Please turn in your Bibles to Philippians Chapter 1. We are going to be continuing through this passage, which is a Part 2 to last week’s sermon. This morning’s passage also comes directly out of that well-known saying that Paul makes in verse 21. Let’s quickly remind ourselves of this context which we are studying today. Let’s look at the end of verse 18 all the way through verse 26 together again.
*Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. *
We see once again here that Paul is confident that his being a prisoner of Rome will work out for his deliverance. Remember we talked about that last week. He says in verse 20, “Whether by life or by death.” He is confident that Christ will be honored in his body. And his confidence in Christ being honored whether by life or death is grounded in that statement in verse 21. Remember, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Last week, if you remember, we started to talk about how verses 22 through 26 just flow out of that fairly famous verse—21—just showing us how living is Christ on one side and dying is gain on the other.
It is how Paul understands these two truths play themselves out through his life—that is what we see in verses 22 through 26. We spent all of last week mostly concentrating on verse 23 and seeing just how it is that Paul can say with confidence that “to die is gain.” If you remember, we talked about how as Christians, of course, being with Christ is greater than anything we could ever begin to imagine. As you think deeply about what it is you are actually losing when you die and what it is you are gaining, then it really makes sense that all of us would have the same attitude as Paul when it comes to how we would be overjoyed with the prospect of leaving this world and leaving our sin behind and finally being in the presence of Christ. We went into much greater detail on that last week. Hopefully, a little of that is still in your head because it is important to have that in mind. That kind of sets the context for just how much Paul cannot wait to depart to be with Christ.
Look again in verse 23. He says, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Far better! That is the far better option. Keeping that in mind—Paul’s desire that the far better option—literally, “the much more greater” option— really helps us understand just what it is that Paul means by “to live is Christ,” which is what we’re going to be talking about today. As we look at this, we need to see right away that Paul’s understanding of “to live is Christ,” looks different from maybe what you and I might first think of. A lot of times when we are asked about what it means to be living for Christ, don’t we immediately start rattling off the list of spiritual disciplines? It means to prioritize studying the Bible and to be in prayer and going to church as much as we can. Or we talk about our own personal sanctification, like how much we’ve grown in certain areas of our lives and how we are mortifying different sins in our lives. Or we might think about how we are to be living as salt and light in this world among our unbelieving neighbors or coworkers and letting others see a difference in us when it comes to how we live our lives. Those are all great things. And they are all things that should definitely describe priorities in our lives and how we live, but none of them—even though they are priorities—none of them is the end to what it means to be a Christian in this life. They are all necessary in this life.
As long as we remain alive, we need to be growing in our understanding of God’s Word and becoming dependent on prayer and not forsaking the assembly, living lives among the world where people can see we are continuously growing in personal holiness. That all needs to be the case, but none of those is a reason we should be remaining here in our earthly bodies. If growing in those things was the final goal of this earthly life, then there really would be no reason it would make more sense for God to keep us here rather than take us straight to heaven. Again, I just want to make sure you are clear on this. Those are extremely important areas for us to grow in, and you will find that many of those things are applications from many of our sermons and the Equipping Hour lessons and other things you might hear taught at church. But the reason that all those things are so important for us to grow in is because they equip us, and they make us more well prepared for what “to live is Christ” truly means. And it means that we are to live our lives in sacrificial service to others for the sake of Christ.
Look back at verses 21 and 22 again. He says, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” Paul’s definition of “to live is Christ” means that to continue in this life is fruitful labor for him. That is how he defines it. “If I continue on in the flesh,” Paul says. “If I do not die, that can only mean the reason I am still here is because God has fruitful labor for me to accomplish for the sake of his church. That’s why I am here.” Paul understands that if he were to die, he would no longer have to worry about growing in his understanding of God’s Word, and he would no longer have to worry about growing in personal holiness because he will be in the presence of God where his sanctification would be complete—and where he now would have unfettered access to the One of whom he studies the Scripture to know better. Therefore, all of the reasons behind growing in all of the means that allow us to know and love God more in this life find their culmination in our service and ministry to others for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom as his servants.
