Philippians 1: 20-30
famous evangelist once said that there was a topic he could address on any occasion
with any group without fear of contradiction – the universal nature of death.
Perhaps babies should come with a warning label, “birth will be hazardous
to your life.” There is a one to one correspondence between birth and death
– all who are born will die.
book of Philippians is one of Paul’s prison epistles. Written toward the end
of his life it is one of the most upbeat and optimistic of his letters. It is
truly an epistle of joy. We get a glimpse of Paul’s view of his own life, the
approach of death and his hope for the future in today’s text.
our culture the subject of death is frequently taboo. We go out of our way to
avoid the reality of death. Hollywood desensitizes us to the reality of death
by entertaining us with gratuitous violence and bloody carnage that make death
seem more like a bad round in a video game rather than ultimate and final in
an earlier day and time it was not uncommon for death to be seen as a natural
process that was part of everyday life. People frequently died at home – with
family and friends near by. The advent of high tech medical treatment and the
modern hospital removed death from daily life for many. Thankfully, the growing
popularity of the hospice movement has reversed this trend.
death – especially our own mortality – is a subject that we avoid at all costs.
Even in Christian circles we speak euphemistically about “going to the other
side” or “passing away.” Like Jesus disciples we need to be told plainly, “Lazarus
the surprise of post-moderns when we hear Paul’s words, “to die is gain.” (Phil.
1: 21) We talk bravely once death has come. Frequently a sports hero who dies
is said to have gone to that big game in the sky. Others with different vocations
or reputations go to their appropriate heavenly destination. But one seldom
anticipates death with the word “gain” in mind.
is unless one is a follower of the One who has defeated death by His own death,
burial and resurrection. Paul was such a follower – indeed he said that if Christ
is not in fact raised from the dead then our faith is in vain.
Paul’s anticipation of gain is based upon the presupposition in the first half
of that verse, “For to me, to live is Christ . . . .” If Paul’s anticipation
of death strikes as unbelievable, his claim about his relationship to Christ
sounds incredulous. How audacious and arrogant to say if you have seen me, you
have seen what Christ is like.
is not, however, boasting in his own spirituality. He sees his life as radically
transformed by his encounter with the risen Christ. So much so that all that
Paul was before coming to Christ he was willing to “consider loss for the sake
of Christ.” (Phil. 3:7-8) That is a perspective on life that our world does
not understand or value.
was not claiming that he had arrived or had it all together as a Christian.
Rather he knew that any good that came from his life and any glory that was
revealed in his life was the result of the working of God through the Lord Jesus
Christ in and through him. The principle he expressed earlier was, “I have been
crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life
I live in the body, I live by the faith in the Son of God, who love me and gave
himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
is only as we are willing to lay down our lives, to loose our life for Christ’s
sake and the Gospel, that we will find true life. Eternal life is a kind and
quality of life that begins when we encounter God’s life through faith in Christ.
had no morbid death wish. Rather, it was because of his encounter with the living
Christ that he could say literally, “to have passed through death’s door
recent death of Pope John Paul II was an object lesson in how a Christian ought
to face death. Regardless of one’s theological judgment of the Pope or relationship
to the Roman Catholic Church all believers could draw inspiration and strength
from the courage and dignity with which John Paul faced death.
was the international community so interested in his death? We saw something
of his confidence – the Christian confidence – that physical death is not the
end but a transition to a new beginning. Indeed, to have passed through death’s
door is gain!
brief provided by: Dr. L. Joseph Rosas III, Pastor, Crievewood
Baptist Church, Nashville, TN