Philippians chapter 1, and if you remember - I'm sure you can't remember - the last time I was here on a Sunday morning, the last time we were ministering on these verses the subject was 'The Joy of Suffering Service', and we didn't have time to finish that study, so we're finishing it off this morning. We'll begin reading at verse 18 right through to verse 26, so it's the second part of 'The Joy of Suffering Service'.
"What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you".
I don't know whether you know the gospel hymn, and many of these new Southern Gospel groups - not so much new, but they're new to us, as we get these Gaither videos and records and CDs and all the rest - one of the songs that they sing that has touched my heart in recent days is:
'The longer I serve Him,
The sweeter He grows.
The more that I love Him,
More love He bestows.
Each day is like heaven,
My heart overflows:
The longer I serve Him,
The sweeter He grows'.
It's beautiful words, and it's set to a beautiful tune, and of course they sing it beautifully - but I wonder is that our experience as we serve the Lord Jesus Christ? As Tozer has said, and I often say it: 'Christians don't tell lies, they just sing them'. Do we sing things that we really don't know as an experience in our lives? Can we say that the longer we serve the Lord Jesus the sweeter He grows? The more we love Him, more love He bestows? Each day in serving Him is like heaven, and our hearts overflow? Can we say that?
The answer that we may give is: 'No, we can't say that', because, as we have served the Lord, difficulties have come along our path - we've been disappointed and dejected, we've been hurt by other Christians, perhaps people that we've been working with. There has been a bitterness that has entered into our service for the Lord, and the joy of the service that we gave to Christ that we once knew has disappeared in the midst of sorrow and trial, heartache, distress, maybe even temptation and falling into sin. Well friends, I want you to see very clearly today that Paul went through more difficulties, more trials and tribulations and testing and temptations, than perhaps any of us or all of us will ever go through - but Paul was able to testify in a most wonderful way that he knew the joy of God deep down in his heart, that is the joy that passeth all understanding, that peace that transcends all the storms and all the difficulties, and it was rooted deep down in his heart as an anchor that even sheltered in the storms.
We know that because he rejoiced in the very fact that through his sufferings the gospel was being advanced, through what he was going through in prison, not only through the encouragement that it was to the church in Philippi - and they were encouraged through Paul's witness to go out and spread the gospel - but those centurions that were coming, those soldiers from the Praetorian guard that were chained to Paul on a daily basis, were hearing the gospel on a one-to-one capacity. They were going back to the camp, to the Praetoria, and they were witnessing to what was going on - and we know that many in the whole city of Rome were converted through this great witness of Paul in the midst of trial and heartache and in his problems.
We found in the last study that we looked at that Paul enters now, in verses 18 to 26, to talk about how his suffering in service has affected him personally, how it has affected his personal salvation, and he actually uses that word in verse 19: 'For I know that this shall turn out to my salvation through your prayer'. Now what does that mean? That Paul didn't know whether he was saved or not, he didn't know whether he was going to heaven, whether he was born again? That's not what it means! Paul was sure, he said in another place: 'I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day'. We have the teaching and the doctrine of eternal security through the apostle Paul more than any other teacher of the Word of God, especially in the great epistle of the Romans. That's not that this means, but when we understand that salvation is a past experience, a present experience, and a future experience - we have been saved, but we are continually being saved on a daily basis as God sanctifies us more and more, and one day we will realise our full salvation when our old bodies will be redeemed, and when body, soul and spirit will be united together again, and we'll be taken up to be with the Lord Jesus Christ in glory - that's what the apostle means when he says that our salvation is nearer today than the hour we first believed.
Well, we saw that what got Paul through all these difficulties was twofold: there was the sovereignty of God, the Spirit, the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in verse 19; but there was also their prayers, and it's so important that we realise that if we are going to get to glory one day and stand before the Lord Jesus Christ blameless and not be ashamed of what we've done for Christ, one: we must rely on God's power, the power of His Spirit in our life; but also we need the prayers of our brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, because he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and because the church at Philippi and other churches were praying fervently for the apostle Paul, he was given by God - verse 20 - an earnest expectation and hope. He was given a desire, an earnest expectation and hope - and we looked at the Greek word and we found that it's made up of three elements. It's the combined idea, if I can translate it like this: watching for something with the head turned away from other objects. Watching for something, and being only occupied with that thing to the exclusion and the ignorance of anything else. In other words, Paul had a goal, and he would let nothing else in his life detract him or distract him from his one goal.
