The Lord’s Day
June 17, 2007
“Living Out Philippians 1:21”
Dr. J. Ligon
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Philippians, chapter one, as we continue to work through this book
together. When we were last in Philippians together, we looked at Philippians
1:21. We’re going to be there again today–and now I can tell you we’re going to
be there again next week, because I got exactly half way through the message
during the 8:30 service! So I can tell you ahead of time, it’s going to be a
When we were last together in Philippians 1:21, we
said that this verse, which is virtually a “life verse” for the Apostle Paul, is
not something which Paul intends to be an expression of something that is unique
to him, but the reason that he says to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is
Christ, and to die is gain,” is not that he wants them to think of him as a
super-Christian on a level to which they can never attain. He does not say that
to them simply as a testimony: “Well, in my case, to live is Christ, and
to die is gain.” He tells them this not only because he wants them to know how
he looks at the possibility of his being sentenced to death and dying, but he
also tells it to them because he wants them to share the same fundamental
belief, attitude, and outlook. In other words, the Apostle Paul, when he says,
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” is not uttering something
which is utterly unique to him. It is something which is true of all believers
in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, then
for you to live is Christ, and to die is gain. And so Paul wants the Philippians
to understand that.
And as we looked at this passage last week, really
we only did two things. We asked ourselves, “What does it mean, to live is
Christ? And what does it mean, to die is gain?”
It’s a beautiful verse. It’s a verse that many of us
have memorized. It’s a verse that many of us have used as a life verse. It is a
verse that often has come to mind when believers faced the valley of the shadow
of death; and yet, it’s pretty dense, isn’t it? “For to me, to live is Christ….”
Paul’s packing a lot of punch, a lot of meaning, into a few words. What does it
mean, that to live is Christ?
Well, we said that when Paul says to live is Christ,
he means that real life is knowing, loving, serving, glorifying, enjoying, and
communing with Christ. The Apostle Paul is affirming that anything that is
worthy of the name life is caught up in fellowship with Christ, in the
favor of Christ, in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. In effect, when he
says, “For me, to live is Christ,” Paul is affirming that Jesus has done for him
what He said to His disciples that He had come to do. You remember when Jesus
said to His disciples, “I have come that you may have life, and that
abundantly.” And the Apostle Paul is virtually testifying, “Yes, Lord. The Lord
Jesus Christ has done that for me. He is to me life. He has given me life. My
life is hid with Christ in God. There is nothing that I long for more than to
know Christ. I have determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.”
And Paul, in a hundred different ways, certifies that what Jesus said (“I have
come that you may have life, and that abundantly”) has been realized in his own
experience, and it is his desire that all Christians will realize that to its
fullness, because it’s a life-transforming realization. And so Paul is saying,
when he says to live is Christ, that real life is knowing, loving, serving,
glorifying, enjoying, and communing with Christ.
Paul, in other words, finds his total life meaning
and fulfillment in Christ. He’s not looking for fulfillment out there somewhere.
He’s not looking to fill the God-shaped void in his soul with any old stuff that
you can stuff in there. He has found satisfaction only in Jesus Christ. As
Augustine said in his Confession, “Lord, You have made us for Yourself,
and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” In other words,
Augustine is indicating that God did not build us to be satisfied with anything
less than Himself, and that our hearts are never in fact filled, fulfilled,
satisfied, delighted in this life, until we find our delight, our satisfaction,
our desire, in God through Jesus Christ. And the Apostle Paul is confessing that
his total life meaning and fulfillment is found in Jesus Christ.
And then, this leads him to say a second thing, in
the second half of the verse: “…To die is gain.” And last week, even as we
said real life is knowing, loving, serving, glorifying, enjoying, and communing
with Christ (that’s what “to live is Christ” means), we also said that when Paul
says “to die is gain,” he means that because of the first part of that sentence
(because that’s true, because real life is found in saving relationship to Jesus
Christ), it is also true that to die is gain; because death is even better than
life for the believer, with regard to the experience of fellowship with the
Savior. Elsewhere the Apostle Paul puts it this way: “To be absent from the body
is to be present with the Lord.” And if your great life goal has been to know
Christ, to fellowship with Christ, to serve Christ, to glorify Christ, to
commune with Christ, to enjoy Christ, then the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘When you
die, believer, there’s only more. Not less, but more. Death is even better than
life for the believer.’
