To Live Is… Pt. 2
Study Guide, November 10, 2019
Pastor Clay Olsen
Last week we identified a great Biblical theme for living. Actually, the Apostle Paul gave it to us. You remember: ‘To live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ You talk about having an amazing focus for living…you talk about having a powerful purpose statement in your life…you talk about having an overcoming attitude, even in facing death…okay, we can talk about it if you want to…I’m glad you want to, because I’ve got all these notes here…
So here’s one thing: The Apostle Paul wrote this letter of Philippians while he was in prison, it seems in Rome. In Phil 1:12-14 we find this: “And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” NLT One thing we need to notice about Paul, and not only notice, but then make a note to self about it, is that Paul found ways to find ‘triumph’ in every ‘trial’. Even in prison, they could shut the gates on Paul, but they could not shut down Paul’s message. He says, ‘even including the whole palace guard’.
So get this: the Roman palace guard was about 9,000 strong. And Paul says that they all knew that he was in chains there because of Christ and the message of the Gospel of Christ. Fascinating! He was the one that was in prison, but the guards were the ones that were Paul’s captive audience! You’ve got to love it, right? In fact, because of his courageous attitude and example, other Christians began to also be more open and proactive about sharing their faith. They got actively involved in carrying out the Great Commission. They decided that sharing their faith was even more important than the chance that they might have to suffer in prison for it. What a wonderful example for us all! Meet all resistance with persistence…especially persistence in sharing the truths of the Gospel.
But think about it: In all the situations that Paul faced, by the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul found ways to make the best out of every bad situation. One of the key principles in all ‘leadership studies’ is this very thing: ‘Seek to make the best of every bad situation.’ By God’s grace, carry a ‘try to make the best of everything attitude’ toward everything! What an attitude to carry! Or we should say: What a Biblical attitude to carry! And for the Christian, that’s not just a good motivational motto, that’s another Biblical mindset we find Paul talking about in 2 Cor 4:8-10- “We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We often don’t know what to do, but we don’t give up. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. So we constantly experience the death of Jesus in our own bodies, but this is so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies.” ERV After every trouble, trial, or hardship we need to add – ‘but God’; but God will see us through it and enable us to triumph over it!
When a jeweler displays gems on a counter, what does he put behind them? A dark cloth. The dark backdrop makes the gems shine even more. Now, God is not the source of the dark backdrops in our life, for our battles are because of and against the world, the flesh, and the devil. But if and whenever we do have to walk through a dark experience, it can become the dark backdrop against which your faith and faithfulness shines out to others around you the brightest. For every trial is also a test. Make sure to turn the test into a testimony of your faithfulness to God. And let God’s ‘Golden rule’ be your ‘rule’ in how you handle the test. And remember, by doing so God promises to make your trials produce rewards for you, and you can count on God greatly compensating you for anything you’ve had to go through in your battles against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
And yet, to make sure of that, you and I have to adopt and to practice this overcoming attitude of Paul’s, like we also see in 2 Cor 4:16-18- “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” NASU
Sometimes when people ask me, “So, how are you doing?”, I have responded: “You mean the outer man or the inner man? The outer man has some issues, but the inner man is good.” Now, if you say that to those who don’t know their Bible, you’ll probably have to explain that a little. Of course, there’s your opportunity for some ‘faith sharing’!
Which brings us back to that second part of Paul’s triumphal attitude: “For to me to live is Christ…and to die is gain.” Again, Paul wrote this letter from prison around the year 61 AD. But about twenty years before this Paul experienced something that profoundly impacted the rest of his life and everything that he wrote about in all his letters to the churches. And we go to 2 Cor 12 to see it. He wrote his second letter to the Corinthians about fourteen years after this life changing experience. Let’s look: 2 Cor 12:2-5- “I know a man in Christ who was taken up to the third heaven. This happened 14 years ago. I don’t know if the man was in his body or out of his body, but God knows. And I know that this man was taken up to paradise. I don’t know if he was in his body or away from his body, but he heard things that he is not able to explain. He heard things that no one is allowed to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself. I will boast only about my weaknesses.” ERV
Not long after Paul’s conversion the Lord Jesus takes him on a tour of the third heaven. God takes him on a personal visit of Paradise. In our Life Group we noticed that one striking thing about this was the fact that the Greek word that Paul later used when revealing the prophecy about the coming Rapture of the church is same word that is found here to describe what had already happened to Paul. He chose the word ‘harpazo’, which means ‘caught up’. So what this means is that before Paul ever wrote to these Corinthians, and later to the Thessalonian believers, and to us all, about the Rapture of the Church, he had already experienced the ‘Rapture’ himself! God had raptured Paul to Heaven and there Paul saw Jesus face to face, along with the kind of wonders he couldn’t even put into words. But then, since God had more work for Paul to do, and since he had more Scriptures to record, Paul was taken back to Earth to continue his service.
