“A Life Full of Purpose in Christ”
(Philippians 1:18-27 – Pentecost 18 – October 4, 2020)
Philippians 1:18-27 – 18And in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. 19For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again. 27Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.
Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:
Do you ever feel imprisoned by circumstances in life from which you cannot free yourself? Maybe you find yourself trapped in frustrating conditions in your daily work and activities. It seems like you cannot achieve goals and realize your dreams anymore; and even if you do, somehow it has lost the charm it used to have. Or maybe you are forced to deal with people who are difficult to face, day after day; and even when you try to get along, somehow it always goes wrong and ends up with new stress. Or maybe you feel trapped by nagging health problems; and no matter how much you follow the doctor’s orders, there is always another bad report.
When we feel imprisoned by negative circumstances from which we cannot free ourselves, it can be easy to get down about our purpose in life. Sometimes people wonder, “Why am I here?” It seems their useful time in life is past; and all they can see is a meaningless outlook. I have heard Christians, who have been weighed down by long and drawn out griefs and trials say, “I don’t know why God still has me here. Why doesn’t He take me home to heaven?”
In our text, we have God’s answer. As the apostle Paul wrote, he was literally in prison, facing difficult circumstances from which he could not free himself. In fact, he was facing the possibility of death, if his enemies had their way. Yet by God’s promises in Christ, Paul could see beyond his circumstances, and rejoice in the midst of griefs and trials. He could declare: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (vs. 21). No matter what happened, he knew his life was hidden in Christ. Each day, God was working out His gracious plan in his life; and even in death, God’s eternal purpose would be fulfilled as he was brought home to the joys of heaven.
In view of our text, let us see that ours is “A Life Full of Purpose in Christ.” 1) Paul saw his life this way, and 2) God sees our life this way.
1) Paul saw his life this way
Paul saw his life as full of purpose in Christ. It had not always been that way. There was a time when Paul, formerly named Saul, had been a fierce enemy of Christ and a leader in persecuting the Church. He had overseen the imprisonment and death of believers. But once, when Saul was on his way to arrest Christians, the ascended Lord Jesus confronted him in a blinding light. By the grace of God, Saul was converted. The Lord had mercy on this persecutor of His Church; in fact, He commissioned him to be an apostle in His Church. As the Lord said: “He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
Now, having been given a new name as the apostle Paul, he boldly and joyfully preached the Gospel. He proclaimed: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). He shared the Good News that the Son of God suffered and died on the cross to take away the sins of all; and that He rose from the dead to give forgiveness eternal life to all who believe.
By God’s grace, Paul had been given a new life, full of purpose in Christ. This purpose would not diminish, no matter how much he must suffer for the sake of Christ. This was good to know, for Paul was no stranger to suffering. From the start, enemies sought to take his life. As he traveled through nations preaching the Gospel, he faced many hardships, including beatings and imprisonment. Once he was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
Currently, Paul was in prison. He had been arrested by enemies of the Gospel. For several years now, he had been in court trials, shifted from place to place in chains. Now, he was facing trial in the highest court of the Roman Empire, Caesar’s court. As Paul expresses in our text, he did not know whether it would result in his being released to live, or his being sentenced to die. From an outward perspective, it might look like his purpose had been diminished. It seemed his enemies were getting the upper hand with their evil plans. He was imprisoned in circumstances from which he could not escape. How could this serve the Lord’s great purpose in his life?
Yet as Paul writes to believers at Philippi, he uses that word we hear this Epistle again and again: “Rejoice!” He says: “In this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (vs. 18). He knew that, even now, the Lord was working His eternal purpose in his life. Paul’s chains were only serving to advance the Gospel. Before our text, he reports with joy how his imprisonment had enabled him to witness Christ among the whole imperial guard and others around him. Through his trials, God was enabling him to share the Gospel in places and with people he had never imagined! In addition, believers at Rome were emboldened to join him in sharing Christ’s Gospel (vs. 12-14). In difficult circumstances, the Lord’s purpose stood firm. Sinners were being brought to faith in their Savior; the spiritually dead were being brought to salvation and eternal life in Christ.
And Paul knew the purpose of the Lord for his life would continue as he stood on trial. He says: “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (19-20). As Paul prepared to stand before the highest court of the land, he was encouraged to know that believers were praying for him, lifting him up to the Lord who hears and answers according to His loving will. He was confident that, in answer to their prayers, the Holy Spirit would enable him to proclaim Christ boldly.