This is something that is easy for us to forget in Christian life and practice. It is so easy, especially with so many of the resources out there, to really get excited about a particular new truth about God that we understand better, or to praise the Lord that through his power we have overcome a sinful pattern. Those are good things and we should praise God for them. Remember in the first several sermons in this book—if you can remember back that far—we talked about the trend of most Christian resources isn’t even that good. Most Christian resources, most Christian music tends toward a self-absorbed, “Jesus-is-my-buddy-and-he’s-my-resource-for-personal-happiness” type of thinking. They tend to make the Christian life about how I must really believe how great God thinks I am and how much he loves me and that is kind of the end. But what we are talking about here is actually slightly different from that and can even be a temptation for those of us who hearing the last paragraph chuckle to ourselves because we know we can spot that kind of self-absorbed Christianity from a mile away. And we have no problem protecting our family and our church from it.
But what this passage helps us be on guard against—the mistake it helps us with—is that even when we are reading really good books that help us to understand even better the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man and the glory of Christ on the cross, or taking even really good lessons like yesterday’s STM as we talked about the Trinity—there is no way that you can have an orthodox lesson on the Trinity and come out of it thinking, “I’m a pretty special guy.” That just can’t happen. It magnifies who God is and it makes you feel so small. Doing that, or even taking our own Bible reading and learning really true things about who God is as he reveals himself in Scripture—those are all really great things and things we should all be doing and understanding better. But this passage guards against even taking awe-inspiring truths from trusted sources that make much of God and bring us into proper humility and it helps us even with those things to not make the mistake of letting our own personal growth become the goal of what we’re learning. It helps us to understand that the sanctification that takes place in our own lives is for the purpose of better equipping us for the fruitful labor God has for us to accomplish in this realm while we are still in the flesh.
“To live is Christ” does not mean merely personally growing in Christ like conformity to him apart from the outward selfless ministry to others. It cannot mean that. We are not to be a bunch of sheep who just come in here, take advantage of all the great preaching and teaching resources and just get fatter and fatter. In much the same way when in our daily lives we take in good food for our physical bodies so we have energy to accomplish all the day’s work we have, so, too we are not to come in here, take in all we can get, and end up being a bunch of fat sheep who don’t move around and do anything. That’s what we see clearly from this passage we are looking at today. The reason we are here and not in heaven is that there is still fruitful labor for us on this earth—fruitful labor for the sake of his church. Fruitful labor means we are working, right? That’s what labor means. And through our work, God is producing his intended results. That fruitful growth that comes naturally—the growth of his kingdom that he desires to see.
So that is what we are going to see in this passage today. Looking at how Paul understands what his life is about in this passage, we will clearly see what is meant by “to live is Christ.” So to be even a little clearer, we will see that “to live is Christ” means we are to live our lives laboring for the good of others. For us to say along with Paul, “For me to live is Christ,” means living our lives in fruitful and faithful labor. It means we are spending ourselves for the good of others. We will see this by bringing out four points from these verses. I’ll say them quickly, and then we will go through them more slowly. Number one, Working for the Best of Others; number two, Working for the Growth of Others; number three, Working for the Joy of Others; and number four, Working so that Christ Will be Glorified Through Others.
Number one, Working for the Best of Others. Fruitful labor for us means working for the best of others. If we really understand what Paul is talking about in this passage, it should strike our pleasure-seeking society as quite surprising because most people would admit that one of the main reasons they work as hard as they do is that it allows them to achieve the ends they desire—whether having nicer things or going on better vacations or going on more vacations or being able to enjoy retirement, being able to spoil their kids or grandkids, or even just the personal satisfaction that comes with getting a job done and seeing the change—if that’s an idol in your heart that you need to see.
