Pentecost 18a

Preached: October 16, 2011

For to Me to Live Is Christ
Philippians 1:18-27

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit keeps bringing Christ into our hearts is Philippians 1:18-27

So what? Except that Christ is proclaimed in every place, whether from false motives or true ones -- and in this I rejoice. Indeed, I will also keep on rejoicing. For I know that, through your prayers and the support from the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out safely for me, in line with my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame but rather in all boldness Christ, as always so even now, will be magnified in my body, whether through life or through death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Now if I’m to keep on physically living, this means fruitful work for me. What shall I choose? I don’t know. I’m pulled from both sides, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that’s much better. But to physically remain is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and stay with you for your advancement and joy in the faith, in order that your reason for praise may overflow in Christ Jesus in respect to me through my coming to be with you again. Only conduct your life in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ, that, whether coming and seeing you or being away, I may keep hearing this about you: that you stand in one spirit, contending with one soul for the faith of the Gospel. (Philippians 1:18-27).

This is the word of our Lord.

As he peered through the binoculars, the thick white stripe down the neck became clear. The red crest burst into full view. Though the rest of it’s body was big and black, this was no crow. It was the Pileated Woodpecker. The binoculars made that clear.

Are you binoculars? For most people, Jesus is just another religious leader standing off in the distance. Just another crow in the crowd. But, you dear Christian, are the binoculars to show others how different Jesus is. Show them the white of his righteousness and the red of his blood. Magnify him. Bring him up close so that others can see that he is their Savior too. That’s what it means to live for Christ, to live in a way that magnifies Jesus. That was the aim of the Apostle Paul as he writes, “For to me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21 NIV1984). What a motto for us to live by as well!

So dear friends, let’s explore what the Apostle was going through as he wrote these words, so that we too can put them into practice no matter what our circumstances may be. Magnify Christ in adversity -- part one. Magnify Christ in worthy living -- part two. Let your behavior and conduct at all times loudly call out, “To me to live is Christ.” That’s our motto, our slogan, our theme.

A. Magnify Christ in adversity

What a life Paul lived! He had carried the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Crete, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and many other places. But now he was under arrest.

Do you recall how he came to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey? He brought the offering gathered from the Gentile Christians to help the poor among the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. While he was in the temple courtyard, other Jews who opposed him started a riot against him. The Roman commander came down and arrested Paul, which saved him from the mob.

As a Roman citizen Paul was now guaranteed a trial. But politics slowed it down. He was under arrest first in Jerusalem and then was transferred to Caesarea. Finally Paul appealed to Caesar so that the court proceedings would come to an end. After a rather eventful journey by ship (which you can read about in the last few chapters of Acts), Paul arrived in Rome under house arrest. As his hearings get under way, he writes several letters including this one to the Christians in Philippi.

It’s obvious that these were adverse times for Paul, under prolonged arrest, unable to move about freely. And remember that the Roman system of justice was not as fair or forgiving as ours, although it was better than many that had gone before. Death was always a potential outcome. It was the Romans who crucified Jesus. How would you feel under those conditions and with that uncertainty hanging over you? What adversity!

While he was under arrest, some of his brothers in the faith, fellow Christians who should have been encouraging him and praying for him, saw this as an opportunity to show up Paul and advance themselves. Listen to what he writes in the verses before today’s text. “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Philippians 1:15-17 NIV1984). Such betrayal! How that throws gasoline unto the fire of adversity!

But notice how Paul reacts. “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18 NIV1984). You see, those with false motives were still preaching the truth and not false doctrine. When others twisted the teachings of Christ, Paul minced no words. “Let them be eternally condemned,” he said of those who preached a different gospel (see Galatians 1:8, 9). But as long as the truth is preached, Christ shines out through that word of truth, no matter how false, ambitious, selfish, or insincere the preacher’s motives might be. That’s no excuse for the preacher. He will be called to account for his sin. But wherever the true Gospel is proclaimed, Christ is there. So Paul could rejoice, even if others were preaching because they wanted to show him up. He rejoiced because they still preached Christ and his truth. For to him to live was Christ.

As a side note, do you see how counter this is to what the world says? How often don’t we hear that it doesn’t matter what a religious leader is saying as long as they are sincere about it? Just the opposite of what the Apostle teaches.

But back to the theme. “For to me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21 NIV1984). That’s what mattered to Paul. He wanted others to see Christ even though he himself was suffering adversity. In fact, he recognizes how Christ is magnified and glorified because of the adversity he’s going through. He writes a little earlier, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12-14 NIV1984). Even while he was under house arrest, the Lord used him to spread the Gospel and magnify Christ.

