Joy in Life and Death

Philippians 1:19-26

According to People Magazine, a radio host once asked the infamous body-builder, movie star, and former CA governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Tell me, governor, what happens to us when we die?” “Nothing,” he said. “You're 6 feet under. Anyone that tells you something else is a #*$% liar.” He recently added that death is a topic he feels uncomfortable with, suggesting that heaven, in his view, is nothing more than a fantasy."

Author Irvin D. Yalom (Stanford professor, psychotherapist, and existentialist) writes:

“Each person fears death in his or her own way. For some people, death anxiety is the background music of life, and any activity evokes the thought that a particular moment will never come again. Even an old movie feels poignant to those who cannot stop thinking that all the actors are now only dust.”

Though we may not be so outspoken or so philosophical as these two men, we too – like them – must grapple w/ the fear of death, whether we fear the outcome of death (leaving this world behind), the means or process of death (how it will happen), or both.

In either case, the technical term for being afraid of one’s own death (or “death anxiety”) is thanatophobia. Like psychological white noise, this fear lies buried alive in the cavern of our minds, pulsating a quiet but perceptible background frequency in our lives. For many – even many followers of Christ – this underlying fear of dying expresses itself through another fear – a fear of living.

When this happens, a person is so afraid of leaving and letting go what this world provides (experiences, possessions, and/or relationships) that he/she holds back from devoting much if any energies, resources, talents, or time to investing in and doing things to directly introduce people to Christ and to help them take their next steps in following him.

Paul – for one – did not share this fear. He had learned to accept the potential outcome and eventual reality of death on a daily basis. He said, “I die daily” (1 Cor 15:31). Have you reached a similar place in life, finding new freedom in living for Christ no matter the outcome? This is a freeing way to live, one that increases joy and reduces anxiety! From his prison cell in Rome, Paul explains his view towards death as a basis for ongoing joy.

We should find value in a variety of possible outcomes.
For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 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.

A key to setting good goals is to set goals that fulfill your mission and purpose in life. Doing so allows you to be flexible, recognizing that there may be more than one way or step towards fulfilling your mission. If you can’t or don’t achieve one goal, you can adjust and see another way to get there.

We experience rising anxiety, for instance, when we set one goal and fail to achieve it. But when we realize that we may have simply set the wrong goal or one of many possibilities but merely hit another good one instead, that’s freeing! If you’re a deer hunter, for instance, imagine aiming for an 8-pt. buck and missing, only to discover that you hit a record-setting gobbler instead!

Consider a professional athlete, for instance. Is winning a national championship a good goal? Of course. But can every athlete do so? Sometimes the best athletes are unable to win a national championship because of poor team building and management, for instance, or because physical injuries shorten their careers. So, those athletes who make a national championship their number one goal and stake all their hope on doing so will experience increased anxiety in pursuing and possibly failing this goal.

As followers of Christ, we are able to look at difficult circumstances with a clear mission and purpose in mind. No matter what twists and turns we may experience, our primary mission and motivation is what Paul says here, to “magnify Christ.” Magnify here means to reveal the greatness of God to others.

In Paul’s situation at hand, he had been imprisoned indefinitely in Rome, waiting for a hearing before Emperor Nero. Some people wanted him to be released while others wanted him to suffer even more or be executed. How would you feel in this position? Would you experience the anxiety of not knowing whether you would live or die?

Paul was able to look at both possible outcomes, to live or to die, and view each one as a success in its own right. He was able to see success in either result. What peace that brings! What joy and flexibility!

Paul possessed this calm, flexible confidence in part because of two contributing factors: the prayers of the Philippian believers for him and the personal assistance and support of the Holy Spirit. We can enjoy the same support today, as we uphold one another in regular prayer before God and become sensitive to and dependent upon the daily, personal presence and assistance of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Now, what specifically was Paul’s mission and purpose? It was to magnify Christ, as mentioned previously. Paul felt very strongly about this mission (“my earnest expectation and hope”) and was confident that “in nothing I would be ashamed,” meaning that he was confident God would not disappoint him. That’s why he was so confident (“with all boldness”).

Paul was so confident in God’s guarantee of a successful, ultimate outcome (that he would indeed magnify Christ through Paul’s life), that entrusted the means for doing so (whether life or death) entirely up to God. He had no reservations about this and felt no compulsion to dictate the terms of his success to God. Do you have the same confidence in God about your future right now as you consider various possible outcomes?

This complete confidence enabled Paul to be so flexible in his goals that he knew that whether he died, he had not failed or missed out, or whether he lived, he had not failed or missed out. Do you feel the same way? Or does dying seem like losing to you?

We should view death as a positive gain.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.