But remember what Paul is asking here. Look back at verse 22. He says, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.” He says, “Which I shall choose I cannot tell.” And the next verse says, “I am hard pressed between the two.” Remember we talked about what that means last week. Paul isn’t actually making the choice. He recognizes that God is sovereign, and God is the one in control of whether he lives or dies. He knows this is God’s decision. This is a matter of what he would prefer. And you remember last week, we talked about the problem with most Christians who would usually prefer to live rather than die—it’s usually not for noble reasons like wanting to stand before God and to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.” “So because I am to hear that, I’m going to stay here and do fruitful labor for him as long as he needs me to.” That is not usually the reason we would prefer or choose life. If we are honest, usually it’s because we would actually just love to hold onto this life. And if we could just continue to have good health, we’d be fine just going on forever.
Unfortunately, that is how so many Christians live and how their hearts actually operate. But for Paul, that is not the case. He would far rather depart and be with Christ. Remember we talked about how that language in verse 23 indicates he believes that is the far better option—like it’s not even close in his mind where he would rather be. He sees that as the ultimate prize. No more prison. No more difficult labor for him. No more persecution. No more being spoken against and taught against. No more being hated. Only eternal bliss in the company of the One whom he loves more than anything else. No more sin. No more sinful world. No more sin in himself. That is why what Paul is saying here is so surprising. Paul is having a tough time saying which alternative he would prefer between paradise and labor. Between paradise and work. That doesn’t seem like a tough choice to me. That’s not a tough choice for most of us. But what we are reminded of in Paul is that he sees that day as the end of the race he has been running for the sake of Christ for his entire life. This whole goal of his earthly existence is living for that day and standing before the God whom he has served his whole life. He can’t wait for that.
Remember what we said about verse 23—that brief moment when he says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Just for a brief moment we see Paul’s spirit soaring as he thinks about the ultimate joy that awaits him one day. Just for a brief moment, Paul is looking upon that which his heart longs for and is imagining it in front him. And then in verse 24, he comes back down to the reality of what is most necessary. Look at verse 24. He says, “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” As Paul thinks through that which he would prefer the most, he is making a decision before him between that which is, remember, “very much more better” and that “which is more necessary.” This is such an important principle that we see in Paul—the conviction that when it comes to doing that which would make him most happy—that which is better for him—the decision between that and that which is most necessary—when it comes down to that decision, that which is most necessary wins out.
This is not because Paul is some workaholic who would rather work than enjoy paradise. He’s not someone who is so insecure in his identity in Christ that he finds his purpose only in his work. It is precisely because Paul so perfectly understood his identity that he was joyfully willing to do whatever was more necessary. The desire to stay and fruitfully labor for the church comes from the same place as the desire to depart and be with Christ—his identity in Christ. His identity is not only as a child of God through Christ, but also as his position as a slave of Christ. Remember we talked about that. Look back at Chapter 1, verse 1, how Paul introduces himself, how he starts off the whole letter, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” And remember that word “servant” is the nice English way of translating the word “slave.” It’s the word “slave.” It means Paul sees himself as one who is completely subject to the will of another who governs his life and his decisions.
Paul recognizes that this very same Christ, whom he loves and whom he longs to be with, the one who purchased his redemption through his propitiating work on the Christ—Paul belongs to him. He is ready to serve him, to do whatever Christ deems is most necessary. It doesn’t matter what Paul wants; it’s all about what Christ wants. It’s that very same love for Christ that makes him long to be in his presence—that very same longing also drives him to a life of fruitful labor. The final decision about where Paul wants to be the most just comes down to wherever it is Christ wants him to be the most. That is how it should be for us, as well. For Paul, it’s as if that brief moment of thinking of heaven makes him want to get back to work for Christ, get back to the work of the church. It drives him back to it even more.
That’s another reason, by the way, why you should not buy into those “heaven tourism” books where people claim that they’ve died and gone to heaven and come back. You don’t see the same results. Those people who claim to come back from being the presence of Christ only seem to be motivated—if we grant them the best of all possible intentions—to tell everyone about their experience. They love to tell people about he—not like we see here in Paul. Paul’s mindset is, “If I can’t be in the presence of my King, then the only other option is working for the sake of his church.” That is what we see right there in verse 24, don’t we? “To remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Paul is ready to do what is more necessary over that which would be far better—why? On your account. On whose account? On the account of the church in Philippi. Given how much Paul wants to be with Christ, the idea that he will joyfully continue serving for the sake of the church shows that he is demonstrating the ultimate attitude of selflessness. This is what we are called to do also—to be willing and ready to give up anything we want the most for that which Christ wants from us the most—living lives of fruitful labor for the sake of his church.
