We’ll do all this in the future. Instead of all that, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that,” you see? If the Lord wills, I’ll stay alive, if the Lord wills, I’ll keep on living in the body. And therefore Paul was facing his own physical mortality, unafraid, for he knew he would not die until Christ said so.
In the evenings, my family and I have been reading through John Patton’s biographies, a missionary in the South Pacific. And I’ve told some of this story before, but he was the man who went following a previous missionary who was eaten by cannibals on the beach. He was the next guy in line. Now, what kind of courage would that take? And he was absolutely courageous about that. But one night, he found himself literally, physically up a tree, as bands of murderous natives were roaming the island, looking for him so they could kill him. He had basically very few people who supported his ministry and they said, “You need to run for your life.” And so he spent the night in the tree. And as he said, it was the most spiritually enriching night of his life. He felt closer to Christ, up in that tree, than he’d ever felt his whole life. And he came to the conclusion and you’ve heard this before, but it was John Patton that said it, “The man of God is immortal until he has finished his work on earth.” And he knew he would not die that night.
And so, to live as Christ means, to understand that my life, my time here on earth, is for a purpose, Christ is my physical body. He redeemed it and I will keep living at his pleasure and for his will. And also, therefore, anything that comes to me, any of the circumstances that come to me, come to me through Christ. He’s the one that measures out the trials of our lives. Later in Philippians 4, Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I can do everything. I can feast, or I can have famine, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can face any trial or any circumstance in my life and even the good things in my life through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s what he means when he says, “For me to live is Christ.” And so all those thousand natural shocks that Hamlet was talking about, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Paul took them all as directly from God, from Christ himself, for a purpose. That’s the way he looked at his life.
To live is Christ, physically. But it’s also true to live is Christ spiritually, spiritually. Christ is our spiritual life. God sees us, in Christ if we are Christians. In Christ. Look at the very first verse of this book Philippians 1:1, it says there, “Paul and Timothy servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi.” That’s kind of interesting. Their physical address was at Philippi, Philippi was a Roman colony. They had, probably some kind of address system there. I don’t know what it was. But they had a physical address, but their spiritual address was, in Christ Jesus. That’s how God saw them. They were in Christ Jesus. And so he ends the epistle, look at verse 4:21, there it says, “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.” So all the saints, their address that you’re supposed to greet; their address is, in Christ Jesus, those who are in Christ Jesus. So at the beginning and the end of the book, he’s saying the same thing.
Ephesians tells us that God chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be the holy and blameless in his sight. It also says that God will give us every spiritual blessing, in Christ. And therefore, in Christ, we may approach God with freedom and confidence. In Christ, we may call God, Abba Father. In Christ, all of our sins, all of them, are forgiven by his blood. In Christ, we are new creations. In Christ, we are dead to sin and alive to God. Therefore, “in Christ” means for us spiritually, what “in the ark” meant for those in the days of Noah. If you’re in the ark in the days of Noah, you’re saved from the wrath of God produced by a flood of water. And so spiritually, “in Christ” means you are saved in Christ, from the wrath of God brought on by a flood of fire; the lake of fire. It’s the place of safety and protection. In Christ, safety. Outside of Christ, destruction. And so that was their spiritual address. So when Paul says, “For me to live is Christ,” it means, “I see myself, spiritually, in Christ, and in no other place.”
John’s Definition of Life
Now, we’ve been studying in the international class the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is a masterpiece. It cannot be explained, humanly. And it has two purposes, I think, two main purposes. One is to prove to us, to give us good evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son, God in the flesh. But secondly, that by believing that, we may have life in his name.
And it goes through the whole book, to explain what that life is like:
- It’s like having an abundance of high quality wine at a wedding banquet.
- It’s like being born again.
- It’s like having a spring of water inside us, welling up that we can drink from any time we’re thirsty.
