Date: 3/28/04
Text: Philippians 1:18b-26
Title: A Soul Revealed
Theme: For followers of Jesus Christ, Christ is all in both life and death.

You go to the clinic for a routine check up. The doctor finds a growth in your body, takes a biopsy and has it sent to the lab for further tests. The results won't come back until 3-4 days later. It could be a matter of life and death. What will go through your mind during those long waiting days and nights? It can be very unsettling. Or, how would you pray for someone whom the doctor gives only few more hours or days to live?
In our study of the book of Philippians, we learn that Paul wrote this while he was in prison, waiting for trial. The outcome of this trial will mean life or death to him. He could either be acquitted or sentenced to death. What went through his mind? In today's passage, we catch a glimpse of his soul. Through his honesty, we are given great insights about how Paul sees life and death.
I. Looking at life with the eternal perspective.
What brings joy to you in life? How would you complete this sentence? I rejoice when…………... In 1:18 we learn that he was joyous. "那有甚麼關係呢?真心也好,假意也好,無論怎麼樣,基督總被傳開了,為此我就歡喜;" Why? First he was joyous because the gospel, Jesus Christ was preached. Even though different individuals had preached the gospel with selfish motives or to further cause harm to Paul, it didn't bother him. To Paul, as long as Christ was preached, he rejoiced. Then in the second half of 18 is another reason for his joy. "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. 並且我還要歡喜, 19因為我知道,藉著你們的祈求和耶穌基督的靈的幫助,我一定會得到釋放。 20我所熱切期待和盼望的,就是在凡事上我都不會羞愧,只要滿有膽量,不論生死,總要讓基督在我身上照常被尊為大。"Let us make several observations.
First, vs.18-19, "I will rejoice for I know that…..this will turn out for my deliverance.因為我知道,……..我一定會得到釋放." The word deliverance in the original language is Salvation. In vs20, Paul writes, "as it is my eager expectation and hope…我所熱切期待和盼望的," this term is also used in Romans 8: 19, that God's children and the rest of the creation were waiting for God to appear at the end of human history. Therefore the "deliverance" in vs.19 means the final stage of our salvation, when we will be with God either through death, or when Christ returns prior to our death. Besides, vs.19 is a quote from Job 13:16-18, "This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him. Keep listening to my words, and let my declaration be in your ears. Behold, I have prepared my case; I know that I shall be in the right. 16.這要成為我的拯救,因為不敬虔的人不能到他面前來。 17. 你們當細聽我的言語,讓我的宣言進入你們的耳中。 18.現在我已呈上我的案件,我知道我自己得算為義, " Job was in the midst of severe trials. He lost his children and his body was covered with boils. His wife was totally unsupportive. His friends had come from afar to comfort him. They were convinced that God was punishing Job because of sins in his life. Job vehemently insisted on his innocence. He said, "this will be my salvation…I know that I shall be in the right. 這要成為我的拯救……..我知道我自己得算為義" He was certain that when he appeared before the highest court, the heavenly court, he would be vindicated.
This is what was in Paul's mind when he wrote, "I will rejoice for I know that…..this will turn out for my deliverance. 因為我知道,……..我一定會得到釋放" Paul was not thinking about his release from the prison in the near future. He had his eyes set on the future, when he would see God, either through death, or Christ's return. He was convinced that the heavenly court, the highest court would vindicate him.
This is very unfamiliar to our western thinking. If we find ourselves in a situation like this, we want God to change our circumstances, we want out. But Paul's view of life is different from us. He had that eternal perspective, therefore life or death, pain and suffering became secondary.
Second observation. In 20, " eager expectation and hope that I will not be all ashamed, but that will full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.我所熱切期待和盼望的,就是在凡事上我都不會羞愧,只要滿有膽量,不論生死,總要讓基督在我身上照常被尊為大." Paul was saying, no matter what the outcome of the trial; life or death, his expectation and hope was that when he appeared in the court, his conduct would be worthy of the gospel (1:27). It was his desire that he would stand firm in his faith in Jesus Christ. He would not compromise with his enemies. This is how he will not be ashamed. And this is also how Christ will be honored. His concern is not so much as personal humiliation in the court, but that Christ be honored because of him.
