The Ultimate Win-Win Situation
A sermon based on Philippians 1:18b-27
Sunday, October 16, 2011 – Pentecost 18A
All privacy was lost. Whenever he had to use the bathroom, someone was right there with him. Whenever he was bathing or getting dressed someone was right there with him. Practically 24-7 there was another man literally chained at his side. House arrest wasn't fun. But consider the alternative. At any moment of any day a message could come with orders for his execution.
A long, frustrating imprisonment or a slow, painful death were both very real possibilities for the Apostle Paul. Why? What had he done to deserve such a fate? He preached Christ crucified. And when it seemed he was to be executed in spite of his obvious innocence, he appealed to a higher court. To Caesar he appealed and to Caesar he would go. So, there he sat imprisoned in Rome with a possible death sentence lurking in the shadows.
That situation is enough to break the strongest of men, but it didn't break Paul. He didn't fall to pieces, but instead he rejoiced. He rejoiced because even though circumstances weren't as he would have them, he knew they were according to God's plan. And that meant that he was in a win-win situation. In fact, he pointed out that he was always in a win-win situation because there were only two options: life or death. If he died, he'd go to glory. And what a win! And if he lived, it meant more opportunity to live for Christ. What a win!
This morning as consider a portion of the book of Philippians, which Paul wrote from prison, we rejoice at our ultimate win-win situation and echo Paul's sentiment no matter what situations we face in life: "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Listen now to Paul's bold and joyous words written to the Philippians from his imprisonment. We read Philippians 1:18-27…
18b …I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. 27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel…
I. Death is Jesus
What an amazing attitude Paul had! What optimism, huh? "Glass half, empty? No way! Look at how full it is! Look at how blessed I am!" Paul says. "I know that if I die I'm going to glory!" "I know that … what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance." Literally, for my salvation. Whether he was saved from house arrest and execution or not, he had salvation from his sin and from hell and knew he would be delivered from all suffering and pain very soon when he went to glory.
And with such confidence look at how selfless Paul was! He was faced with the two choices: Either to continue to toil away in frustrating and agonizing labor for the Lord in order to strengthen others, or to die and go to a paradise so full of joy it's beyond imagination, to go and be with his Savior. And if the choice were up to him… well, Paul said he didn't know what he'd do. He was torn. He longed to be with Jesus. He craved it. He couldn't wait. But he could wait, and if he continued to live he would wait patiently, because him being around was necessary for the Philippians.
Wow! I don't know about you, but I have to admit I'm not often that selfless. If you gave me the option between a difficult, tiring, and frustrating ministry here at Grace, let alone locked up in a prison, or an all-expense paid life on some tropical island, let alone the paradise of heaven, I'm sorry. I love you all, but I'd be awfully tempted. I don't know how "torn" I'd be.
The truth is that I often fail at much smaller temptations. Watch a little TV or work on Sunday's sermon? Make some phone calls to members and prospects or relax with a book on the couch? Spend time in the Word or time or catch a little more sleep? All too often my attitude is not, "For me to live is Christ."
And I know most of you well enough by now to say with confidence that I'm not alone. Your attitudes, like mine, often choose what's in your own best interest, not someone else's, and not nearly enough what God wants. If given the option of miserable, frustrating suffering for the strength of someone else or a perfect paradise for our pleasure and gratification and our sinful selfish response is all too often the latter. For such selfish, self-serving attitudes, we deserve not only imprisonment in a jail cell, but in the torments of hell for all eternity.
But thank God for Jesus! His attitude was not selfish like ours, but selfless—so incredibly selfless that he willingly went to hell on the cross for us! When given the choice between the paradise of heaven and a slow agonizing, excruciating death by torture on a cross, the guilt, shame and anguish of feeling every selfish sin ever committed as if he himself had committed them, and the complete and total abandonment of his Father who utterly forsook him on the cross, he willingly chose the latter.
And make no mistake! He chose that path! He could have walked away at any time. Jesus said, "I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord." (John 10:17-18) So why'd he make that choice? Because like the apostle Paul, he wasn't looking for what was in his best interest, but ours. He chose that path for you and for me to pay for our selfish attitudes and to rescue us from hell.
And now the paradise of heaven is ours. You can know—not hope maybe, but know—that no matter what happens to you it will turn out for your deliverance! One hundred and fifty years from now you will be in glory! And so we don't need to fall to pieces at the thought of our own death. While the actual act of dying might not be fun, we know that when we die we will "depart and be with Christ, which is better by far."