For Paul, this life is bound up with knowing and
glorifying Christ, and this will only increase in the life to come; thus, death
is gain. The gain that Paul is talking about is the personal benefit of being in
the Lord’s presence. If to live is to glorify and enjoy Christ, to die is to
glorify and enjoy Him more, because the Apostle Paul looks for an immediate and
fuller experience of all that Christ is in death. That’s why he was not afraid
to die. That’s why no Christian [as we’ve already heard this morning] ought to
be afraid to die. Death simply becomes the portal into the immediate experience
of the fullness of Christ and fellowship with Him.
Now, having looked at the meaning of the two parts
of this verse, all we’re going to do today is application. And since I only
got through Point One, I’m just going to tell you the first of two questions
that we’re going to be studying this week and next. And the first question
that we’re going to be studying as an aid to applying this passage is simply
What does it mean to live as if to live is Christ?
Let’s pray before we read God’s word.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the truth of
Your word. We thank You that Your true word sanctifies us. It makes us to be
more like Christ. But we also acknowledge that our hearts are tugged in many
directions and our desires are not always set on You. So, by Your Spirit,
illumine our minds, that we might behold wonderful things in Your word. Grant
that we would believe what You want us to believe, think like You want us to
think, embrace what You want us to embrace, and desire what You would have us
desire; and this morning, especially, that we would understand and by Your grace
live out the truth of this, Your word. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Philippians 1:21. Hear the word of God:
“For to me, to live is Christ, and
to die is gain.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
One question I want to ask you this
morning…another next week, Lord willing…one question I want to ask you this
morning by way of aiding your application of this great passage to your own
heart, and that question is:
“What does it mean for us to live as if to live is
In other words, what does it mean to live out
Philippians 1:21 when it says “To live is Christ”? What does it mean to live as
if you really understand and really believe that to live is Christ?
As we apply this truth to our own hearts, I hope that
that question will help you focus on what the Apostle Paul is saying ought to be
true of everyone who professes the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. And the answer
to that question–what does it mean for us to live as if to live is Christ?–is
very simple. It is this: Our first and central aim in living is to know,
glorify, and enjoy Jesus Christ.
What does it mean for us to live as if to live is
It means that we live with our first and central
aim in life being to know, glorify, and enjoy Christ. You need to ask
yourself this morning, “What is my first and central aim in life?” Not what do I
say what my purpose is in life when I am in a room full of people in Sunday
School, who know the answer that they want to hear me give them when I ask them;
not what do I say when I’m with a religious crowd on certain occasions and I
need to give a spiritual answer; but, in my heart of hearts, what is my first
and central aim in life? What am I really after? What is my great ambition? What
is my great desire? What is my great delight, my great satisfaction? What is the
thing that gives me fulfillment? What is first and central as far as my aim in
living? And the Apostle Paul said the answer to that question for every true
Christian is the same. And the answer is, “My first and central aim in life is
to know, glorify, and enjoy the living God through Jesus Christ.”
Now in one sense, you see, that is just playing
out, it’s just filling out, the first commandment, because the first
commandment is that we are to have no other gods before our gracious, loving,
one true triune God. There is to be no one on the same level with Him competing
with our allegiance to Him, our loyalty to Him, our love for Him, our worship of
Him. There is to be no one above Him, before Him, ahead of Him in our list of
priorities or loyalty or allegiance, or worship, in life. He is to be sole and
singular in getting the great and ultimate worship of our life.
And so, in a sense, saying that to live is Christ,
and living out living to Christ, is simply saying that Christ is the One
that I worship. Christ is the One that I value. Christ is the One that I desire.