Third observation. In vs.19, "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 …因為我知道,藉著你們的祈求和耶穌基督的靈的幫助,我一定會得到釋放." It is with confidence he knew for sure that he would be delivered. Where does he get such confidence? Your prayers plus the help of the spirit of Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that will sustain Paul till the end, till he meets God. However, during this process, believers' prayers are also important. Here, Paul is also hinting how others can pray for him. Yes, physically freed from the prison is in mind, but equally important is praying for perseverance till the end.
This is the part that makes us feel somewhat uncomfortable. We are used to asking God to heal this person, to take us out of this pain and suffering, now. It is certainly important to pray for all this. We must never cease praying for those who are sick and suffering. Yet at the same time we are to learn to see life with an eternal perspective. Sometimes God will heal us when we pray, and there are also times when he will bring the ultimate and final healing and deliverance when we see him face to face.
We all desire joy in life. Very often we see joy as a result of things that happen to us. We rejoice when we have this or that. We rejoice when we are healthy and without pain. Yet, if our understanding of the scripture is correct, the key to joy is not necessarily what we have or don' t have, but to look at life with that eternal perspective. Yes there will be sorrows and pains in this life, and sometimes sicknesses may not be healed. But we can be confident that there will come a day, when God will deliver us from all such pain and sufferings. While we are in the midst of such pain, we pray, and ask others to pray for us, that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will not lose faith in our lord Jesus Christ.
Sometime ago, I read a prayer letter that deeply touched me. It was from a husband whose wife was sick. He asked for specific needs that friends can pray for. Then he also added, that during the stay in the hospital and throughout the treatment process, they will have a good testimony before the doctors and nurses, that they will reflect Christ's likeness. This is how we honor Christ. Let's move on.
II. Motive for death.
In that prison, while waiting for the trial, Paul looked at life from the eternal perspective. This eternal perspective also sheds light on how he looked at life and death. In vs.21, he explained. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 因為我活著就是基督,我死了就有益處。" Vs.23, "I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 我處於兩難之間,情願離世與基督同在,因為那是好得無比的。" Paul was writing as if he was presented with a choice between life and death and was having difficulty in making up his mind which he should choose. You are probably wondering, what was Paul talking about. He was in prison waiting for trial. The Roman court would decide life or death for him. He doesn't have a choice. Really?
How do we look at life? Some see ourselves as the victim of our circumstances. We can't help it, this is our fate. We just go with the flow. But others will see it differently. Yes, we can't change our circumstances, but we can certainly control how we look at them. We can let circumstances rob us of our joy in life. But we can also choose to be joyous in the midst of adversities. As the title of a book reads, Happiness is a choice. This is what was happening to Paul. Yes, he couldn't dictate his circumstance, but he was in control of how he looked at life, and for that matter, death.
How do we look at death? To some, death is the end. I have heard many sharing that in the midst of their pain, how they wished they could just die. Death is an end to the pain and suffering in life. When we reach our limit, we want to die. In one of Gao 行健's essay, he wrote, "death is not to be afraid, but a regret".
There are also those who have accepted the philosophy that life is meaningless, and therefore the only logical conclusion or the final experience is to commit suicide. This is not what Paul is talking about. To Paul, death is not passive, nor a means to end all the unpleasantries in life. Death is not better than life. Or since there is nothing good in life, therefore one would choose death. Rather, to Paul, Death means to be with Jesus Christ. His desire is to be with Christ. He echoes Peter's writing in 1 Peter 1:8, "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…你們雖然沒有見過他,卻愛他;現在雖然不能看見他,卻信他。因此,你們就有無法形容、滿有榮耀的大喜樂," And now Paul looks forward to seeing Christ face to face. To him, this is far better than anything else.
When Mr. Chen was in the hospital two weeks ago, I read to him this passage from Revelation 21:3-4, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pains anymore, for the former things have passed away. :“看哪! 神的帳幕在人間,他要與人同住,他們要作他的子民。 神要親自與他們同在,要作他們的 神。 4他要抹去他們的一切眼淚,不再有死亡,也不再有悲哀、哭號、痛苦,因為先前的事都過去了。” Yes, when death comes, there will be no more physical pain and suffering. There will be no more crying. But for the believers, there is more. Through the door of death, we will see Christ face to face.