- It’s like being a lifetime cripple, unable to get even near a pond of water, and then Jesus speaks a word and you can walk with great physical strength. That’s what that life is like.
- It’s like having bread from Heaven that you can eat any time you’re hungry.
- It’s like having rivers of living water from within you, flowing out.
- It’s like having a brilliant light around you, which alone is a light in the infinite darkness of this world. Jesus is the light of the world.
- It’s like being born blind, never seeing any color, nothing, and then suddenly Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud and washes it off, and then you can see everything. That’s what it’s like.
- It’s like having a good shepherd who will lead you in paths of righteousness and lay down His life for His sheep.
- It’s like having resurrection after death, after you’ve been dead four days. By His word, you come alive again.
- It’s like having the Master wash your filthy, dirty feet and then giving you the power to wash other people’s dirty feet.
- It’s like taking a journey, the destination of which is more glorious than you can imagine, with a sure and certain guide. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him.
- It’s like being grafted into a living vine and having sap just flowing through you.
- It’s like a woman in labor, in great suffering and afterwards doesn’t even remember because of the joy of what was brought forth.
- It’s like having a great High Priest stand at the right hand of God, praying for you until you are finally in His presence, seeing His glory.
- It’s like having Jesus, the Son of God, dying physically on the cross, His blood shed in your place, so that you can be free from the wrath of God.
- It’s like seeing Jesus and being able to put your fingers in His wounds and knowing He has physically risen from the dead, and because He lives, you’ll live forever.
- And it’s like having Jesus make you a breakfast by the sea, and ministering to your troubled conscience and giving you a work that will take the rest of your life to do.
That’s the summary of John’s Gospel. I know we’re doing Philippians here, but to me, I think this is one of the greatest, clearest descriptions of what it means “to live is Christ.” Go through John’s gospel and you will know what life is. It’s all of those things. That’s what Paul was thinking about when he was saying “for me to live is Christ,” spiritually.
But, thirdly, Christ is also our purpose in life. There’s a reason why we’re left here and we’ve already touched on it, but as soon as Paul trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins, he also yielded to him, submitted, he knelt before him and said, “You are my king. Command me, and I will obey. Whatever you say, I will do.” The rest of his physical life, therefore, was spent to glorify Christ, to glorify him by growing up into perfect Christ-like maturity, to imitate his character and his nature in holiness.
That’s what it means to live is Christ. And I think one of the central lessons of all that is to learn, paradoxically, to live is Christ means to die every day like Christ. To die to yourself, to die to selfishness, to what it is you wanted to do today, to your own purposes in life. Paul says, in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. Becoming like Him in His death.” I want to learn how to die every day, to die to myself. I’m so selfish. I’ve got an agenda for myself at every moment to learn how to give that up, for the benefit of God’s people and for the glory of God’s name. To learn how to do that, that’s what it means to live is Christ. And it’s ironic that, I think, here in Philippians 1:21-26, Paul is the most like Jesus you’re going to find anywhere. Jesus gave up perfect enjoyment of heavenly comfort and came down to suffer on earth for the benefit of God’s people and the glory of God’s name.
Paul is willing to forego, if it were up to him, and it isn’t, but if it were up to him to forgo heavenly enjoyment for a time, and to go through suffering on earth, even being chained like a prisoner, beatings, scourgings, rejection, whatever, for the benefit of God’s people and for the glory of God’s name. He’s very much like Jesus here, I think. Probably more than you’ll find him anywhere else. And so he says, “I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it’s more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you. For your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you, again, your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” How selfless is that? I’m willing to stay here and suffer for you, for your benefit. Oh, I’d love to be like that. Wouldn’t it be sweet to be that other-centered and how much is Jesus working that in our lives? And so therefore, he’s saying, to live is Christ means to think this way, to learn how to suffer and to die. And for nothing? No. Not for nihilistic, atheistic nothingness, not at all, but for fruit. This will mean fruitful labor for me, eternal fruit, good things. People saved, people’s lives transformed. Fruit for Christ. So what do we mean to live is Christ? Well, first of all, it means physically, to know that your body was created by Christ. It’s sustained by Christ for Christ’s purposes, and you will not die a moment before it is Christ’s will for you to die, to live is Christ. To live is Christ also means spiritually, to know that God sees you in Christ, if you’re a Christian. He sees you that way and every good thing you have in your life, all your blessings come because you’re in Christ. And it means that Christ is your purpose in life, that you would grow in Christ’s likeness, to be like him in his life and in his death, and also, to bear fruit for his glory. That’s what it means, in my opinion, “To live is Christ.”