Christ is the One in whom I am satisfied. Christ is the One who is my
fulfillment, above and beyond everyone and everything else. He is first; He is
central. For to me, to live is Christ.
And of course we said that there has been a battle
precisely at this point from the very beginning of human history. In the Garden,
it is the battle between the supremacy of God and the supremacy of our desires
from the very point of Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve through the serpent.
Now you’ve perhaps had a teacher in school, or a professor, mock the story of
Genesis 3 and say something like this: “How can you possibly believe that God
would judge human beings and condemn them, and curse them and punish them, for
merely taking a piece of fruit from a tree? That is unreasonable; it is unjust —
and, frankly, it’s ridiculous. How can you believe such a thing?”
Well, of course there’s a whole lot more to that
story than the mere plucking of a piece of fruit from a tree. First and
foremost, it is a rejection of the word of God. God has said to Adam and
Eve, ‘I made you. I’ve given you all things and one another. I’ve given you all
the fruit of the trees in the garden but one, and out of love for Me and loyalty
to Me, I am telling you: Do not eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of
the Garden, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.’ And so
when Eve takes and Adam eats that fruit, they are saying to God, ‘No, sir! We
are not going to follow Your word. We’re going to do it our way. Around
here, we’re Number One. We do what we want to do.’ So at one level it is a
fundamental rejection of the word of God and a rebellion against His kind and
sovereign rule. But you understand that under that is something even deeper.
What has happened is you have God, who has made Adam
and Eve…everything that they are comes from God…and you have God, who has made
them to be vice-regents with Him over the whole creation. In God’s great
kindness, He has said, ‘You’re going to be My stewards on earth. Everything in
the world is going to be given by My hand into your keeping. You’re going to
rule it for Me, and you’re going to be My image in ruling it, so that the
creation will be able to look at you and say, ‘You know, that’s kind of what God
is like’–in the way that you rule creation. And not only that, I’m going to
fellowship and commune with you, and in the cool of the day we’re going to walk
in the Garden and we’re going to talk with one another, and we’re going to get
to know one another, and you’re going to get to know how much I love you and how
much I want to give you, and what a glorious God I am.’
And all of that has been given into Adam and Eve’s
hands. And then a serpent comes along, and he says, ‘He’s lying. If you really
want to have knowledge, if you really want to have power, if you really want to
be free, take the fruit!” And so suddenly Adam and Eve are struggling
with a choice: God…or a piece of fruit. The God who made them, who
loves them, who is generous to them, who cared for them, who gave them
everything that they are and have…or a piece of fruit. I mean, it’s just that
ridiculous! That’s what’s ridiculous about the choice! The ridiculousness is not
the judgment of God; it’s the ridiculousness that Adam and Eve could even have
paused for a nanosecond to think about their choice. And yet, my friends, they
did. And they went, “God…piece of fruit; God…piece of fruit. Piece of fruit
wins!” And my friends, that is a picture of what we do every time we allow our
desires to take us away from God: “God…piece of fruit; God…piece of fruit.” And
you get what you want, and it does not equal in any way what you lose.
And we can stand back and say, “We would never have
done that, had we been there. We would have been loyal.” And yet, my friends,
ten thousand times ten thousand times a day, that same story is played out in
human experience, where we set our desires on something other than the one true
and living God in Jesus Christ. And what do we do? We say, “To live is_____’ and
you fill in the blank, and it’s not Christ, it’s something else. To live is to
experience this sensual pleasure that God tells me, don’t do this. And yet our
hearts are pulled to it, and we do it. And what has just happened? We have
chosen that pleasure over God. Or, we’re sitting in the test. We’ve been working
hard for five years. We’ve got to get this score on the GRE, or on whatever
standardized test we’re taking, and we think, “If I don’t cheat, I’m not going
to achieve my desires. I know I shouldn’t, but I’m going to.” What has just won?
Self has just won over God. We have just chosen ourselves over the living God.
And this story plays out over and over again.