So if you’re a Christian, and you’re not yet dead, then your call is no different than that of Paul. You are to continue in the flesh with the understanding that the needs of the church are primary. Given the example we see in Paul, this is the case even when it comes to our most godly personal desires, let alone the purely selfish ones we are willing to indulge most of the time. The standard of service to the church we are called to in this passage is amazing. We struggle so much, don’t we, with putting personal desires that really have nothing to do with godliness over the greater purpose of the church. We struggle enough just with things like choosing to love and serve the church over spending my Saturday or Sunday doing whatever we want to do. Or choosing to confront someone in their sin because you know how detrimental it is to them, even though it might strain the relationship for the moment. We choose, “I don’t know if this is worth relationship strain.” We struggle with decisions like choosing to point out areas of possible growth in someone’s’ life and getting to invest someone’s life and helping them along because we know that requires a lot more time and energy. Or even just generally choosing to give up more of your time and energy and money to help strengthen the church and others, knowing that it is blessed time, energy and money you could could use for yourself in your own pursuits, even if there is nothing inherently sinful in those pursuits. We struggle enough with giving up personal desires that have nothing to do with growth and godliness and are possibly even sinful. We struggle with that.
But what we see in Paul is that he is willing to put that which is an incredibly godly desire on hold for the sake of that which he knows his Lord would deem to be most necessary. Most of us have been in this church long enough to know that being a follower of Christ means dying to yourself, dying to your own wants, dying to your own desires and taking up your cross and following Christ. If you’ve been in this church for not exceptionally long, you’ve heard that. You know that truth. But so often we are content to see this charge and then set the extremely low bar of it—meaning we need to choose Christ over sin. Of course that is true, but what a ridiculously low standard to set for those who are his slaves—those for whom heaven awaits. What that charge should actually mean to us is that we are going to follow in Paul’s example and be those who choose what is more necessary over that which we might conclude would be much better for ourselves, even when it comes to what may be fine desires.
There is such a desire around here in this church to have a deeper understanding of who God is, and we praise God for that. I am so thankful to be in the church where that is true. There are so many who don’t reach that standard. But that doesn’t mean that we get to just spend all our time hidden away studying the Bible and reading theology—again, good things. But the reason we do those things is for the sake of our service to the church—our service to his church. The ultimate purpose of all your personal growth in sanctification is for you to help others. There are multiple occasions, even this week—think about your week when maybe you would have wanted to just sit quietly and read your Bible with a cup of coffee, just communing with the Lord. Maybe what is most necessary is that you have a phone conversation with another brother in Christ who is struggling with something. Or you need to meet with another member of the church and think through some ways in which you can help serve and grow the church. Maybe answer an email to help someone struggling, or helping your wife or your kids think through something biblically—taking the time to do that.
If I’m in my room and I’m reading my Bible and just enjoying it gloriously and getting so much out of reading God’s Word, and I hear upstairs two of my kids screaming at each other and my wife, who has been dealing with it all day, and my response is to walk to the door and close it so I can go back to reading my Bible quietly, I’m not behaving righteously. There are, indeed—don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to miss the point—there are indeed many times where we must pull aside and read our Bibles and study and pray. And even though those times are extremely helpful and edifying, even in those times—times we may call our own quiet time, our own personal devotion—even those times are not primarily about us and our growth in sanctification as the end of that. You are learning more so you can share more. You are being personally encouraged and edified to spur you on to get into the spiritual battle for the day. You are being spiritually strengthened through those things, so you will be of more use to the Master for his sake, for his church.
