Joy In Living For Christ
This is a sermon preview for Sunday April 23rd, 2023. It is the 2nd week of the Eastertide sermon series “Easter Joy: A Walk Through Philippians.”
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. - Philippians 1:21
"I'll definitely be satisfied when... I would certainly be happy if..."
Such thoughts are not uncommon. Satisfaction, we often convince ourselves, is not far away.
If we could just get the home we really need, or the job we've been expecting, or if we could just get out of this particularly bad season of poor health, then we can find joy.
The strangeness of the Apostle Paul is on full display in this passage. He boasts in his joy when even those who are suspicious of him preach the Gospel. He is glad from prison when he can preach the Gospel to prison guards. And, Paul he faces even death with an unnatural (one might say supernatural) hope. Paul writes from prison, but rather seeking encouraging news from the outside, he hopes to encourage the church at Philippi — and all of us who encounter his word thousands of years later.
Of course, it's not just the strangeness of Apostle Paul, it's the life-giving strangeness of the Gospel on display in this letter.
Paul is in prison, and yet Paul rejoices that God has used even this dire situation that the Good News might be advanced, and more might hear of God's saving power in Jesus.
As some other Christians may be be distancing themselves from Paul or seeking to increase their own standing by preaching, Paul simply rejoices that the message about Christ is being preached.
Even when contemplating the fact he could die, he considers it "gain," and something which "would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live" (v. 23-24 NLT). And why does Paul wish to continue living? He says it simply: "To help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith." (v. 25, NLT)
Paul is not self-absorbed, but he's completely absorbed by the Gospel: the Good News which is Jesus Christ.
Paul, in other words, acts very differently from how I often act. He finds joy in circumstances which, frankly, would make me falter and doubt. The changing of the weather is enough, many times, to make me downcast. A flat tire is enough to ruin my whole day. And in Muncie, those happen from time-to-time!
But we know that circumstances will change. God never guarantees believers a life without difficulty. And yet, Paul shows us joy in the hope we have.
I'm reminded of another Christian who was in chains. Bishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, who died not long ago. He was in prison when he advocated against the Apartheid Regime of his nation. And yet, he was often heard to say,
"I've read the end of the book... we win!"
One thing which was notable about Desmond Tutu was his laugh. A laugh that is not a diversion from suffering, but the laugh of one who had suffered much: a sign of God's ultimate triumphant joy over evil.
Paul's joy, and wish for the faithful to share in the joy of the Gospel, the joy of living for Christ and dying to self, is this sort of joy. It does not deny suffering. It is not a morose and self-hating act; but it is an act in which one finds joy in knowing God is faithful enough, good enough, and one might even say clever enough to bring his great good out of what human beings meant for evil.