No matter what the outcome of his trial, whether in life or in death, Paul was confident that the purpose of the Lord would be fulfilled. The saving name of Christ would be magnified. Therefore he says: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith” (vs. 21-25)
If it was the Lord’s purpose that Paul go on living in this world, he would rejoice to keep sharing the Gospel, seeing it bear fruit and producing saving faith in hearts. He would rejoice to continuing serving fellow believers, sharing Christ’s forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life with them. He could see how this would serve the greater good, for their progress and joy of faith.
But if the Lord allowed Paul’s trial to end in death, even in this he saw his life full of purpose. For by the grace of God, his life was hidden in Christ; already, he had crossed over from spiritual death to spiritual and eternal life. So even physical death could not take away the life Christ gave his soul. To die would be gain, as the Lord Jesus would faithfully bring him home to heaven, which is far better than anything he could ask or imagine.
2) God sees our life this way
Paul saw his life full of purpose in Christ. And God sees our life the same way. As He did for Paul, by grace He has chosen us according to His eternal purpose in Christ. He has called us out of our former life of enmity, walking apart from Him in the darkness of sin and unbelief. The Lord Jesus confronted us in our path, revealing Himself to us in His Word. He shined the light of His saving truth into our heart by His Gospel. By the Holy Spirit working in the Gospel, He converted us to saving faith. As He did for Paul, the Lord gave us His baptism, washing our sins away (Acts 22:16); and He gave us a new name as the children of God in Christ.
Now we can say with Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (vs. 21). We have been given spiritual life in Christ. He lives in us, and we live in Him. Even in death, we will live on with Him in heavenly glory! We live each day in view of our eternal life in Christ.
And as long as God has us living in this world, we can share His love in Christ and His life-changing Gospel with others. For this reason, God has called us to be where we are today. Though He has not called us to be apostles like Paul, He has given us our daily vocations. He has placed us in families, among friends and neighbors, in our workplace or school, in our community. Everywhere God leads us, we can shine the light of His Gospel and share His forgiveness and love in Christ with the precious souls He puts around us.
Like Paul, God’s purpose for our life is not diminished, even if we find ourselves facing trials, feeling imprisoned by circumstances we cannot escape. Do we face frustrations that sap joy out of our life? Are we stuck with difficult people who cause stress? Are we trapped by nagging health problems that wear us down? Do we get down and depressed about our purpose in life, maybe even asking, “Why am I here? Why doesn’t God just take me home to heaven?”
In the midst of our circumstances, we may find ourselves saying with Paul: “I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (vs. 23-24). The reason we are here is because the Lord of the Church has a “more needful” purpose for us in this world, before taking us to heaven. That purpose includes serving others and sharing our faith with them.
Here we are reminded that we are not alone in this mission. When God made us His new creation in Christ, giving us a new name as His children, He united us with His family. He made us fellow members of the Body of Christ. He put us together, as Paul tells believers: “that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (vs. 27). God brought us together to build one another up in His Word, so that we stand fast in the faith. He has given each of us spiritual gifts as He determined, for the purpose of building one another up in faith and love. Even if we feel like we cannot do much, we are indispensable to His eternal plan. Even if we cannot gather with believers, due to health problems or other limitations; yet like the believers at Philippi, we can pray for each other, and for the work of the Kingdom. We can pray for the lost, that they may hear the Gospel and be saved.
In answer to our prayers, who knows how God is working out His eternal purpose in our life. In the midst of the most difficult circumstances, when we feel imprisoned by inescapable trials; Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Like Paul, He may enable us to share His Gospel in places and with people we never imagined. With conviction of faith, strengthened by His Word, forged through fiery trial, we may bring the greatest comfort to someone God puts near us. We can talk to one who is burdened by a life of sin and failure, seeing no way to escape guilt and condemnation. We can share the good news that Jesus came to save the worst of sinners. He took all our sin and guilt to the cross; and He sets us free in His forgiveness. We can talk to one who is burdened by many troubles and sorrows, feeling there is no escape but death. We can share the good news that Jesus, who bore all our griefs and carried our sorrows to the cross, has conquered death; and He lives to give us eternal life and hope.
God has given us a life full of purpose in Christ. Like Paul, we can truly say: “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (vs. 1). Every day, we live in Christ, who is our life; and we have His life to share with others. Even in death, we can rejoice in His bringing us home to heaven, which is better by far. There, we will rejoice together in Him who works all things together for good to those He has called according to His eternal purpose in Christ (Romans 8:28).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.