But how can death possibly a successful “deliverance?” For Paul specifically, we know that death would release him not only from prison, but from his homeless, nomadic life that had brought about so many hardships and trials for him. In 2 Cor 5:8, he said this:

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Can you sense his willingness to leave this world to be with Christ? The moment or instant a follower of Christ dies, not only does his or her pain, sin, and suffering end forever, but he or she enters the personal presence of Christ immediately and forever. This is the best possible existence and ultimate freedom. That’s why Paul says, “to die is gain.”

“To gain” is an accounting term that speaks of accruing more value or realizing net gain. While it’s natural to view death as a major debit or loss, Paul had learned to view it as a significant credit or success for someone seeking to magnify Christ, for in death, a follower of Christ comes to know him in the best possible way. That’s why Paul describes “departing and being with Christ…far better,” which means “much more greatly preferred.”

So, a joyful believer learns to view death as a positive gain and is therefore not weighed down with anxiety over the possibility of dying. At the same time, believers should not live escapist lives, wanting or wishing to depart from this world as soon as possible. Since this could be a logical conclusion, Paul needs to acknowledge that seeking to die through means like suicide, doctor-assisted suicide, or merely living recklessly are not appropriate options. Why? Because they realize at the same time that “to live is Christ.”

This statement, “to live is Christ,” reveals that ultimate meaning and purpose in life comes from knowing and serving Christ, magnifying him to others through the actions and choices of our daily lives. Paul explains here, for instance, that to remain alive in prison and be eventually released would produce even more results from his efforts. In short, the longer he lived, the more people he would have opportunity to speak to and serve for Christ. The more potential people would come to faith in Christ and the more followers of Christ would become more like Christ through Paul’s influence, input, and teaching.

Despite this clear positive outcome for remaining alive – though still in prison – he still found it difficult to choose between dying or living. If given the choice, he said that “what I shall choose I cannot tell,” meaning, he doesn’t know what choice he would make if given the chance. Do you know what it’s like to be indecisive? We feel that way when we look at a massive diner menu or the ice-cream options at the Moorhead Dairy Queen!

“Hard-pressed” further emphasizes Paul’s indecisiveness. He was so unafraid of dying and eager to be with Christ that if given the choice between dying and living, he would experience such incredible mental perplexity that he doesn’t know what he would choose. Do you feel the same way, or is the decision simpler to you? If it’s simpler, then perhaps you either (a) don’t understand the benefits of dying or you (b) don’t understand the purpose for remaining alive.

If you feel that to remain alive is the easy, better choice, then perhaps you haven’t truly considered the incomparable wonder and satisfaction that comes from seeing and being with Christ forever. Perhaps you are too easily satisfied with this current, stunted life. Or perhaps you are not nearly as interested in knowing Christ personally and closely as you should be.

But if you feel that to die is the easy, better choice, then perhaps you have a low, uninformed, or incomplete view of your purpose for being alive in this world to begin with, and that’s what

Paul zooms in on here to finish his thoughts here.

We should live to bring about spiritual progress in others.
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.

Despite Paul’s eagerness to be with Christ in the way that only death makes possible, which was the better option in his view from a personal standpoint, he had learned to put the needs of others above his own desires – even the most noble of desires. As Max Anders thoughtfully explains:

"Paul knew Christ’s mind, a mind that put the needs of others above personal desires, so Paul knew he would remain on earth to minister to the churches. Paul considered the welfare of fellow Christians more important than his desire to go to heaven. By enduring on earth, he could assist their spiritual growth and joy in the Christian faith."

Paul somehow or another knew that he would not yet die but would be released from prison and would make a return visit to Philippi. He did not demand this nor did he necessarily desire it. Even so, to stick around would benefit them because it would enable him to invest more of his influence, input, and teaching into their “progress of faith” and “joy of faith.” He wanted their practice and enjoyment of faith in Christ to increase through his personal ministry to them.

Considered from another angle, Paul did not desire to remain alive so that he could experience more adventures and pleasures on his personal bucket list or accumulate more accolades, resources, and things which he wanted to have. Like a true champion, he did not measure his success of find his personal purpose and value championship rings, mansions, promotions, cruises, and vista views. If he were to remain alive, it would be for one reason and one reason only – to help others know Christ and know him better.

As followers of Christ, we should not be afraid to die. We should live confidently knowing that if we die, we will be in a far better position. This should excite us to live for Christ and magnify him through our lives and should embolden us to take biblically informed risks to magnify Christ.

Vacation Bible School may not be the greatest risk of all time, for instance, but for those who participate as volunteers, it will be somewhat inconvenient, sacrificial, and uncomfortable investment of energy, resources, and time to expose children and their parents to the good news of Christ and to teach them to follow him better. That will be a far more productive use of your life than what you might otherwise do next week, right?

Also, as we grow older and face increasing difficulties and trials, we should not let our growing desire to be with Christ diminish our commitment and desire to influence more people to faith in Christ and to help more believers take their next steps in following Christ. It’s easy to become disenchanted, to lose interest, to be more interested in end-times prophecy than gospel outreach, and to focus more intently on either soaking in the experiences of this life or dreaming about dying that we fail to invest our wisest, most mature years (supposedly) into helping others take their next steps in following Christ.