III. To Die Is Gain
What does it mean then, “to die is gain”? It struck me how shocking this really is if you understand it. It’s really quite shocking. If you come at it quickly and lightly, you’re going to miss it. Imagine if it said this, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is something better than Christ.” That would be blasphemous. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine Paul saying that? For me, to live is Christ, and then finally, I get on to something better. That doesn’t make sense, but he said, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is something better, gain,” right? But it’s got to be Christ-centered gain. You see? Or else, it’d be blasphemous. Paul doesn’t want anything but Christ. If you don’t believe that, read Philippians 3. He wants Christ. He wants Christ all the time. He wants to know him. He wants to be like him. He wants to see him. He wants to be resurrected like him. He wants a body like him. He wants every part of Christ. So, for me, to live is Christ and to die is something different or better? No. Never. And therefore you should not think of death this way.
For me, to live is Christ and to die is the pearly gates. For me, to live is Christ and to die is the streets of gold. For me, to live is Christ and to die is to see all of my loved ones that have gone before. For me, to live is Christ, and to die is to see these spectacular spiritual sites that you can’t even put into words. Oh, no, no. For me, to live is Christ and to die is more Christ. That’s what it means! More Christ! Now, Paul had already had some enticing glimpses, hadn’t he? On the road to Damascus, how would you like to be converted like that? A vision of the partial glory of the resurrected Christ. How do I know it was only partial? Well, flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Paul would have been incinerated by the full glory of Christ. And so, Christ turned it down to a low level and still it blinded him physically for many days. But he never forgot the spiritual light inside him. He never forgot the vision of Christ. It changed everything and it put in him a yearning to see it again. I want to see it again. And then, God, at some future time gave him another glimpse. He mentions it in 2 Corinthians 12, “I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago, was caught up to the third heaven.” What is that? What does it mean to be caught up to the third heaven? Well, tell us more, Paul.
“Whether it was in the body or out of the body, I do not know but God knows. And I know that this man, whether in the body or apart from the body, I do not know but God knows, was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to talk about.” Now, that must have been something, too. Inexpressible means you can’t put it into words. Not permitted means you’re not allowed to try to put it into words. And so Paul said, “I’m just going to keep that one to myself. I won’t even tell you it’s me who saw it.” I know a man in Christ who went through this. No, it’s him because later he said, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations.” It was Paul, definitely. But it was just such an incredible experience and he tasted it and he wanted more. He wanted to see him. He wanted to be in his presence. He was so hungry and thirsty for it every day.
And so therefore, Christ’s deepest longing has become Paul’s deepest longing. What is Christ’s deepest longing for you if you’re a Christian? John 17:24, “Father, I want those whom you have given me, to be with me where I am and to see my glory. The glory you’ve given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” What is he asking for you? He said, “I want you to get all the way to the end and be glorified and see me like I really am. I want you to see me 100%. I want you to see my full glory. I want you to be with me forever and I want you to see my glory.” That’s Christ’s deepest desire for you. How long has he been having that desire? The way I read the Bible, since before the foundation of the world, he’s had that desire for you. Only recently were you let in on it, when you were converted. He set his love on you before the foundation of the world and late in time he brought you in on it, when you were converted at your Damascus road experience whenever that was.
