Devotional: To Live is Christ, to Die is GainMay 4, 2022 Sermon Devotional
I was so excited to learn that Pastor Barry’s new sermon series would be walking us through the book of Philippians. For the past several months I have been attending a study on this book and have been humbled by how much I have learned from the wisdom of Paul and the discussion of Godly women. Early on in our study, we covered the verses from Pastor Barry’s sermon on Sunday and I distinctly remember something that was said as we reflected on what stood out to us in the passage. It was said in reference to Philippians 1:29-30, which reads: “For 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, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (ESV). One of the ladies said that as she reflected on this passage, she found herself questioning whether she willingly suffered for Christ. “Do I trust the Lord and allow myself to experience situations where I know there will be suffering for Christ? Or do I avoid suffering because I want to be comfortable instead?” I knew in that moment the Lord was convicting me through the words of this dear sister in Christ.
I was thinking about this a few days ago when I was watching Wesley play in the yard. He is 10 months old now and has been crawling for a while. He is now pulling himself up and can balance on his own for a few seconds before falling over. He is SO close to walking! When we were playing in the yard, he was crawling through the grass and I thought about how much more comfortable he would be if he could walk, not to mention that he would get to where he wanted to go a lot faster. I tried to help him by standing him up and having him take a few steps holding onto my hands. He wanted nothing to do with this! As soon as I tried to stand him up, he sat down – he wanted to do his own thing! The reality is that Wesley can get to where he wants to go now that he is crawling, but it’s not the most effective method of doing things. I know that if he could just suffer through the discipline of learning how to walk that he would be so much better off! But that’s just it: he would have to spend a little bit of time suffering as he learned how to walk. I know that learning how to walk would open doors for him that he can’t even imagine at this point. But he is content with crawling right now and isn’t willing or ready to suffer through learning how to walk. I know that Wesley is only 10 months old and that he is not capable of consciously choosing to crawl over learning how to walk. But as I watched him and thought about these things myself, I realized that I do this all the time. I choose to stay within my sphere of comfort and avoid stepping out into situations that pose a risk of suffering for Christ.
In his sermon on Sunday, Pastor Barry talked about Paul’s boldness in his letter to the Philippians and how he speaks of the joy that we, as Christians, have in suffering. Pastor Barry said that “there is joy in suffering because God uses it for His glory.” He described how in verse 19 Paul expresses confidence that the prayers and the help of the Philippians will be used for his deliverance. He says, “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” (Phil. 1:19, ESV) Pastor Barry explained that Paul’s use of the word “deliverance” actually has two meanings. In one sense, Paul does believe that the Lord will deliver him from his imprisonment. But secondly, Paul uses this word to communicate that “he stands before the Lord in honor; in life or death, he is not going to be put to shame. The honor of Christ is his goal.” Paul goes on to say in verse 21, “for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (ESV) Pastor Barry described how Paul’s greatest desire is Christ. He said that Paul is “profoundly Christ focused, Christ centered, Christ exalted; his whole life is about honoring Christ. To bring glory and to make his name great.” It is Paul’s desire for Christ that brings him joy in suffering because He knows that through all things, including his suffering, Jesus will be glorified. And it is his love of Christ that fuels his desire. Paul’s love of Christ was so great that he willingly suffered for His sake. And what’s more, he didn’t do it begrudgingly, Paul had joy in his suffering! He was joyous at the knowledge that through his imprisonment, the name of Jesus was being proclaimed. His desire was for Christ and Christ alone.
I wish that I could say that my love for Jesus rivals Paul’s. I wish that I could say that I rejoice in my suffering knowing that Jesus is being honored through my struggle. But I can’t. My desire is reflected in my unwillingness to suffer for Christ – my desire is for myself. I carry on in comfort and complacency, keeping myself securely on the throne of my life. Praise be to God that His love for me is not determined by my love for Him! In his abundant and overwhelming loving kindness, there is grace. Through His son, Jesus Christ, He has made a way for us to come to him and lay these struggles at His feet. Dear friends, if you do not find your heart stirred with joy at the thought of suffering, you are not alone! I too find it hard to embrace the joy that comes with suffering. But we are not alone on this path that we walk. And by God’s grace, as we grow in our Christlikeness, we also grow in our love of Him. As Paul’s desire for Christ enabled him to experience joy in His suffering, take heart, my brothers and sisters, that God is working in us to bring about the same desire for Christ. Will you join me in boldly asking Him to give us a heart that knows to live is Christ, and to die is gain?
Photo Credit: Patrick Fore