Now mark: it was given by the Spirit of God, and it was realised by the prayer of God's people. He expresses that goal, doesn't he, in chapter 3 and verse 13: 'Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do' - there it is, to the exclusion of all other things - 'forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press', and the picture is of the neck of a horse racing, stretching over the finishing line for the win, 'I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus'. Now here is a man, and I want you to mark it well because you'll not see too many men and women like this in the day and age we live in, here is a man who is expending all his strengths, all his energies, all the wealth of the riches that God's Holy Spirit has given to him, and all the very prayers of the saints for one goal: that he may be honoured of God on the day when he is resurrected out of the grave, and he stands before Jesus Christ as his Judge.
Paul knew that what would give him joy, more than anything else in his service, was to know that on that day he would not be ashamed - isn't that right? That he would never be ashamed of denying the Lord Jesus, he says it: 'In nothing', verse 20, 'I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death' - that whatever he would suffer in that prison, if he would ever be tortured again, if he would ever be stoned and left for dead, or left shipwrecked, that he would never deny the Lord! No matter what hardships, pains, trials, disappointments and let-downs he would have, that he would never turn his back on the Lord Jesus.
My friend, I know, I know how hard it is to work for the Lord at times. I know how hard it is at times to take from God's people what you have to take, but I hope to God I never deny the Lord and turn my back upon His work. I wonder is there someone here today, and you've been made bitter by something that someone else has done, by a heartache, by a trial - maybe you're accusing God of letting you down, and you've given up so much for Him, and you've tried to do so much, and He's brought an illness or a sickness or some other problem into your life, into your family. I'm asking you today, not in the light of what you're going through today, not in the light of what this other brother or sister has done toward you, but in the light of those eyes that are as blazing fire of the Son of God, that will look into the depths of your being at the judgement seat of Christ and will burn up everything that is not of God and is of the flesh and of self and sin, in the light of that I'm asking you: will you be ashamed on that day? I hope you're not, because you'll wish you could put back time and undo everything that you've done, and you'll wish you had given Him more.
Paul knew also that his joy in service would depend upon not being afraid of death. In life or death he hoped that Christ would be magnified in his body, in other words if he was caused to suffer in life that he would suffer without denying Christ, and if he was caused to die for Christ that he would die with dignity and honour for Christ. He goes on to say this tremendous statement: 'For to me to live is Christ, but to die is gain'. He wanted nothing in life or in death but Christ!
I don't know whether I'm going to get through all this today, because these statements are worth stopping for a moment and pondering. Is all that we want in life or in death Jesus Christ? Is that all that matters to the exclusion of all other things and occupations? It wouldn't be hard to test. I don't believe attendance to meetings is a thermometer of your spirituality, you could be coming to meetings and be as dead as a dodo - but I'll tell you this, if you're not with God's people there's something wrong. If you can miss a Sunday evening or a Sunday morning, and go out for the day for a picnic, or your own recreation, there's something wrong. Is He the pre-eminent One? The Baptist could say: 'He must increase, I must decrease'.
We found out, and this is what I want to bring back to your remembrance, because it outflows in everything else that we're going to have to say today: the reason why Paul was in this state and attitude and disposition, that for him to live and suffer was Christ, and to die was gain, was because Paul was already on the cross! Paul had already been crucified, Paul had already been killed! 'I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; but it is not I that live, but Christ that liveth in me. And the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me'. The reason why Paul could suffer, and that Paul could die, and do it all with joy, was because Paul was already dead.
This is were the rubber hits the road, and if you want any secret to the Christian life this is it: to know that there are two crosses. There is the cross on which the Lord Jesus died, and bore your sin; but the other cross on which you must die. Roy Hession talked about it in his book 'The Calvary Road', some of you have bought it in the Bible Reading not so long ago, I hope you've read it - but he quotes a little verse that I often quote in prayer: 'Lord, bend that stiff-necked I, help me to bow the head and die, beholding Him on Calvary who bowed His head for me'.