You can boldly echo Paul and say with all sincerity, "For me to die is gain" and know that death does not mean your defeat, but your final victory in Christ! What a win! And so we no longer fear death. We no longer consider it a win to live long enough to see the grandkids married, or to live long enough to really enjoy retirement. We say with all sincerity and joy, "God, if you want to take me right now, great! Glory, here I come!"
You know, if you ask an engaged couple how many days there are to their wedding, more often than not they'll tell you the exact number of days (and sometimes even the hours and minutes). Why? Because of their deep longing to be with each other, they count down the time until they can finally come together. That's how we view death: not as something to be feared, but we long for that time when we finally get to be with Christ face to face in the glory of his heaven!
But knowing that, in Christ, death is a win for us, doesn't mean we have an impatient death wish. Christ's work for us on the cross changes, not only the way we view death, but also the way we view life. It's been said that "Life without Christ is a hopeless end, but life with Christ is an endless hope." (Unknown) Paul expresses that hope in the way he speaks about the alternative to death in Christ—life in Christ…
II. Life is Jesus
Even though he longed to be out of his prison confinement and with his Savior, Jesus, the apostle Paul didn't have an impatient death wish. He expected to be released from his arrest because there was still work for him to do with the Philippians and with others. And rather than grow frustrated that Jesus wasn't ready to take him to glory yet, he was eager to do the tasks that Jesus in store.
That's why he said, "For to me, to live is Christ… If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me… it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith…"
For Paul, life was Christ. The two were synonymous. Why? Because of what Christ had done for him. Jesus dedicated his life to saving Paul and so, Paul would dedicate his life to serving Jesus—no matter what suffering that might entail. After all, no matter how bad it got, it would be nowhere near what Jesus endured for him or what he deserved.
And the same is true of us. Because of what Christ has done for us, we dedicate our very lives to him. We regularly pray this when we use the Service of the Word in our hymnal: "Take all that we have, our bodies and minds, our time and skills, our ministries and offerings and use them to your glory. We give ourselves to you that we may serve you in whatever way is pleasing in your sight."
Perhaps you've seen the series of T-shirts that say, "Basketball, volleyball, fishing, hunting, (or whatever your hobby) is life. The rest is just details." Well, the truth is that with an unending thanks and gratitude to Jesus for removing our every sin, for robbing death of its sting, for delivering us from hell, for promising us an eternal paradise, Jesus is life. The rest is just details.
Who cares if I suffer for a little while here on earth? I'm but a stranger here! I'm heaven bound! Who cares if I have to take out the trash or change a diaper or do some chore I don't like to do out of love for my Savior? Look at how he served me! Who cares if I'm unjustly sentenced to death for the sake of the Gospel! Look at how he was sentenced to hell in my place! Because death is now Christ, so is my life. The rest is just details.
And so, while we may be eager for death, when we can depart to be with our Savior, we're not impatient. We're equally eager to stay alive to serve our Savior, even if that means we're confined to a hospital bed where the only service we're capable of is prayer, even if that means that our service is simply to give others the opportunity to show their love for their Savior in their care for us. Death is a win situation, but we don't seek to end our lives, because life is a win situation too.
Every situation in life is a win-win situation, dear Christian. Because for us, "to live is Christ and to die is gain." So, rejoice, no matter what circumstances you're in. Either you'll be delivered from your suffering in this life, or God will let you continue to suffer for the good of others, who will notice your joy in spite of your suffering. So, in thanks to Jesus and the win-win situation he give you, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."
In the ruins of Pompeii, that city that was buried in volcanic ash and frozen in time, there was a Roman sentinel found in what some would consider a very unlikely place. Can you guess where? Standing upright at the city gate, right where the captain placed him—still grasping his spear. As the sky fell down around him as the flood of ashes overwhelmed him, he refused to run for his life, but faithfully carried out the task which he was assigned, even if it meant death.
In the same way, dear friends, in thanks to Jesus for making our deaths a win situation, we too faithfully carry out the tasks that our Captain has assigned to us in thanks. For we know that every situation is a win-win situation. For to live is Christ, and to die is gain. May we all be found living for him and faithfully carrying out our duties when he comes to deliver us once and for all and to bring us that eternal gain. In Jesus name, dear friends, amen.