To Live Is Christ

Philippians 1:19-26

by
Brett Rutherford

These inspired words “for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” were recorded by Paul under extremely bleak conditions. He was sitting in prison facing an uncertain future. As Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians he knew it could be his last. However, Paul was not afraid of death. In fact, he looked forward to the possibility that his life may soon come to an end (Philippians 1:21b.). Paul’s only concern was that he would no longer be of any benefit to the cause of Christ once he had passed on to his reward.

The attitude of this great apostle should not surprise the obedient believer in Christ. Every Christian should be able to appreciate Paul’s wonderful predicament. While he still lived he would be able to assist others in fulfilling God’s ambition for all men to be saved. Paul’s desire to live was motivated by his aspiration to serve God. Every truly convicted and dedicated child of God will constantly be driven down life’s road by the same desire that strengthened Paul’s resolve under the most trying of circumstances.

As you face your death what will you honestly declare was the single most important thing in your life? Was your service to God your entire purpose for living? Will you honestly be able to say that you lived for Christ? For a moment I want us to consider Paul’s inspired statement in Philippians 1:21. I want us to think about the true meaning of living for Christ.

To live for Christ, a child of God must be faithful in his attendance. The average Christian will probably hear a lesson on attendance at least once a year. I heard of one preacher who preached the same lesson on attendance for seven weeks in a row. When the brethren of his congregation finally confronted him over the matter he responded, “Until attendance is no longer a problem in this congregation I will continue to preach on the subject.” This preacher may not have understood the meaning of the word “overkill”, however, his point was made.

It is unfortunate that preachers and teachers constantly have to emphasise the importance of faithful attendance. No Christian should ever have to be reminded of the necessity of his presence at every worship service and approved gathering of the saints for the purpose of Bible study. These occasions are not only for the purpose of honouring God, but they are designed for our benefit. The command to attend faithfully in Hebrews 10:25 is set in a context of items that assist in the growth and strengthening of the individual Christian. In verse twenty-four the inspired author wrote “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” Assembling to worship God and to study from His Word tops the list of those things that will stir up love and good works within us. In verse twenty-five the author encourages our attendance in order to “exhort (encourage) one another.” We should count it a joy when we have the opportunity to meet with our fellow Christians.

A Christian who neglects the set gathering of the saints will not have the love of the truth, lost souls, or his fellow Christians. A child of God who avoids the services of the church will not be one involved in the good works of the local congregation. In fact, his absence is counter productive. A Christian who neglects the local assembly has no real desire to encourage and strengthen his brethren. In fact, the unfaithful child of God only serves to dishearten, discourage, and tear down the spiritual strength of the church. For example, when Joanne and I worked with a congregation in Wisconsin our Sunday evening attendance was less than half of our Sunday morning attendance. One night after our evening service a brother in Christ approached me and told me he never wanted to attend another Sunday evening service. When I asked him why he told me that he did not see the need because most of the other members did not see the need. There is no telling how much damage a Christian can cause by his absence. Brethren, when are we going to learn that if we are physically able to attend we need to be there every time the doors of the church building are open.

Consider the words of Paul in Philippians 1:24-26, “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 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.”  This great apostle looked forward to every moment he could spend with his fellow heirs in Christ. He was confident that the occasions of fellowship they enjoyed together would strengthen them spiritually and bring them joy. If we live for Christ as Paul did we will look forward to every opportunity we have to commune with our brethren and strengthen their spiritual resolve. Do you love your Lord and your brethren? If you do, being absent from the assembling of the saints will be the furthest thing from your mind.

To live for Christ a child of God must be willing to seek the lost. Paul stated in Philippians 1:22 “But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.”  There are certainly many who turn to the service of God only when they see it as a bargaining chip to liberate from a difficult circumstance. However, the statement of Paul in Philippians 1:22 is not the idle promise of a man trying to bargain with God for his release. Paul had proven that he was willing to face any odds in order to carry the gospel to the lost. One only has to read of his trials in II Corinthians 11: 23-28 to appreciate the extent of Paul’s dedication to the Great Commission.

The child of God is obligated by command to  present the Divine message of hope to every creature (Matthew 28: 18-20; Mark 16: 15-16; Luke 24: 46,47). However, if the command of God is our only reason for seeking the lost then we have not reached the level of dedication to the cause of Christ that Paul possessed. Do you honestly believe that this courageous soldier of the cross endured imprisonment, beatings, shipwreck, and stoning because he was driven only by the command to teach the lost? Our obedience to the commands of God are worthless unless we are driven to obedience by our love for Him. Remember the rich young ruler who desired to follow Jesus (Matthew 19: 16-22)? He had kept the commands of God throughout his life, and yet, he was rejected because he loved the things of this world more than God.

Paul’s enthusiasm for carrying out the Great Commission stemmed from his great love for his Saviour and his fellow man. This man was willing to forfeit his own soul if it meant that the souls of others might be saved (Romans 9:1-3). How many of us can say that we have reached that level of dedication? Our goal should be to reach this level of commitment to God that Paul expressed by words and by action.  Unless we are striving toward that mark we will not be able to say at life’s end that we truly lived for Christ.