It plays out in relationships. “Lord, I’m a
Christian, and I know You’ve told me that I am not to be unequally yoked. I’m
not to marry outside of the Lord. I’m not to marry a man (I’m not to marry a
woman) who doesn’t love the Lord God through Jesus Christ. And yet…he’s so
kind…and she’s so attractive. She’s not a believer. Lord, I desire to marry her!
I desire to be engaged to him…to her.” And we make that choice: Yes, I’ll do
We’ve just chosen ourselves over God. This battle
plays out over and over. And what the Apostle Paul is saying in this passage is
for him, to live is Christ. Christ is first and foremost, and no desire and no
wealth, and no ambition and no status, and no power in the world can substitute
for knowing and serving, and loving and fellowshipping, and glorifying and
So, how do we know that we are living as if to
live is Christ? Four quick things.
First, those for whom it is true that to live is Christ
purpose to know as much of Christ as possible.
Those who know that to live is Christ want to
know as much of Christ as possible. They cannot get enough. They want to know
about His rank. They want to know about His character. They want to know about
His plans. They want to know about how the Persons of the Trinity relate to Him.
They want to know all about His claims, all about His powers. They want to know
about His words. They want to know about His works. They want to know about His
ways. They want to know about His character. They want to know about His person.
They want to know about the meaning of His death–His saving, redeeming work–and
they cannot get enough!
You know when you fall in love with a person, you
want to both know about that person and you want to know that person. You want
to know the tendencies of that person, the likes and dislikes of that person,
the character of that person, the things that make him or her laugh or cry. You
want to know the heartbeat of that person. You want to know about the
background. You want to know about the experiences. You want to know all about
him…all about her. That’s the way it is for those for whom it is true that to
live is Christ. They want to know all about Jesus Christ.
And yet, my friends, when you look around at churches
all over today, you wonder, “What kind of people are coming to these churches?
Because there’s not a whole lot about Christ being taught in those churches. So
I wonder what those people are coming back for, because they’re not getting a
lot of Christ. There may be a lot of other stuff–maybe good stuff–but they’re
not getting a lot of Christ, not a lot of gospel, not a lot of the Cross.” And
yet those for whom it is true that to live is Christ can’t get enough of Christ:
“Preacher, tell me more about Jesus! Tell me more about who He is. Tell me more
about His nature. Tell me how He relates to the Father and the Son. Tell me how
He redeemed me. Tell me about what His Cross meant, what it accomplished, what
it did. Preach about that over and over! Tell me everything in the word that you
can tell me about Jesus, because that’s the thing that I’m here for; for to me,
to live is Christ.” But if people are crowding into churches to hear something
else other than Christ and His word, what is it that they’re desiring? No, those
who want to live, and who do live, as if to live is Christ purpose to know as
much of Christ as it is possible to know.
Secondly, those who live as if to live is Christ want to
be like Christ.
They’re not satisfied with just knowing about Him.
They’re not satisfied with just standing back and admiring what He’s like. They
themselves want to be conformed in their character to His image. They want to
think like He thinks. They want to believe like He believes. They want to hate
what He hates. They want to love what He loves. They want to do what He does.
They want their life goal to be His life goal.
If you’ve ever been around friends whose character is
such an encouragement to you that when you parted their company you think to
yourself, “I wish I could be like him…I wish I could be like her. What God has
done in his life (her life) is such an encouragement to me; it motivates me to
want to be like that.” That’s what it’s like to be around the Lord Jesus Christ.
You say, “Yes, Lord. Thank You for Your free and full pardon for sin. Thank You
that You did not base that on anything in me or anything that I would do; but,
Lord, don’t leave me like I was. I want to be like You. Mold me; make me; fill
me; change me.”
And on the Last Day, when we stand before God clothed
in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, one of the interesting things will be that
though we will be accepted–not because we deserved it, not because we earned it,
not because we did anything before or after our conversion that fitted us for
life with God in heaven–yet we’ll stand back and we’ll look at the multitude
that no man can number, and we’ll say, “You know what? They’re like Jesus! They
believe like Him. They think like Him. They love like Him. They act like Him.