I’ll add to this application (of older believers growing disenchanted with this life or grasping at worldly experiences before life’s end like a last-minute shopping spree) that even those who are younger may face a similar disenchantment. It’s possible for younger people, middle-aged Christ followers, etc. to look at the world and feel unsatisfied and forlorn.

  • Idealism: younger people seem to have much higher and possibly unrealistic goals and aspirations in life (materially, experientially, relationally, etc.). This idealism (or unrealism) may be fueled by many things, such as the illusions of social media, the allure of false advertising, competition with the glamorous and athletic stars, and the quest for perfection and self-gratification.
  • Nihilism: younger people may also – due to over-exposure, premature dissatisfaction, and aberrant experiences with what this life offers – develop a disenchantment and meaningless sense of existence, wishing to be anywhere else but here, feeling unnecessary and irrelevant. Feeling as though this world is a total waste of time and that they don’t fit in.

We need to confront both these possible views, whether idealistic or nihilistic, with what Paul has taught us in this passage. That to die and be with Christ is better than anything imaginable in this present life, so it is therefore nothing to be afraid of. But this outlook properly understood does not encourage us to escape this life or waste it but rather inspires us to embrace this life for all that it’s worth – to live boldly and courageously for Christ. Properly understood, to view death as a superior and positive outcome fills us with joy and frees us to live fully, freely, and confidently for Christ.

A well-traveled preacher of the 1900’s, John R. Rice, once had a man pull out a pistol and point it at him, saying, “I’m going to blow your brains out.” Rice calmly and firmly replied, “Son, you can’t scare me with heaven.”
That’s what the church needs. What  the next generation of young people needs. What  the world needs to see? These all need to see followers of Christ who are not afraid to die. Enough with professing believers who claim to follow Christ yet spend more time avoiding any serious effort, risk, or sacrifice for Christ’s sake, for we do not show our allegiance to Christ by claiming our willingness to die but by showing our willingness and determination to live for Christ, do whatever we can to help others take their next steps in following Christ. No matter what the outcome may be, may we be committed to this mission as Paul also was. That’s why we live. That’s how we live with joy.

In 1832, French pastor H. A. Cesar Malan wrote a hymn called, “It Is Not Death to Die,” translated into English a decade later. He had been raised in a nominal Christian home, a Unitarian one. (Unitarians reject the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, a biblical view of sin, salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, and the authority of Scripture.) As a young preacher, he was defrocked by the Unitarian church for preaching a doctrinal sermon about the need for salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. He wrote this hymn at 45 yrs. of age reflecting a positive, biblical view towards death as a follower of Christ.

A newer version of this song’s lyrics, adapted by Bob Kauflin, says this:

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God

It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just

It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore

O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die
Posted in
Tagged with , ,

No Comments





1 Corinthians Abraham Affirmation Ambition Anxiety Babylon Baptist History Bible Study Bibliology Bitterness Blameshifting Canonicity Charity Christian Growth Christian Living Chronicles Church Comfort Complaining Contentment Courage Covenant Creation Cross Crucifixion Daniel David Death Deuteronomy Devotion Discipleship Disciples Easter Ecclesiastes Egypt Elders Elijah Elisha Emotions Empathy Encouragement Endurance Eschatology Esther Eternity Evangelism Examples Excuses Exodus Ezekiel Ezra Faithfulness Faith Family Fear Fellowship Finances Forgiveness Freedom Friendship Generations Generosity Genesis Gideon Glorification Good News Gospel of John Gospel Government Grace Gratitude History Holiness Holy Spirit Hope Humility Idolatry Ignorance Inspiration Isaac Isaiah Israel Jeremiah Job Joshua Joy Judges Judgment July 4th Justice Justification Kindgom of God King David Kings Lamentations Law Leadership Legalism Leviticus Love Loyalty Marriage Mary Mentorship Messiah Mind Ministry Miracles Missions Money Morality Moses Mothers Motives Nehemiah New Testament Nicodemus Numbers Obedience Offerings Old Testament Omniscience Outreach Pain Passion Week Passover Pastoral Care Pastors Peace Pentateuch Perseverance Philippians Poetry Politics Pontius Pilate Power Prayer Preservation Pride Priests Promises Prophecy Proverbs Providence Psalms Redemption Relationship Remembering Responsibility Restoration Resurrection Righteousness Role Model Romance Ruth Sacrifice Salvation Samson Samuel Sanctification Satan Saul Scripture Service Sinai Solomon Song of Solomon Sorrow Sovereignty Spiritual Gifts Stewardship Submission Suffering Teamwork Temple Temptation Thankfulness Thanksgiving Thanks The Joyful Life Thinking Toledoth Trials Truth Unity Vanity Victory Wealth Wisdom Women Worship