Why Are You Still Here?
Philippians 1:19–26 – Philippians
First Sunday of Christmas – December 30, 2018 (am)
As we roll into the New Year 2019, we’re going to look this morning at an encouraging passage of Scripture that touches on a very basic aspect of our existence – this matter of life & death. How are we to think about our life & death from the Biblical perspective? Paul gives us some definite instruction on how we are to live out this life that God has given to us, and how we are to think about our eventual death & the eternal life to follow.
Early next year, we’re going to be going through a sermon series entitled “Explore God” which is composed of seven big & basic questions that many people have about life and Christianity – and although that series is designed to be evangelistic in nature; I believe that our church body will be better equipped to answer those questions. But the question that is before us today applies primarily to Christians: Why are you still here? Since our Lord Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead in order to take you into heaven with Him for eternity, why are you still here?
Paul’s answer is straightforward – Phil 1:21,22,24,25 - For to me to live is Christ… If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me... But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith…
Paul was convinced that, even though he greatly desired to be with Christ in heaven, the reason that God would have him remain on this Earth, in this life, was for the benefit of others – specifically for the benefit of other believers – for their progress and joy in the faith, such that Christians would even moreso glory in Christ Jesus. And I believe this same principle is true for every Christian; why are you still here? Because God will continue to use you for the joy & progress of others in the faith.
I. Full Courage: fearlessly honoring Christ
II. Death: gain to be with Christ
III. Life: fruitful labor for the faith of others
I. Full Courage: fearlessly honoring Christ
We start by observing that even though Paul is in prison, he is rejoicing. And he’s rejoicing because his imprisonment has advanced the gospel. Paul has been speaking fearlessly about Christ to all the imperial guards. And now other believers have become more bold in their public witness for Christ - Phil 1:12-14. So, Paul rejoices in this victory for the gospel.
And as Paul observes the victory of the gospel over his circumstances, he is convinced that this victory will continue on – such that through the prayers of the saints and the work of the Holy Spirit, Paul’s confident expectation & hope are that he himself will be delivered.
And he will be delivered!!
Because if Paul is released from prison, he will be free to preach the Gospel publicly and visit the churches that have been established throughout the Roman Empire. OR – if Paul is executed by the Roman authorities, he would be released from this earthly life – and he would enter into heaven and begin to experience his eternal life in the presence of Christ. Either way, in life or in death, Paul will be delivered.
But regardless of how Paul is going to be delivered – either by life or by death – he has as his focused expectation & hope that Christ will be honored, that Christ will be exalted, that Christ will be magnified! If Paul is released from prison, there is the victory of the Gospel over Rome. If Paul is executed, there is the victory of Paul’s faith in Christ over the power of Rome – because Paul would be demonstrating that he will not knuckle under to Rome’s threats & power.
So when Paul says in v20 that “with full courage now as always Christ would be honored in my body” he is referring to his courage to speak freely, to have the freedom to say all that he wants to say about Christ to anyone he wants to speak to, that he will be fearless in his speech. Now keep in mind – this courageous speech is the very reason why Paul has been arrested & imprisoned – because he has been preaching the Gospel freely & fearlessly – unafraid of any adverse consequences.
Let’s look at an example of fear. In that place & time, the Caesar was the only king – no other kings were recognized or tolerated. Remember when Pontius Pilate wanted to release Jesus, because he found no fault in Him? Listen to what the Jewish leaders said to Pilate in John 19:12-15 - “From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar." So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" They cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."
Both Pontius Pilate and the Jewish leaders feared Caesar and the Roman government. In fact, just a few days before Jesus was on trial, right after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jews plotted to kill both Jesus and Lazarus – and why? Because they feared Rome.
Listen to what the Jewish leaders said in John 11:47-50 - “So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish."
So we see that these Jewish leaders feared Rome, they were afraid that if many people followed Jesus as the King of the Jews, then Rome would attack and destroy their nation.
But Paul had no such fear! Paul had full courage and spoke about Jesus Christ with no fear, because his singular desire was to honor Christ, to exalt Christ, to magnify Christ. His allegiance was to Jesus as his King, not to Caesar or Rome. Now let’s look at happened at Thessalonica; Act 17:3-8 - Paul was “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus."
Paul fearlessly proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ, that Jesus is the King! And Paul, even while in prison, continues to speak fearlessly about Jesus Christ. As a result, many are hearing the Gospel – even the whole imperial guard – and many are believing in Jesus, like the Philippian jailer.
So, as Paul writes this letter from prison, he knows that the Spirit of God will deliver him, either from earthly chains into personal freedom, or from his earthly body into heaven, into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Look again at what Paul says in v21,22 - “Christ will be honored (exalted/magnified), in my body whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ; and to die is gain.”
Paul actually believed that his only reason for living on this Earth was to magnify Christ – to honor & exalt Jesus – by proclaiming him as Christ & King. Paul’s life was the ministry of proclaiming Christ with full courage.