Paul was brought in on this eternal love and little by little, Paul’s heart got transformed so that Christ’s greatest desire for Paul became Paul’s greatest desire for Paul and for Christ namely, I want to be with Christ and I want to see his glory. I want to be with him. Everything else doesn’t matter. Philippians 3:8, “I count it rubbish, [all of it rubbish,] that I may gain Christ and be found in him not having a righteousness of my own which comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, fellowship with sharing the sufferings.” I want him. And so Christ’s deepest longing for Paul has become Paul’s deepest longing as well. Totally matched.
What do we mean then, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain? Well, I’ve already tipped my hand when I said it means more Christ but I think, well look at it this way, freedom from imperfection, freedom from pollution. Freedom from imperfection, for example, do you realize you’re carrying around with you right now, a sin nature? Say, “Yes, I am well aware of that. I’m well aware of my sin nature. My sin nature and I are well acquainted with one another. And it doesn’t take much for us to get well acquainted again.” Unfortunately, it’s true. Paul put it this way in Romans 7:18-20, “I know that nothing good lives in me. That is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out, for what I do is not the good I want to do. No, the evil, I do not want to do, this I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it but it is sin living in me.” Say that with revulsion, “it is sin living in me that does it.” He continues to explain in Romans 7:21-25, “So I find this law at work, when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
We see, but dimly
That is a victory cry of somebody not yet fully saved. That’s right. I said, not yet fully saved because our salvation isn’t complete until we have our perfect resurrection bodies. And so, when Paul says for me to live is Christ and to die is gain, it means more salvation. Freedom from that wretched internal sin nature. Also, I said it’s freedom from imperfection, our relationship with Christ is imperfect. Now don’t misunderstand me. There’s nothing imperfect in the work of Christ and there is nothing imperfect in justification by faith. No, not at all. God sees you in Christ, holy and blameless, but there’s something imperfect that is incomplete in your relationship with Christ. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully even as I have been fully known.” Now, when he says, “Now, we see in a mirror dimly” he is saying we do see- we are not blind anymore. We do see, but we see poorly. We see just in part, we see in a mirror dimly.
In December 4, 2002, there was a total eclipse viewable in Australia. And the Australian ophthalmological, I have a hard time saying that, you’re going to have to work on me, but eye doctors said, “You should never, never look at the sun directly, you might go blind. So if you want to see the total eclipse, what we recommend is that you make a pinhole in a white card and get against another white surface and let the rays of the sun go through the pinhole and you will see the shape of the eclipse. Now, you are not seeing it directly, you’re seeing it indirectly and you’re seeing it 100% dimmer or more than it was but you will save your eyesight this way.” This is a little bit like 1 Corinthians 13:12. We see kind of indirectly and dimly because we can’t handle the full revelation of Christ but then we shall see face to face. We will lose our imperfect relationship. We have been given the Holy Spirit now, the indwelling Spirit as it says a deposit, a down payment, guaranteeing a full inheritance. That’s the Holy Spirit, 2 Corinthians 4 and Ephesians 1 both teach the same thing.
An enormous inheritance
There is a webpage dedicated to Bill Gates’ net worth. That’s true. It is factually based but the whole thing seems to me to be a spoof. He is presently worth $36 billion. That’s hard to believe, $36 billion. He has three children, one of them is seven, and the others are younger. If he and his wife were to die tragically and if they were to leave their full estate to their children and divide it equally, each one of them would get $12 billion. Now what’s a seven-year-old to do with $12 billion? Probably not spend it well and frankly, I don’t even know how they would spend it. That’s an awful lot of money. And so probably what would happen is it would be put in trust until they reach their majority, until they reach to their full age. And they would be given a monthly stipend to live on and their monthly stipend, how it compares to your monthly income, you can ruminate on, probably greater. But at any rate, certainly enough to live on, absolutely enough to live on, and someday they will come into their full inheritance.