I know we've been to Calvary for the cleansing blood, that's not what I'm asking you, I'm asking you: have you been to Calvary and seen your own body on that cross? For until you get to that position, you'll never suffer with joy, and even die with joy as Paul did - for he could say life means Christ to me, and as I more fully know and love and serve Him day by day; death means Christ to me, when I shall finally possess and eternally enjoy Him. It's far better! It's not a tragedy to die for Paul, because he was already dead - and because of that he had a dilemma! 'I'm caught betwixt these two choices, I'm in a strait between two: I have a desire to depart to be with Christ, which is far better, but I know that you need me - what will I do?'. Boys-a-dear, if you asked me that question I know what I'd do - I'd be staying! Wouldn't you?
I asked you, and I'll ask you again for it's important - and don't think that I have no message this morning, and I'm just going over the last one, I want you to remember it! If I was to ask you what is the selfish choice, staying on earth or going to heaven, what would you say? You would say: 'Staying on earth, that's the selfish choice' - that wasn't the selfish choice with Paul, his selfish choice was going to heaven because his treasure, his life was in heaven, because he believed Jesus who said that those who lose their life will find it again! That's why it was selfish for him to go and get his reward, and he chose the unselfish choice which was to stay with the Philippians because it was more needful for them - he was able to forget his own enjoyment. Didn't we see at the very outset of the study of this epistle that this is what this book is all about: setting aside yourself, you, I, me, and mine, me and my four and no more - setting all that aside, humbling yourself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross - isn't that what it is? Let this mind be in you, which is also in Christ Jesus - that will bring you joy.
Now, we have to stop and ponder Paul's view of death for a moment, because this is very important. Paul's view of death is essentially the Christian view of death, and this is why he was not afraid of it. Now, you look at these verses, he talked about going to be with Christ in various ways in many of his epistles. One phrase he says: 'To depart and be with Christ is far better', and he uses picture language and illustration, and the first one is this: 'to depart'. The illustration here is threefold - one is of the dissolution of a chemical, that's what this word means in the Greek, to dissolve a chemical. If you go home and you get a headache after listening to me for half an hour this morning, and you get one of those big tablets - incidentally, I was in Scotland not so long ago, and you'll like this one: this lady was at a dinner and she had a real problem with a headache that particular morning, and she hadn't any panadols or paracetamols on her, so she asked for one - and a lady give her one of these big ones. She took a glass of water, and she popped it in her mouth and she swallowed it, and about 10 minutes into the dinner she was foaming at the mouth - and they had her on the floor going to give her CPR and everything, I think they thought she was demon possessed - so don't be doing that. When you drop it into the water, what do you see? You see the tablet beginning to dissolve, and it literally disappears, doesn't it? It disappears, but it's there, the substance is still there but you just can't see it. Paul is saying that that's what death for the Christian is, they disappear, you no longer see their visage that you've known for so long, but they're still there. It's a dissolving, they don't cease to exist.
How many atheists in our day don't believe in the resurrection? I was reading yesterday, and I've forgotten the chemical that it is, but one man on one occasion asked an atheist: 'If I drop this big lump of silver into this chemical would it dissolve? Is that not a seeming impossibility?'. And whatever chemical it was, the silver did dissolve - but he said to the atheist: 'You're not going to tell me that the silver is not there?', and he had to admit: 'You're right, the silver is there'. Apparently when you put salt water into this particular chemical, that which has dissolved comes together again in one big clump of unrecognisable silver, and then the silversmith comes along with his hammer and makes a new creation out of it!
We only have to look to nature, don't we? We see those branches on the trees at this time of year that are almost hollow, when you hit them you can hear that hollow noise off them, they're dead - there's no leaves or buds coming from it, it's all brown and black and dead, but there is a day coming in springtime when it will bud forth new life, and the whole of creation praises God for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the Prince of life! Isn't He? Well, this Greek word can be used as well for the lifting of an anchor, to depart - to lift an anchor. In other words, to move from one shore on to another. What happens when you leave the shore? It's what's called an horizon, and it says 'thus far and no further' - and you can't see when that ship goes over the horizon, and goes down the globe, it seems to have disappeared, but you and I both know that it hasn't disappeared. We can't see it, we can't hear it, but we know that the anchor is being set down on another shore.