Again, none of the spiritual disciplines that we may practice is an end in itself. They are always for the purpose of making us stronger and more useful for the goals of evangelism and discipleship. They are for the ministry to others. After God regenerates you, and you put your trust in the Gospel, the very lowest rung on the ladder is beginning to live a life of choosing obedience to your Lord over rebellion against him. That’s the low rung. It’s a necessary step to take, but it’s down there on the ladder of spiritual maturity.
Again, not to say that you are ever going to get to a place while you are alive where you are going to free from every single sinful desire that clings to you. There will always be a major part of your life that is recognizing more areas of sin and then mortifying them. That’s part of growing in godliness. But those things will become less and less life-dominating sinful patterns. And the life of the more mature believer will begin to take place. The life of the more mature believer is the one that doesn’t consist of choosing between rebellion and obedience. But rather, a life that is discerning of that which might be good and that which is more necessary. That’s the life of the mature believer.
That takes us into point two. When we ask the question about what this fruitful labor looks like, a second answer is Working for the Growth of Others. Look again as verse 25. Paul says, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.” Paul says he is convinced of this. He is convinced of the necessity for him to return and have fruitful labor among the church in Philippi. He’s convinced that is what he needs to do. I feel like if I were a pastor for the church of Philippi, I would feel pretty good about how my church is doing, right? Especially compared to those Corinthians. We’ve pointed out many places how faithful and loving they have been, how much Paul loves them. What a joy they have brought to his heart. But Paul is looking at them with the type of shepherding heart we all need to strive to have as we look at each other’s lives.
Yes, he does look at their lives and their love and their progress in sanctification, and it definitely causes him to have much joy. This is the Epistle of Joy. It causes him to have great joy and to praise God for what he sees in them. But he also looks and sees they still have need for growth. That is what is meant there when it says,“progress and joy in the faith.” Both the nouns that are translated as the words “progress” and “joy” share one article, meaning they should both be closely associated with the phrase “in the faith.” So it’s not just “progress” and “joy in the faith.” He is talking about progress in the faith and joy in the faith. So that is why this point is about the growth of others. He is talking about their spiritual growth, their progress in the faith.
Again, we have seen how highly Paul thinks of these Philippians. We’ve seen it throughout, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still see the need for progress in the faith. In fact, many commentators point to the fact Paul adds the word “all” in verse 25 as evidence that he is speaking of a friction or tension that exists in the Philippian Church. When you look at verse 25 where he says, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all,” the word “all” isn’t necessary there to verse 25. So its addition indicates that Paul wants to make it clear that he sees them as a collective assembly. He’s not taking a side on something that might be dividing them. He’s using unifying language. And then the fact that the next section Paul has imploring them to be of one mind just adds further support to that. In addition, we can see throughout the rest of the book that Paul sees other areas where progress in the faith is needed among the Philippians, even though we read Philippians and we say, “Oh the Philippians! What a great church!”
But we see coming up to Chapter 2—apparently, they need to exemplify more humility. In Chapter 3, we see there is need for them to be more discerning when it comes to false teaching. We find these two members in Chapter 4 who need to learn to be at peace with one another. And there’s another brother who is supposed to learn how to guide those two members in this. And later in Chapter 4, we see they have a need to grow in their trust of God and not be anxious. Also in Chapter 4, Paul admonished them to focus on things that are good and godly, instead of that which is unfruitful. The point here: Paul is very concerned with their progress in the faith. Even though he knows he will rejoice in their presence when he is with them, and he’s going to rejoice in their sanctification, the ground for his confidence in the need for him to return to them is for their progress in the faith. It’s not about him. It’s about them. That’s what we read right there, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.”
Do you see this? This is what it means for us if we want to say along with Paul, “To live is Christ.” It means living in such a way that you see the spiritual needs of others and know that it is your job to help them grow in the faith. It’s not being someone who just notices everything wrong with people—that’s not what it is—and just dwells on it and is content to make a judgement and not act on it, or just complains about them to others. This is about being one who prizes seeing sanctification in others, one who rejoices in the work of God in the lives of others, knowing the primary way God does this is through the discipling ministry of others in the church. Paul is then able to discern where more progress in the faith is needed in the lives of those he loves. And he longs to be used. He longs to be used to bring that about.
