Pentecost 15A—September 21, 2014
Philippians 1:12–14, 19–30
“The Living Dead”
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Bossier City, LA
INI + AMEN.
I don’t think that Philippians’s a book that’s considered that often. Well, you might get snippets or fragments every now and then: a verse or half verse here and there. Philippians isn’t a Romans, a Galatians, or even a 1 or 2 Corinthians. But Philippians is an important book in the life of Paul. You see Philippians is like Paul’s Swan Song. It’s one of his final books. While Galatians is arguably Paul’s first letter and one of the first books of the New Testament, Philippians is coming down to be one of, if not the last written Word from Paul. He’s been arrested. He’s in a Roman prison. All of this has happened because Paul kept on preaching the foolishness of the Gospel, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It’s not just because of the Gospel, but it even serves the Gospel: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”
Paul’s focus is on Christ Jesus alone, and, although it was written 1600 years later, Paul could’ve sung with us today: “Through Jesus’ blood and merit I am at peace with God. What, then, can daunt my spirit, However dark my road? My courage shall not fail me, For God is on my side; Though hell itself assail me, Its rage I may deride.” Paul’s focus is on Christ Jesus because He is the one who braved imprisonment, suffering, and death. But Christ wasn’t kept down by these things—well, He was, but for only three days—because Christ rose again from death, and for this reason Paul gives comforting words to us today:
TO LIVE IS CHRIST; TO DIE IS GAIN.
I. To live is Christ.
Of course it is! To live IS Christ because we live IN Christ! We have the help of the Spirit. Paul certainly did—along with the prayers of the saints. But this isn’t just for Paul. It’s for you and me too! “Through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my [salvation].” Whatever will happen to Paul will turn out for his salvation. Prayers for him to endure, of course—but the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, is Paul’s. He will carry Paul through. He does that for us all. We have the Holy Spirit. He’s been given to us, as He was to Paul, in the waters of Holy Baptism. How were we saved? Where did we gain salvation? What’s the guarantee that all will work out for our good? The font! As St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” And because it is and because we’ve received and have the Holy Spirit we’re in Christ: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
To live is Christ because it means fruitful labor. That’s what Paul says, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” There is indeed fruit given from the labor worked, but we must not focus too much on the labor. Because does the labor produce fruit just because it’s done? The labor is fruitful because God’s working in us and with us. While Paul’s labor and work would be fruitful, it’s not because HE did anything. It’s fruitful because of God’s working. When he was writing to the Corinthians and comparing his work to Apollos’ and even God’s, Paul said, “Neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” In our case it’s just as Paul says later in Philippians: “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” God works in all of us. He’s the doer and we the instrument. The labor is also fruitful not only because we live in Christ, or God works in and through us, but it’s fruitful because Christ lives in us. As Paul said in Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Christ lives in us because we’re baptized, we hear His Word, and receive His body and blood in the Supper, and because of this, because we’re God’s children, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we [would] walk in them,” as Paul says in Ephesians. The works are prepared, God works in us, Christ lives in us and we in Christ, and now its just like the Fidelity commercial. In the Fidelity commercials you follow the green line so also works are laid out and we just walk in them.
But in our day to day lives we don’t just live in Christ. We certainly do, but we also live in a body of death. We do other things. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” Well, do we? Every moment of every day? If it’s not every moment, then is our WHOLE manner of life lived worthy? Is it lived worthy when we talk about our neighbor, our friends, our family members, coworkers, classmates, or teachers behind their backs? Worthy when we’re angry with them? When we want what they’ve got and we don’t? When we disrespect those over us? That’s a problem, certainly, but let’s put Paul’s words in their context, not that it will help, but it will help us understand better. Paul says, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” and what he means is seen in how he finishes his thought: “…striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” We aren’t concerned with what people will say back to us if we share our faith, are we?
We focus too much on what we do. On our labor. But Paul’s focus is on Christ. Because it’s just like I said before. Our works, our labor, and even the fruit that comes from it is all from God. That’s what Paul says here in Philippians as well: “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” It’s all from God. Because of their unbelief He’s given the opponents over to a debased mind, but your salvation, your holding fast the faith, and telling, in whatever small way, is all from God. He’s the primary actor. It’s why if by chance we’ve done all that the Lord God commands us, Christ bids us to say, “We are unprofitable servants. We’ve only done what was our duty to do.”
But we do so much that’s astray and far afield from what God wants for us and to give us. To live is Christ, but so often we think or say, or maybe we don’t think or say it, but we certainly act like “to live is me and for me.” As Paul cries out in Romans and we do too: “Who will save us from this body of death?” This is why it’s certainly true that
II. To die is gain.
Of course it’s gain to die! Because salvation is from God“It’s always well with a Christian, whether he live or die. So blessed a thing it is to be a Christian and to believe in Christ…This security Christ has won for us by dying and rising again so that He might be the Lord of both the living and the dead.” Christ died and is risen not just for Himself but for you and me too, and we know and believe this is in our heart because we’ve been baptized. That’s it. Because we’ve passed through that watery grave to die is gain, and our death rescues us from this valley of sorrow where our body of death holds sway, and once we die we shall live in righteousness and purity forever. Because we’ve received Jesus’ body and blood in the Supper He will raise us up on the last day. For all of this we can exclaim with Paul, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” There’s no doubt that being with Christ is far better! That to die is gain!
But we’re afraid of suffering and dying. When we see what’s going on in Iraq, are we more confident? Isn’t it that we pray first of all that God would relieve their suffering? And second, we’ll probably pray that we don’t have to under go that. Do we have more boldness like those who saw Paul’s imprisonment? “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” We must remember that it’s not just our faith that’s a gift from God, but suffering’s a gift too: “…it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…”
That’s suffering, but we also fear dying. Can we agree with Paul, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” I guess we can somewhat agree with Paul on the surface. We all desire to be with Christ, but do we desire to depart this world? Well, that’s one part of it. The other part is the “departing.” That means death, but we don’t fear “death” per se because “death” is an idea. We can wrap our minds around it. Christ overcame it certainly. But we fear “dying.” The departure isn’t scary, but it’s the act of departing. The fact that one day, one moment your heart will stop beating and then what? Or it might be all that may lead up to dying: sickness, weakness, doctors, the hospital, hospice. We don’t want people to see us like that because we don’t want to see ourselves like that.
But to die is gain! There was that moment for Christ, He knew it was coming from before the foundation of the world, that His heart one moment was beating and the next it wasn’t. But dying is gain not only because Christ died but because “Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” There was that moment for Christ, He knew it was coming from before the foundation of the world, that His heart one moment wasn’t beating and the next it was! So also for us. One day—one great and glorious day—our dust, our bones, our bodies will have life in them again, and yes, even our heart, which will have long since rotted and decayed, will once again have life and will beat again forever.
TO LIVE IS CHRIST; TO DIE IS GAIN. Of course it is! Because of Christ! We can now have courage to live and to die. Christ is for us, with us, in us. We live in Him and He in us. We’re clothed with Him, and He wraps us with His righteousness. He works in us and we work through Him. He rescues us from our body of death, and bodies and bloods Himself to us in His Supper. The body will die but will be raised perfect and holy forever. Death is gain because Christ died and is risen. We can have courage to face the days ahead, and we have courage to stare Even dying in the face. Courage to know that our heart will beat again forever in Christ as we stand before His throne and the Father’s with the Spirit enlivening us forever. “…With full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Of course it will! For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Christ’s life is life, and His death is gain for you now and forever.
INI + AMEN.