The third usage of this word 'to depart' and be with Christ is used of the striking of a tent, a journey after sleep. In other words, when you rise and take the tent pegs out, and you pull the tent down and fold it up and put it on your camel, and you go further. Paul talks about this in Corinthians, where he says: 'For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; and for this we groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven'. Do we groan for that? Do you see how Paul talks about the leaving? The dissolution of a chemical, the lifting of an anchor, the striking of a tent. Guy King said: 'The storm-tossed mariner sailing away in his last ocean voyage, to the haven where he would be; the battle-scarred warrior, marching away off the field of war for his sovereign review', when the Christian dies all the uncertainties of danger and life are ended, and they're left behind - and there is this leaving of this world, but praise God it's not just a leaving, but it's a receiving!
What do I mean? For to depart and be with Christ is far better, very much far better - it is to be with Christ. We're with Him now, aren't we, with His Spirit by fellowship? Day by day we feel His presence, even this morning, but this is more than just a relationship that we have now, but the relationship of further intimacy that is still awaiting us in glory - which is immeasurably far better than down here. There's times when we're in fellowship with the Lord, and we feel we could almost reach out and touch the Lord, we feel we could feel Him - the sense of His presence and His power. But friends, what will it be like when we see Him face-to-face - it is immeasurably far better! It is the best by far, Paul says. If you could see this giant of faith, imagine what he was like in prison: all the church is worried about him and praying for him, and he thinks perhaps he's going to be executed - that was a distinct possibility at the start, although it didn't happen, and then eventually he knew it wouldn't happen, as he says here it was necessary for him to stay, but he didn't know that at the beginning, and they didn't know it. They thought he was going to die, they don't know what tortures he's going through, and perhaps they were sitting in their church, and by the side of their lovely comfortable fire, saying: 'Oh, poor Paul, poor Paul'. My friend, he didn't see himself as poor, he saw himself as immeasurably rich - if he was to suffer for Christ it would be wonderful; and if he was to die, well, then it would be gain.
How do we view death? We live in a society, in this Western materialism in which we live, it stifles this Christian spirit of God's people dying well. We don't have a dilemma before us about whether to go and be with Christ or stay - there's no dilemma at all, we just want to stay for as long as we can! We put as many pills in us - and I have to watch what I say - but we run and do exercises, eat healthy and all the rest, to try and stay on this earth as long as possible...but you know, Paul is urging us to selflessness in our suffering. I'll tell you, we could take a good leaf out of the book of the people across our world who are suffering in the persecuted church, and last Sunday was the international day of prayer for the persecuted church.
I read recently about an Iranian believer who learned Paul's perspective on death and suffering, and what a lesson it provides for us in the West today. His name is Medi Dija, I can hardly pronounce his name, but he was imprisoned by the Iranian government in 1984 on charges of apostasy, simply because he believed in the Lord Jesus and had converted from Islam to Christianity. The penalty for that crime of apostasy, according to Islamic law, was death. This man languished in prison for 10 years before his case came to trial, and when it did his written statement of defence was a simple straightforward reaffirmation of his commitment to Jesus Christ. This is the last few lines of his defence, and I want you to hear it and see the similarity with Paul: 'Jesus Christ is our Saviour, and He is the Son of God. To know Him means to know eternal life. I, a useless sinner, have believed in His beloved Person and all His words and miracles recorded in the Gospel, and I have committed my life into His hands. Life for me is an opportunity to serve Him, and death is a better opportunity to be with Him. Therefore I am not only satisfied to be in prison for the honour of His holy name, but I am ready to give my life for the sake of Jesus my Lord'. On December the 12th 1993, the court before whom his defence was made sentenced him to execution, and then under intense pressure from the West including the US State Department, the Iranian government arranged his release in January 1994. Seven months later he was found dead under suspicious circumstances in a Tehran park, the third Christian to be murdered in Iran after his release from prison. Most people believe the government was compliant in his death.