That’s what the Holy Spirit is for you and me. We get that internal spirit crying, Abba Father, bringing relationship with Christ to us all the time, but it is just through a mirror dimly. It is just a down payment. It’s a monthly stipend, the full inheritance waits. For me to live is Christ and to die is to come into my full inheritance. Face to face fellowship with Jesus Christ forever. And on that day, I will be perfect and so will you if you’re a Christian. We’ll be free forever from indwelling sin, our emotions will be perfect, our intellect will be perfect. Our bodies will be perfect, just like his resurrection body, and we will have the infinite gain of full salvation in Jesus Christ. Now physical death’s the only way. The only way is to be separated from your physical body, because flesh and blood cannot inherit all this. And so, we must die, and therefore for me to live is Christ and to die is the way I come into that gain. And so, I embrace it as a doorway into eternal blessedness.
IV. Application: What About “For You…”?
Now what application? I guess I just want to ask you a simple question. What about for you? What about for you? Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” But it’s not necessarily so for you. First of all, if you’re not a Christian, it is not true that to live is Christ, not at all. If you’re not a Christian, you’re living to please your sin nature. You’re in bondage to sin and breaking God’s laws every day and you’re under God’s wrath. And neither would it be true to die is gain. It actually would be infinite loss, for you would lose your soul, and “what would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose forever his soul?” So, I urge you today to come to Christ. I’m not assuming that every one of the number of people that are listening to me today are born again. And therefore it cannot be true that everyone who is listening to me today can say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Don’t walk out of here without salvation through faith in Christ. Trust him now. Trust him in your heart for the forgiveness of your sins.
But if you’re a Christian, it may also be the case that you don’t think of it the way Paul did. Is your attitude the same as Paul’s? Do you think of your life to live is Christ? So that your physical body is his? When George Muller was asked the secret of his service, all the things he did for orphans in England in the 19th Century, he said this, “The secret is this: there was a day when I died, utterly died, to George Muller his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will. I died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends. And since then, have studied only to show myself approved unto God.” That’s a mysterious statement to me. What do you mean, “there was a day when I died”? Was it some kind of spiritual experience for him, maybe so, I don’t know. But the way I interpret it is this, you know the day George Muller died to himself is the day he became a Christian. Whether he thinks of it that way or not, that was the day he died. Because it says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Do you think of life that way? For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. And what about your attitude toward death? Do you see it as gain? Do you see it as gain for yourself, that you don’t need to fear death anymore. I have seen Christians face death with incredible courage and so be a witness to everyone that observed them. And I’ve also seen Christians face death in a very shameful faithless way that brought dishonor to their claim to be Christians. There’s no guarantee that you’ll do it one way or the other. Do you think like Paul for me to live is Christ and die is gain? Are you preparing for that day, the day of your own death? And furthermore, do you think that way in terms of your Christian relatives who have died, that they have come into infinite gain? And so your grief should be minimized somewhat by realizing that and that God will give you what you need to get through. Apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Carolyn and I are reading through a biography of Adoniram Judson, the great missionary to Burma. This was a man that suffered incredibly. He lost two wives in the mission field. He labored for seven years before seeing his first convert to Christ. And by the way, when he came to Burma, there were no Christians. 38 years later at his death, the government registered 210,000 Burmese Christians. Incredible fruit. But he suffered greatly. They thought he was a British spy and so they incarcerated him. He was under the death sentence and thought that he would be executed and he received a stay of execution. He saw something like seven years of labor on a Burmese New Testament, go up in flames when it burned in a fire. This is a man who suffered greatly for Christ and on his deathbed he was asked about his life and his view of death. And he said, “I am not tired or weary of my work and neither am I weary of the world. Yet, when Christ calls me home, I shall go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school. I’m not weary of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and a thousand natural shocks, bring them on if Christ might be glorified. But I’ll tell you what? When he calls me, I’m ready to go”