We know that Paul has absolute confidence that this is what God is doing in their lives. We know that from our Scripture memory verse a few weeks ago. What did Paul say in Philippians 1:6? He said, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul really believes it. This is the work that God is doing in every single member of the church. And because he loves them, and he knows that God is in the process of conforming them more and more to the image of Christ. He sees the necessity of being with them so that he can be used by God to accomplish that of which verse 1:6 gives him confidence—he is certain in their lives. He knows it’s certain in their lives, and he sees the necessity of being used to accomplish that goal.
So if you’re going to say, “For to me to live is Christ,” then you must be living a life that longs to be used by God to help others grow in the progress of their faith, and point three—you must be Working for the Joy of Others. Considering what we’ve just said about how Paul looks forward to being used by God to help them progress in the faith, it makes complete sense that another part of what it means to say “to live is Christ” is to help them in their joy in the faith. Their progress in their faith is linked to their joy in the faith. That is far from the legalistic, false understanding of sanctification that many of us have seen in maybe even our own lives, that we have struggled with ourselves—that legalistic understanding of sanctification—the idea that we need to continue to obey, we need to continue to check off all the right boxes when it comes to living for God, the kind of thinking that allows people to start believing it is up to them to try their hardest to please God with their lives. This is something they need to do every day for the rest of their lives. It’s a legalistic understanding of sanctification—a lifestyle that leads to nothing but disappointment and anxiety, thinking it’s up to you and you alone to continually please God with your works of obedience.
Far from that wrong understanding of what it means to progress in the Christian life, Paul links progress in the faith with joy in the faith in order to demonstrate that the two are so closely linked together. In other words, progressing in the faith will always be combined with joy. This is one of the great joys that anyone who has really taken the time to get involved in a discipling relationship has seen. You’ve seen it firsthand if that’s you. It is one of the great privileges of the Christian life—to be used by God, to come along another brother or sister in Christ and to help them grow in the faith. And then, to see them respond to that with joy. That which would make someone else angry and bitter, the Christian responds to with joy. That is why it is so bad when we fall into the trap of thinking that our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ would be better off if we just kept to ourselves, and we avoid getting involved in someone’s life and try to help them through some of these things that we might be noticing in their lives. Some of these same types of things that Paul notices in the lives of the Philippians include striving with one another in unity, working in your life on humility, exposing areas in people’s lives where they may have come under the influence of false teaching, working to help brothers and sisters reconcile.
When we refuse to throw ourselves into the lives of others, to engage in the fruitful labor, to engage in that which is more necessary than anything that you want for yourself, that for which we are here, the reason why we are here and not in heaven already—when we refuse to give ourselves to the progress in the faith of our fellow church members, we are treating them sinfully. We are acting like either we don’t believe they are actually fellow Christians, as if the same Holy Spirit that lives in us and reveals the truths of the Scripture to us doesn’t live in them also, revealing the same truths; or we are acting as if what the Bible says about believers in the promise of sanctification isn’t true. It’s easy for us to make excuses about how we are actually being more loving by not interfering, or keeping the peace by not challenging someone on an area of growth, or maybe even saying things like, “I shouldn’t be pointing out things in the lives of others until I have it all together myself.” Maybe we just don’t want to say anything because we don’t want to invite the same type of scrutiny of others into our own lives, so we just kind of stay silent.
But if you’re a Christian, then you are one because God opened your eyes to a right understanding about the evil and the wickedness and rebellion of your sin against an eternal and an infinite God, and therefore, you deserve an eternal and infinite punishment, and that Jesus Christ lived the life of perfect obedience that we could not. And he paid that infinite, eternal punishment in our place. When you place your trust in him, your debt is paid, and you are robed in the righteousness of Christ. So if you have that understanding of what your sin is and what it does, then you don’t want any part of it anymore. Didn’t we all agree about that last week?—how one of the greatest joys of departing this world and being with Christ is to be free from the presence of sin in your own life forever and not having to deal with that anymore, not noticing it continuously, not regretting things you say, things you do, things you think. We agreed we want nothing to do with sin.