Death is not the end. Through death the believers will be ushered into God's presence. This is what we look forward to. This is our hope. Now, not seeing him, we believe in him and love him, and we look forward to the day when we'll see him face to face. This is far better than anything else.
III. Motive for Life.
To Paul, to die and be with Christ is far better than living. Yet at the same time, he also realized the need for him to continue living. For the well being of the Philippian Christians, he is also confident that he will survive the imprisonment and be released. In 24-25 "But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in faith,. 可是為了你們,我更需要活在世上。 25我既然這樣深信,就知道還要活下去,並且要繼續和你們大家在一起,使你們在信心上有長進,有喜樂," In essence, Paul is saying that to die is for my own benefit; that I will be with Christ. But to live is for your benefit. Here Paul is not thinking of his own preference or well being, but he is thinking of the well being of the Philippian Christians. He is here demonstrating what he later writes in 2:4, "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others…各人不要單顧自己的事,也要顧別人的事。" For Paul, to die is for personal good, but to live is to serve. What is their interest? Vs.25, "for your progress and joy in the faith. 使你們在信心上有長進,有喜樂,"
Paul knows that for him to live, is to help the Philippian Christians in their spiritual growth. In this letter, he urges them to have love and humility among them (2:2,4), Do all things without grumbling or questioning (2:14), keep focus on the future (3:14-21).
In other words, progress is a reference to quality in life. Not how comfortable you are in your house, but what kind of character you have developed.
Joy is a state of being when we develop our character and or the quality of our living.
What does it mean to us? What is the purpose, or objective of our ministry? Like Paul, the pastors here are to help you in your spiritual progress. God has placed us here to help you grow spiritually, to develop characters compatible to the teaching in the Bible. Many of us are serving in different capacities in this church. Some are SS teachers, others are fellowship co-workers or Fellowship advisors. What is the purpose of our service? Or why are we here? We are here to help others to grow spiritually, developing characters that are compatible, worthy of the gospel message.
What is the result of individuals' growing spiritually? Vs.26, "so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you. 以致你們因為我要再到你們那裡去,就在基督耶穌裡更加以我為榮." Paul says, that because of my coming to visit you again, helping your spiritual growth, you will glory Christ more. In some translations, it is said, that your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow…..
How do we honor and glorify God more and more? To grow in Christ, making spiritual progress. When we develop characters that are like Christ, we will increasingly honor and glorify God.
In recent news reports we have heard some Islamic extremists say, 'You love life, we love death." Such words send a chill down our spine. These words reveal the deep gap between the west and the Islamic extremists.
The Western culture is a culture of life and our joy is built upon the quality of life we enjoy. On the other hand, the extreme Islamic culture is one of death and their joy is built upon how they die.
However, the biblical culture, as we know through Paul's honest sharing, is a proper balance of life and death. We certainly love life, and yet we are not afraid of death. In living, our purpose and joy is to serve Christ through serving others. In dying, our joy is built on the truth that we will be with Christ.
I would like to conclude with the story of an Iranian Christian. In the August 15, 1994 issue of Christianity Today is this report. Mehdi Dibaj, was imprisoned by the government of Iran in 1984 on charges of "apostasy," since he had converted from Islam to Christianity. The penalty for this crime according to the Islamic law that ruled Iran was death. Mehdi languished in prison for ten years before his case came to trial; when it did, his written statement of defense was a simple and straightforward reaffirmation of commitment to Jesus Christ. The last few lines of that defense contain this remarkable paragraph:
[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 Christ. Therefore I am not only satisfied to be in prison for the honour of His Holy Name, but am ready to give my life for the sake of Jesus my Lord . . . .
On December 12, 1993, the court before whom this defense was made sentenced Mehdi to execution. Then, under intense pressure from people in the West who knew of the case, including the U. S. State Department, the Iranian government arranged Mehdi's release in January 1994. Seven months later, he was found dead "under suspicious circumstances" in a Tehran park. He was the third Christian found dead this way.
May we learn from Paul and this Iranian brother, not only how to live, but also how to face death.