But friends, he got his wish, didn't he? Do we see it like that? John and Betty Stam are martyred by the Communists in China, and before Betty is put to death she's holding that baby in her arms, and she literally watches her own beloved husband beheaded before her eyes. She's asked: 'Are you afraid?'. She says: 'Afraid? Afraid of what? Afraid to do by death what our life couldn't do?'. She stood and was beheaded, and the baby fell into the dust - and the two of them united in eternity. My friend, if you want to never be ashamed at the judgement seat, if you want never to be afraid of death just like Paul, you need to allow the Holy Spirit to put you to death now, be a martyr for Christ now in the spirit, and then you will never be afraid and you will be given the spirit to persevere and not be ashamed. Babcock the poet put it like this:
'Why be afraid of death
As though your life were breath?
Death but anoints your eyes
With clay, oh glad surprise!
Why should you be forlorn?
Death only husks the corn.
Why should you fear to meet
The Thresher of the wheat?
Is sleep a thing to dread?
Yet, sleeping, you are dead
Till you awake and rise
Here, or beyond the skies.
Why should it be a wrench
To leave yon wooden bench?
Why not with happy shout
Run home when school is out?
Dear ones left behind,
Oh foolish one, and blind!
A day and you will meet,
A night and you will greet.
This is the death of death:
To breathe away a breath,
And know the end of strife,
And taste the deathless life,
And joy without a fear,
And smile without a tear,
And work nor care to rest,
And find the last is best!'
Can you give it all over to God? My friend, Paul chose the choice of staying for it was far better for his friends. Now here's the test now, I want you to get this in our closing couple of minutes, here's the test whether your life has been hid with Christ in God and put to death, and you're not living for self any more but you're living for Christ and for His glory, whether He be magnified in your body by life or by death. Here it is: are you convinced of your purpose on earth? It was needful for Paul to stay for these Christians, what is God's chosen work for you now? Have you any reason to stay? I hear people saying to me: 'The Lord hasn't called me yet, so He must have something for me to do' - do you know what I think most of the time? He's still waiting for the thing to be done that He told you to do 30 years ago! Are you doing something for the Lord, that He would have to say: 'I can't take him home now, he's too valuable to me'?
Are you convinced of your purpose on earth? Here's the next question: does your Christianity bring progress to others? 'Having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith' - do you bring joy to other people, or are you a pain in the neck to other people? Third question: do you cause others plenteous joy, joy to abound? When people think of you, when people think of me, does their joy abound for what I do for them in Christ? Can you give it all over to Him today? That's what's needed.
When W.E. Sangster was asked by a mother who was heartbroken on one occasion because her daughter was going to go through an eye operation, and if the operation failed she would be blinded for the rest of her life. The little girl said: 'Oh, I believe that God's going to take my sight away' - and W.E. Sangster, after being asked by her mother to speak to the little girl, said: 'Jessie, I wouldn't let Him do that if I were you'. She looked at him confused, and she said: 'What do you mean? Do what? Take my sight away? Do you think I could stop God taking my sight away?'. He begged her, and he asked her if she thought that in three weeks or a month she could pray a prayer like this: 'Father, if for any reason known to Thee I must lose my sight, I will not let it be taken from me' - but here's the key - 'I will give it to Thee'.
That's when the joy comes into service. She said initially that she couldn't live without her sight, but in three weeks she was able to pray this prayer, and as she gradually lost the glimmer of light in her cortex, she was able to give it all up to God. With that prayer came the peace of God, and the power of God. Is there something you're holding onto? Something you're afraid that God will take away from you? Will you let it go? Then you will know the peace and the power of the joy of serving Him.
Our Father, we thank Thee for the great love of the Lord Jesus and the humility, how He could say: 'I am among you as one that serveth'. How He, as the God of all heaven, put aside self, even though He didn't have self, but He could have grasped at the privileges of His deity - but He did not. He came and became a servant of no reputation. Father, let this mind be in us as we serve Thee, let us put aside our petty differences and proud selfishnesses, and let us serve one another without getting gain, but serve Thee for Thy sake - that on that day we would not be ashamed. Lord, we pray that Thou wilt restore the joy of salvation to those who have lost it, and that You would give us all, in the days that lie ahead, the joy of serving Him. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the seventh tape in his Philippians series, titled "The Joy of Suffering Service Part 2" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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