So if you truly hate sin, as you should, even if it stings a little when someone points it out in your life, of course you are going to take it seriously and act upon it. If someone points out something in your life that will help you to conform more to Christ and his desire for your life even if you don’t like their tone, or if you know of other stuff in their life they need to be working on—sure you might bristle a bit in your sin at first, but surely every Christian who is keenly aware of how dreadful their sin is will in the end embrace whatever messenger it is that God uses to help them to be free from more sinful thinking and more sinful practice and to become more like Christ. I hope this is true of you. Think of all the times God has used someone else to do that for you. I mean, there are sermons and there are formal teaching times when that has probably happened for you also, but hopefully, there are also times when it is a concerned friend or fellow church member, and even though at the time you might have been bothered because no one likes to hear they are doing something wrong, after a while you came to see that God was using them to expose something you are blind to, or maybe that you had become calloused to—hopefully you’ve seen this in your own life on multiple occasions.
If you don’t have anyone do this for you—if you’ve never had anyone come to you and tell you an area that you are falling short in or a sinful habit that has gone unnoticed by you or an area in which you need to grow in order to become a more useful servant of the Lord Jesus—if that’s never happening in your life, then you are either the type of person everyone knows is going to react really poorly when confronted and/or you’re not surrounding yourself with the type of fellow believers you need in your life. Maybe you’re just not allowing those people to have any meaningful access to your life. If this something that you want—if you love Christ, this is what you want. When you have been blessed to have people in your life who care enough for you that they are not afraid to continue on with you in your progress and joy in the faith, as it says there, then you know this is without a doubt something that will increase your joy because you have seen it before.
So it makes absolute sense, then, because if it is true—as we talked about last week—that the best thing that can happen to you is to be in the presence of Christ—that’s the goal, the best place for you to be—then of course the thing on this earth that is going to bring you the most joy in this life is doing anything at all that would bring you closer to him while you’re still in the body. Therefore, you can and should have the same confidence that the reason God still has you alive right now and not in his presence is for you to continue on and remain with your brothers and sisters in Christ and minister to them for the goal of their sanctification. Or, again, as this passage tells us, “the progress and joy in the faith.” We know full well that as we bear one another’s burdens and confront each other’s sins, we can be confident that if we’re talking to a brother or sister in Christ, he who began a good work in them is now using you to faithfully bring it to its completion. And you can be confident even if it’s tough at first, if that person is truly a believer, joy will necessarily accompany their sanctification.
I can promise you that in this church, that will be your usual experience. The last church I was a part of, and sadly many churches today, will let the preacher preach difficult sermons because as long as he is up there, he could be talking to anyone, right? But the second you go down and take some of those truths and place them personally into people’s lives and try to help them—bitterness, hurt feelings, severed relationships—that’s what happens when your church has a good amount of unbelievers in it. If that’s been the case for you in the past, I know that can be discouraging and knock you out of the game and make you not want to disciple as much. I just want to tell you that is not the case for the most part here. I probably hadn’t been here for more than a year, and I remember being in Travis’ office, and I was talking to him about a person in the church who had a specific sinful tendency. I thought if I pointed it out to them, they might get angry and leave the church, and he was wondering why I would think that.
That was my experience. Travis told me, and I’m getting better at this now, that I need to start acting like I believed the members of our church were real Christians. That was a kind rebuke in helping me in my wrong thinking. I should expect that they would respond like a Christian—the way a Christian is going to respond when Scripture reveals sin in their life. They’re going to repent and seek forgiveness. Of course that is exactly what happened. That has been the overwhelming result of most of the difficult conversations I have had to have with people since I’ve been here. They will leave, and I’ll praise God. For quite a while, it was always a surprise, to my shame. I had been doubting God and what his Word promises about his people. Guess what? It is so true that as the Christian—as each of these people come to understand their own sin and then they grow in their faith, as they weed out the sin in their lives—not only do they not resent you, but they thank you. It increases joy in their life because real Christians want to grow to become more like Christ.