And although from just this experience of Paul’s we could explore all kinds of amazing realities that fall out of this, back to our point: So now factor this experience of Paul’s into his proclamation of Phil 1:21- “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” NASU Paul had already been to Heaven. He already knew what it was like to die…to depart…to be ‘caught up’ to Paradise. In fact, as soon as he made that statement he then said this: Phil 1:22-25- “But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith.” NLT
We should inject here: Who is he talking to? Paul was not just talking to those Philippian Christians…He is talking to us…to you and to me. He’s letting us know that Jesus took him to heaven to show us that you and I can now also believe and say: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The same thing is going to happen to us. One day we are going to be ‘caught up’, and we will be home with the Lord in Paradise. Paul was even anxious to go. He had been there! No doubt, he probably didn’t want to come back. I wonder if he said to Jesus something like; “What? I have to go back? But I want to stay here!” Of course, that was what he preferred.
But God had more work for him to do in serving God and blessing others before going home. And friends, if you ever wonder why you are still here…still on Earth, there’s your answer as well: God has more for you to do here in serving God and blessing others before you go Home…home to Paradise. And you don’t have to know what it all is, you just have to be willing to do whatever it is that you can do to serve God and bless others. And as long as you carry that attitude with you, you can be sure God is going to guide you in doing whatever it is that He has for you to do. If you make yourself willing and available for God’s use, you can count on being used by God to do His works through you.
Many of you probably have a T-shirt that says: ‘Life is good’. That’s a really popular line of clothing. A Christian band called ‘Stellar Kart’ wrote a song that said: ‘Life is good – Eternal life is better’. Based on what Paul said we could make t-shirts that say: ‘Earth is good – Heaven is better, far better!’ How about how he put it: “I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.” Again, Paul had already been there and was so anxious to go back. He longed to go back, to go back to Paradise, to go Home.
So what if we rephrased the statement? ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to ‘go Home’ is gain.’ There is a timeless saying that says it so well: ‘There’s no place like Home’. Paul had already been Home. So when God escorted him back to Earth from Paradise to take the Gospel to new lands and new people and to record the Scriptures that we would need in order to come to know Christ and to follow Him faithfully, Paul still longed to go Home. Going ‘home’ would still be ‘far better’ for him; going ‘home’ would be ‘true gain’.
When Jesus Christ conquered ‘death’ He also changed it from being an ‘end’ into being ‘a new beginning’. The day that a Christian dies is the day that he or she experiences what Paul experienced even before his final death when he said, “I know a man who was ‘taken up’ to the third heaven, ‘caught up’ to be with Christ forever.” On every Christian’s day of death, the Christian is also ‘taken up’, ‘caught up’…his or her spirit is ‘raptured’ to Paradise, and they begin the most wonderous experience of their life. They are ushered into the very presence of Jesus, and reunited with all of their believing loved ones, along with all of the believers throughout history. And they begin to experience the countless wonders of their new Home. Certainly, they will miss their loved ones that will join them later, but they will be completely overwhelmed by the Person of God and the Paradise of their new Home.
One other thing about Paul’s visit to Paradise before he finished out his life and work on Earth…It’s clear that God intended that whatever Paul looked at for the rest of his life that he would also see Heaven in the background. Every valley of Paul’s life would now be surrounded by the Mountains of Paradise. Paul no longer just saw problems around him or prison bars in front of him or even his persecutors before him…no, now he saw Paradise all around him. Heaven was on his every horizon. And he knew that he was always just one step away from walking through that door we call ‘death’ and then he would be Home. And that would be ‘far better’; that would all be ‘gain’.
That’s what God intends for us to see as well. That’s why He recorded all of this for us. That’s why when Paul wrote about the outer man decaying and the inner man being renewed he connected it with this: 2 Cor 4:17-18- “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” NASU
Just think, through the lenses of the Scriptures we can see things that are not seen. We can see eternal things. Why, we can even see all the way into Heaven! We can see all the way Home! And even the temporary troubles and trials of this life that grieve us now, God promises to turn them into gain…gain for us, reward for us, along with all of the gain that will forever be ours in the glorious land of Paradise, where Jesus now is and where we soon will be when our spirit is ‘raptured’ to be with the Lord. Yes, the Rapture of the church could also happen at any moment…but so could the ‘rapture’, the ‘catching up’ of your spirit. But either way, along with Paul we can say: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”