And Paul knew that at his trail Christ would again be magnified and exalted. The Holy Spirit would not leave him hanging so that he failed to testify to the honor of his Savior. He would not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ but would have all the courage to stand up for Jesus and boldly confess. That’s what the Philippians had been praying for. That’s the help from the Holy Spirit Jesus had promised when he said, “When you are brought before … rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12 NIV1984). In the adversity of Paul’s trial, Christ was magnified.

Yes, even his death would magnify his Savior, Jesus Christ. For Paul faced death with that assurance and hope that Christ had redeemed him for his kingdom. Christ’s blood prepared him for heaven, washing him clean. Jesus, his risen and ascended Savior, had prepared a place for him. His real riches were kept where moth and rust could not destroy. Jesus was his priceless treasure. That’s why until then he would live for Christ alone. That’s why to die was such gain. It was better by far to depart and be with Christ. But until then, he magnified Christ even in adversity. “{N}ow as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20 NIV1984), he writes.

So dear Christian, no matter what you are going through, no matter how adverse your life is, say with Paul, “To me to live is Christ.” Magnify him in adversity. Let others look through you to see him as your strength, your courage, your rock, your hope. Even when those who should help you betray you, magnify Christ. Let others see his love, his mercy, his kindness, his forgiveness shining through you. Even when death with its pains and fears tries to sap your hope, let others see Jesus who is your life, your victory, your treasure, your salvation. To me to live is Christ. Put that into practice as you magnify Christ in adversity.

But that motto is not just for times of trouble, is it? It’s when life is going well that we really need to remind ourselves, “To me to live is Christ.” That brings us to part two: Magnify Christ in worthy living.

B. Magnify Christ in worthy living

“I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23 NIV1984), Paul writes. He knew and believed how great a gain death is for the Christian. But he puts his personal desire aside. From what he knows, he’s convinced that it’s more necessary for the Philippians that he remain for a while longer.

Notice that he isn’t talking about how they would miss him if he died. They don’t need him for their material well-being either. But where is Paul’s life focused, like a pair of binoculars? “I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25 NIV1984). To me to live is Christ. Paul’s purpose, goal, and focus in all of life is to magnify Christ for the Philippian’s faith as well as others. He continues, “… so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow …” (Philippians 1:26 NIV1984). To me to live is Christ.

How much we can learn from his example! I look at where my time and money go and what I turn to for happiness and joy, and that raises serious questions. What the focus of my life? What am I living for? Is my life focused on school or work or family? Is it focused on sports or TV? Is it focused on my hobbies and recreation? What am I really living for? Or is my life focused on Christ? Can I really say with the Apostle Paul: “To me to live is Christ”?

Now I’m not saying to give up on work, school, family, sports, TV, hobbies, recreation, or the like. I’m not even necessarily saying cut back on those things, though depending on your situations sometimes adjustments may need to be made. But what I’m asking you is that you examine where your heart is focused as you do those things. Then in whatever you do keep Christ at the center of your focus. That means your desires, children, spouse, parents, career, livelihood, fun, recreation, entertainment, and the like -- all are peripheral. They all revolve around him. As we do those things, our goal is for our family, our friend, our acquaintance and neighbors to see Christ. Like a pair of binoculars focus them on Christ so that they come to faith and for faith and their joy overflows in Christ Jesus. To me to live is Christ.

That’s what it means to magnify him in worthy living. Keep Christ as the center and focus of all that you do. “{C}onduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 NIV1984), Paul writes. Look at the worth the Lord has placed on you. He took us worthless sinners and paid the price of his holy, precious blood for you. That’s the worth he placed on you, dear friend. So you, dear Christian, are no longer a slave to sins, but you are citizens of Christ’s kingdom. What a worthy status! In fact he has lifted you up to be kings and queens ruling under him who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. How he has exalted you and me from our low estate! What grace and mercy!

Now since Christ, your King, has done that for you and given you such worth, don’t we want our lives, our behavior, our words and conduct, to measure up to what he has graciously called us to be? Yes, dear Christian, live in way that shows what great worth is in the Gospel. Live as citizens of Christ’s kingdom. For such a life magnifies Jesus Christ.

Stand firm on the Gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ. Stand firm in one spirit, united in the truth, contending against all those who would chip away at that truth, fighting against any and all false teaching. For any thing that goes against the Scriptures blurs the focus on Christ, diminishing him in the eyes of others. “{S}tand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:27 NIV1984). Magnify Christ in worthy living, living that shows that your worth comes only from Jesus as you stand firm on his Gospel contending for the faith.

For to me to live is Christ. As you practice that theme, you are binoculars showings others Christ Jesus, magnifying him in adversity and in life. Magnify him so others see him blackened by their sin as his red blood pays the highest price for them and his white righteousness gives them the worthiness that stands before God. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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