If that is not your attitude, you need to have that attitude and the understanding of your fellow church members. Why would you fail to rob them of that joy? And not only will they appreciate you, which is nice, but even better, far more greater, that’s the last point—point four. fruitful labor means we are Working so that Christ Will be Glorified Through Others. At the end of verse 26, he says, “So that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus because of my coming to you again.” “To live is Christ” means to live in such a way that others bring glory to Christ as they observe your faithfulness in ministry. As Paul steps away from that which he most desires in order to do that which is more necessary on account of the church and he returns to them in order to continue on with the church and to minister to them for their progress and their joy in the faith, the church will witness Paul as he does this, and they will have “ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.”
Those first words in verse 26, “So that,” demonstrate that the end for which Paul continues along with the Philippians isn’t only for the sake of their progress and joy in the faith. It is so that even as they see Paul doing this, even less attention on him—even as they him doing this—they will find more reason to boast in Christ. The wording in this verse in the Greek is a little difficult for translation purposes. But it is essentially saying that they will have a proud confidence in Paul, a ground for boasting in Paul—that’s what’s happening whenever we are privileged to see among ourselves servants of Christ, who live a life of self-sacrifice and live for Christ in all things. It gives us a reason for boasting, a reason for confidence whenever we see a faithful servant giving himself heart and soul to the service of others for the sake of Jesus. That’s is the type of person we all point to as an example, or we might name our children after, or whom we strive to follow in the footsteps of.
Paul wants to be an example to them in such a way that as they see him in the faithfulness of the God who would spare him, who would keep him from death, who would keep him from imprisonment any longer or to return him to do ministry among them again—he wants them to see him and turn and have all the more reason to glory in Christ and what Christ is doing, to have ground for boasting in the goodness and faithfulness of Jesus Christ. This is something you know quite well. The whole goal of our faithful service is to bring more glory to the name of the one who saved us and who called us to such a noble purpose in life. So the end in our service to others is the glory of Christ. We are to serve each other in such a way—to live our lives in such a sacrificial way—for the sake of others so that when people see our lives, it will be evident to them that someone else must be at the controls of our life.
We want them to see in us such a desire for Christ, such a confidence in our final reward for living a faithful life in service to our king, such a joy that comes with being a slave of such a good master, that they will not only see the selfless love for others, but the joy that we have in Christ in spite of any sacrifice or all outside circumstances that will cause them to boast in the one who could have such a life-changing effect on unworthy sinners like ourselves. We want them to see that.
So, church, let us be those who long to live this life for the joyful service of helping others grow into conformity with Christ. It’s the most joyful thing to be a part of. Let us give our lives for the purpose of the progress and joy in the faith of others so that those in this church and even those outside of this church will see it and recognize that gathered here in this assembly is a people who are only explained by the work of Christ. Let’s continue in the glorious, fruitful labor that Christ has left us to do until the ultimate reward that comes when we depart and are finally able to live eternally in the presence of Christ. Let us pray that we would be a church where every member can say along with the Apostle Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
Father, we thank you for this word. We thank you for the high calling that if we were to write our own description of what being a faithful Christian looks like, we would come up far short of this. So we thank you for what we see here, what it calls us to. God, I do pray that we would be a church where it is evident that we have an answer to death. It is not something we live in fear of. The end of the race is to run in faithful service to Jesus Christ. So we do pray that while we are here in the midst of this race, we will run it faithfully. We pray that we would use everything—all of the resources here, the abundance of resources you have blessed us with—the teachers, the teaching, the books, the words in the songs that we sing, the ability to read the Word of God and do it often, to memorize it—that all of those things will not find their end in us, but that we would take them, be equipped by them and then wear ourselves out, use ourselves up in service to your church for the sake of your kingdom, for your glory. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.