To live for Christ a child of God must be willing to restore the fallen. One of Paul’s primary concerns for his brethren at Philippi was that they continue to grow in faith. In chapter one and verse twenty-five he wrote “And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for you progress and joy of faith”.  Someone once said that those who cease to grow cease to live. Certainly that is true in the spiritual realm. If we are to remain healthy and active the physical body needs to be fed. In order for one to maintain his spiritual well being he must also be fed. Peter wrote by inspiration that Christians are to lay “aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:1,2). As Peter points out the food of the spirit is the Word of God. When we cease to study and put into practice the principles laid forth in the New Testament our spiritual health declines. If this kind of neglect continues then we will find ourselves among the spiritually dead. Unfortunately, many Christians are among the spiritually deceased. The faithful disciple understands that he has an obligation to the fallen. A brave and duty bound soldier does not leave wounded and dying comrades on the battlefield. He does what he can to bring them out of harm’s way and tends to their wounds. The soldier of the cross must respond in the same manner in the war against Satan. He must try to revive those who are spiritually dying.

In his letter to the brethren in Galatia Paul wrote “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2). Paul asks us to consider our own salvation when we consider the salvation of others. The brave soldier does not leave his fallen comrade on the battlefield to die. That life is simply too precious to do nothing to save it. The soldier is motivated to save his friend because of his care for his comrade. He is also driven by an understanding that it could very well have been him who was dying on the plain of conflict, and he would want someone to rescue him. Care for the soul of a lost Christian, and an understanding that we may one day be in need of the saints for spiritual revival should motivate us to assist those who are in need. 

To retrieve a soul from the grasp of Satan is a far greater thing than the salvation of the physical body.  Jesus said ìFor what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?î (Matthew 16:26).

To live for Christ a child of God must be willing to defend the truth against all odds. Jude wrote “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”  Perhaps the most difficult obligation of the Christian is to earnestly contend for the faith. “The faith”  that Jude refers to is the system of faith or the Word of God which produces  faith. In other words, we are to constantly strive to defend the Gospel from those who seek to change and misuse it.

It is so very easy to compromise the integrity of God’s word in order to maintain peace between family members, friends, co-workers, and those in the denominations. The words of Paul recorded in Philippians 2:20 are “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.” Paul was motivated to preach an undefiled message by his fear of shame. Imagine coming before the Lord at the end of life’s journey and declaring to Him that you had to compromise His word in order to avoid confrontation. Suppose you even suggest to Him that a little give and take was necessary in order to protect your life. How meaningless is that declaration going to be to the one who suffered and died to bring you those truths you so easily set aside in order to dwell in peace. At that moment your heart will be bursting with shame. Paul defended the integrity of the glorious gospel even to the point where it cost him his life. Why? Paul wanted to come before Christ without the shame of bending the Lord’s principles for his own selfish purposes.

To live for Christ a child of God must be willing to make sacrifices.  In order to fulfil the duties of discipleship it maybe necessary to give up our homes, jobs, friends and even our family. Remember the rich young ruler who came to Christ with a desire to follow the Lord (Matthew 19: 16-22)? He was not willing to sacrifice his home and possessions in order to dedicate himself to Christ. The possessions of the rich young ruler became an obstacle to his service to God. It may be necessary for us to give up a lucrative job in order to retain our allegiance to the Lord.

I knew a young Christian lady in Memphis who had to resign from her place of work because she was asked to develop an advertising campaign for a beer company. She understood what it meant to live for Christ.  If our job requires us to miss worship services, or demands that we engage in immoral activity then we must remove ourselves from that evil hindrance. The apostle Paul sacrificed an influential position among the Jewish leadership in order to follow after Christ.

Our service to Jesus may also require us to give up our association with close companions. It is absolutely essential that Christians make friends with those in the world. If we are going to be effective personal workers it will be necessary for us to develop relationships with those outside the church. However, these associates should never include those whose sinful activities may hurt our influence and cause the child of God to compromise the will of his Lord. Paul’s simple warning recorded in I Corinthians 15:33 should be heeded by all Christians: “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits.”

Perhaps the most difficult sacrifice a follower of Christ will be called upon to make is that of his family. Our allegiance to Jesus may require us to decrease our association with family members who may try to hinder us from serving God. A man approached Jesus and declared his intent to follow the Lord, however, this man wished to bury his father first. Jesus’ response was “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22).  Our Lord’s answer may seem like a harsh statement to some. However, the point He made is very clear. Jesus expects us to put Him first in our lives. He must be more important to us than our mother, father, brother, sister, wife, or children. In another statement Jesus remarked “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” If you are not willing to sacrifice everything for the cause of Christ then you do not yet understand what it means to live for Christ.

To live for Christ one must become a child of God. Obviously one must become a Christian before one can start living for Christ. One becomes a Christian simply by hearing and believing the word of God (Romans 10: 17), repenting of past sin (Luke 13: 3), confessing the name of Christ before men (Romans 10: 9-10), and being baptised for the remission of sins (Acts 22: 16).

To live for Christ a child of God must be willing to remain active until death. He must always be faithful in attendance, willing to seek the lost, restore the fallen, defend the truth, and make any necessary sacrifices. If a Christian is able to fulfil these obligations with the right spirit then he will be able say at the end of life’s road “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 

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