II. Death: gain, desiring to be with Christ
But what about his death? That would be nothing but gain, because Paul would be in the very presence of his God and King whom he loved above all else – look at v23b - “My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” When Paul says “far better” in the Greek there are two consecutive words (pollow mallon) which indicates “much much better” or as the NASB “very much better” or as we might say “way way better” –
and how could heaven not be far better, you’re in the glorious presence of Jesus the Messiah – your Creator & Redeemer. Notice what Paul said to the Corinthian church; 2Cor 5:6-9 - “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.”
This “good courage” that Paul speaks of here refers to our strong faith & confidence in Jesus Christ, that He will fulfill His promise to take us with Him into Paradise; just as He had promised the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42,43). What comes to mind when you think about Paradise? In the story about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus said that Lazarus was with Abraham, and he was being comforted. The Apostle John spoke about saints in heaven;
Rev 7:15-17 - "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
And later, in Rev 21:3-7, John speaks of the New Heaven & New Earth - “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
How do you not want to be in heaven right NOW! And then in the New Heaven & New Earth to follow?! This is the eternal plan of salvation from our Triune God, to save His people from their sins through the death & resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, granting them eternal life in His eternal Kingdom.
So, given this confidence that we have in God’s power & love, that we will indeed inherit this eternal life, an eternal life that is in the Presence of God Himself, in His Temple, before His throne – it is obvious that departing from this life into the very presence of Christ is far far better. And it’s also obvious that just like Paul, we should have a strong desire to depart from this earthly life and be with Christ in heaven.
But the question we must ask ourselves is this: Do I firmly believe that it is far better for me to be in heaven with Jesus right now? Or, are there some things that I want to see happen in my life here, are there some things that I want to accomplish here, things that I would actually prefer over being in the very presence of my God & King?
It is so easy for us to get caught up in the good things of this life, all the benefits that God Himself provides for His children – family, friends, ministry, career, sports, traveling, various experiences, education, etc. etc, etc. The question is: Do I prize this life over the eternal life that God has prepared for me in heaven?
Paul had some amazing experiences in life – like his dramatic conversion! And all the people he had seen come to saving faith in Christ, planting churches, training church leaders, all those friends in ministry that he lists in his letters – and yet, for Paul, to die is gain! To depart from this life in his body and to be with Christ is far better.
So how do you answer that question? What is far better for you?
And so now we ask our original question again; Since being in heaven with Christ is far better – Why are You Still Here?
As was mentioned earlier, Paul answers that question in this passage; Phil 1:21,22,24,25 - “For to me to live is Christ… If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me... But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith…
III. Life: fruitful labor for the faith of others
In considering his future, Paul knew that he would be delivered – either from his earthly chains into the freedom to travel and minister the Gospel, or be delivered from this life into the freedom of heaven to worship God in the purity of his soul – which is far better. And as he considered those two possibilities, Paul was convinced that he would remain here on Earth, because it was “more necessary” (v24) for others.
God had gifted Paul. And God had placed a calling on Paul’s life to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, to make disciples of all the nations, to plant & strengthen churches, to train church leaders – to spend his life serving others so that they would experience the progress and joy of the Christian faith. Paul is a great example for all believers to follow.
I can tell you that for me personally, Paul’s statement in 2Cor 12:15 is always an encouragement & challenge; “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” Paul lived for others. And knowing the spiritual gifts & calling that he had received from God, Paul was CONVINCED that he would remain and continue on with God’s people here on Earth.
Paul talks about the basis for this conviction in v21,22; “For to me to live is Christ… If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me...
Commenting on Paul’s statement that “For me to live is Christ.” Kenneth Wuest, former Greek professor at Moody Bible Institute, says, “Christ is Paul’s life as a motivating, energizing, pulsating principle of existence that transforms Paul’s life, a Divine Person living in and through the apostle…”
And I believe that when Jesus Christ is the motivating & energizing principle in our lives, the result will be fruitful living. I think of John 15:1-11, where Jesus speaks of His disciples as branches that bear fruit, more fruit, and much fruit - and Jesus says that because of this fruitful living, His disciples will experience “full joy” even here on Earth. John 15:11 - “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
This is the fruitful living that God has for each one of His children. And so the reason that you’re still here is that God has fruitful labor for you. God has gifted you [Rom 12 - preaching, service, teaching, giving, leading, encouraging, mercy]. And along with your spiritual gifting, God has called you to accomplish some ministry for His Church, some particular work in His Kingdom – and you’re still here in order to accomplish the work that God has designed for you to do. Discover God’s gifts & calling for you, and live out that fruitful life!
For the unbelievers here today, we can actually ask that same question; “Why are you still here?” But I believe that we would look at a different passage of Scripture to answer that question for you.
2Peter 3:2, 8-10 - that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles… do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
The Lord Jesus Christ dies on the cross and rose again from the dead to provide salvation to all who trust in Him; and Jesus will come again – He will bring salvation to His followers, but He shall consign the unbelievers to an everlasting punishment, because they have not trusted in the Son of God, Jesus Christ – the only means of salvation. We would urge you today, repent of your sin, and turn to Jesus Christ for eternal life.