They love what He loves. They’ve become like Him, and He’s accepted them, not
because of those things, but only for Jesus Christ. And yet He’s transformed
them so that in their character they have become like Him who is the image of
the living God.” Those who really live as if to live is Christ want to be like
Thirdly, those who live as if to live is Christ purpose
to make Him known as far as possible to all humanity.
The Apostle Paul thought that God’s purpose for him
in life was to stamp out the name of Christ, to crush the religion of
Christianity, and to jail and kill as many Christians as possible. And he
thought that the one true God would take great delight in this. And then, one
day the Lord Jesus Christ met him on the way to Damascus and changed his heart,
and turned him into a dynamic missions-evangelist-pastor-theologian. And when He
did, because Paul understood the greatness of Christ in that encounter, he
wanted everyone else within earshot to know the greatness of Christ, and he was
ready to cross land and sea so that others might experience the grace and the
greatness of Christ in the way that he did.
And, my friends, that’s the way that it is with
everyone who has tasted the grace of Christ. They want a multitude that no man
can number from every tribe and tongue and people and nation…men and women and
boys and girls from around the world…red, yellow, black and white…to come into
the enjoyment of the goodness and greatness and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so many of us go and tell, and all of us pray and give to support the
spreading of the name of Christ around the world. Why? Because to live is
Christ. And this is a truth that you can’t keep to yourself. Once you have
experienced the love and the mercy and the grace of Christ, you want everyone to
experience that same love and mercy and grace of Christ. So, “To live is Christ”
means to purpose to make His name known as far as possible to all humanity.
That’s why we engage in missions. That’s why we give away Gideon Bibles. That’s
why we send missionaries. That’s why we do evangelism. All of these things we
do, because to live is Christ.
One last thing. To live as if to live is Christ means to
purpose to enjoy Christ, to draw our comforts from Him, to find our happiness in
communion with Him.
In other words, He and He alone is our first, our
central, our greatest enjoyment, delight, and satisfaction.
It is not that we don’t enjoy many of the good things
— all of the good things — that God has given us in this life. But even when
we’re enjoying those good things, we know that we have them only because of
Jesus Christ, and we can enjoy them only in fellowship with Jesus Christ. And
their enjoyment would be lost to us, their tastes would become tasteless in our
mouths if it were not for the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And we never forget
that those gifts came from the Giver, and so our hearts are not pulled away from
Him when we enjoy them; and yet we say to ourselves, ‘As good as these things
are, they would mean nothing to us apart from Jesus Christ.’
Samuel Rutherford once said that if his Lord was not
in heaven, he wouldn’t want to go there. Give him all the benefits of glory and
then just take away Christ, and he says, ‘I wouldn’t want to be there, because
my first and my central joy and delight in this life is Christ. That’s who I
want above everything else.’ And it will mean sometimes that there are pleasures
that we have enjoyed in this life that we forego, because those pleasures are
inconsistent with Jesus Christ; and there will be some of them that we will give
up that we could rightly enjoy, because we want more people to know Jesus
Christ. But right at the center of our life, and the focal point of who we are
and our purpose in this world, and at the very center of our satisfaction and
enjoyment and delight, is Christ: knowing Him, glorifying Him, enjoying Him.
This is what it is…to live is Christ. And if this is
to live, then this also says to us something very important about death, and
we’ll talk about that together next week. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, if our hearts are set on
something, someone, anything, anyone equal to, more than, or above, or other
than Jesus Christ, show us deep in our hearts today that we have made the choice
of Adam and Eve. We are choosing a piece of fruit over the everlasting enjoyment
of Jesus Christ. Lord, our hearts are so tricky that we need You to make this as
clear as day–black and white. And if that’s where we are — loving anything,
anyone besides or above the Lord Jesus Christ — change our hearts; and grant
that by faith we would receive Him. And having received Him, Lord God, grant
that we would never ever again be satisfied with anything, anyone else apart
from Him. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: How Sweet the Name of Jesus
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