Sermon: A Biblical View of Death (Philippians 1:19-26)

A Biblical View of Death

Philip. 1:19-26 (ESV)

for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,  [20] as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored 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 live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  [23] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  [24] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.  [25] Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,  [26] so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

As I thought about what title to give to this week’s sermon I went back and forth.  The reason was that I didn’t want it to sound morbid.  So, I need to qualify it by saying that A Biblical View of Death is anything but morbid.  What I’d like you to do is to set aside everything you know currently or think you know about death and also all the negative feelings and emotions that go along with it.  I realize what I’m asking is impossible.  However, for the next few minutes let’s try to open our minds to see death from God’s perspective and not man’s.  If we can catch a glimpse of death the way God sees it, many things will change for us.  For most, the thought of death is a haunting sadness.  For those who are without Christ that attitude toward death is warranted.  However, for the Christian it must be different.  The way we view death really shows whether or not we trust Christ in every area of our lives even in the ending of it.  If we believe the Gospel completely then that will lead us to view death differently than those who are not in Christ.

1. A Biblical Theology of Death

Death was brought to life when sin entered our world in Genesis as Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit.

Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV)

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  [17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Satan comes along in the form of a serpent and tricks Eve into not believing God’s Word.  She ate and then gave some to her husband and he also ate.  The whole time Satan was in the background saying…you will not surely die.

Death is that great separator of families and friends.  It’s that seemingly permanent event that completely dissects loved ones from one another.  When a loved one dies it is an event that will never be forgotten and things are never the same for those left.  Death is devastating for those who are not believers but for the Christian it should be different.

Something has happened to turn everything around concerning death.  Playing off the Biblical truth found in Genesis 2 Paul writes:

Romans 6:23 (ESV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The first reality is what the Adam and Eve dilemma brought to bear on our lives.  We are all sinners so we are all going to face death.  However, there is something God has accomplished for us that’s turned everything around.  When Jesus, The Righteous One, died on the cross the pattern of the universe was shaken.  Jesus’ death on the cross was the one exception to this eternal law of God.  In the death of Jesus, a sinless man died.  Do you see how this event has changed things?  Jesus came along and rewrote the book of sin and death.  Satan believed that killing Jesus would be the answer however the resurrection is proof for us that death could not hold One whose life was sinless.  Victory over sin and over death comes to us by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He alone conquered death our enemy.

1 Cor. 15:53-58 (ESV)

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  [54] When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

[55] “O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

[56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  [57] But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

[58] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Truth Taught: How we live our lives is greatly influenced by our theology of death.

What does God tell us in Romans 8?

Romans 8:1 (ESV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The Apostle Paul, as you know is sitting in prison awaiting the verdict.  He has probably already gone through his hearing, this being his first Roman imprisonment.  He sits and waits and while he waits he evangelizes and prays.  He prays for the churches and they pray for him.  Paul is reasonably confident he will be released but he doesn’t know for sure what will happen.  These were the days of extreme persecution from the Romans and from the Jews.  Paul is unsure of the outcome he may live or he may die.  In the midst of this time of the unknown, what was Paul’s attitude?  He had made an evaluation based on what he knew about Christ.  Because Paul is confident we are shown that we should be just as confident and just as optimistic no matter what comes our way.

2. A Complete Deliverance (1:19-20)

for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,  [20] as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Paul had confidence that he would be delivered.  His confidence was never in his own abilities or his own righteousness.  What the Apostle tells us in this first section is that the prayers of the Philippian Church coupled with the work of the Holy Spirit in his life will result in his deliverance.  Most theologians believe that Paul is not talking about his deliverance from prison but his deliverance from this sinful world into the true presence of Christ.  What he’s talking about is a complete deliverance.  Even the great Apostle Paul needed the prayers of others to grow in maturity as a Christian.  If this was true of Paul’s spiritual maturity, how much more is it true of us?

Here’s the picture…The Apostle was indwelt with the Holy Spirit as all believers are.

Romans 8:9 (ESV)

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

As the Philippians prayed, the Spirit work new spiritual miracles in Paul.  They prayed and God moved and Paul was strengthened and given confidence.

What’s very interesting is that as the trial pressed in on Paul, his Spirit given confidence pushed back.  The examples in Scripture are that when trials come then God’s people receive the extra measure of Grace or the Spirit works to a fuller degree as we need strength.  We see that Paul’s declaration of confidence in God is but an echo of Job.

Job 13:16 (ESV)

This will be my salvation,

We have an advantage as a smaller congregation in that we can pray thoroughly for each family and each person.  Pray for their spiritual maturity.

When you get home today make a list of all those who make up the church and begin to pray daily for a part of the church.

Another important part of this first section is that for Paul life or death was not the main issue.  The main issue for the Apostle was that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

The glory of Christ was his first priority.  He felt that his release would happen soon and yet that was not the pressing issue for Paul.  Glorifying Christ was the main passion of his life.

3. A Desire to Depart (1:21-23)

[21] For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  [22] If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  [23] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Here we have one of Paul’s famous quotes:   [21] For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

The only way Paul could truthfully and accurately say that to die is gain is to first be about to say to live is Christ.  I pray that is our story as well.

What is the Apostle actually saying here in this passage?  Let’s not sugar coat the meaning of his words.  Let’s not try an make them sound acceptable to us.  What Paul is saying is that my desire is to die.  Paul is no suicide case in that he is unhappy with life and desires to not exist or he doesn’t believe that death will aleiviate his suffering.  The reason Paul desires death over life in not that he is so unhappy with life.  In fact, he is extremely joyful and happy in this life.  The reason he desires death is that his joy is in direct proportion to his proximity to Christ.  The closer to Jesus paul gets the happier he is.  So, for him and for all believers, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

My desire is to get to the place where we can all say that as well.

We may hesitate based on the fact that even though we do trust Christ with our life and with our death, death is still unknown to us.  We’ve never done it before.  There’s a sense of the unknown or inexperienced that causes us some anxiety.

Paul had an advantage over us.  I will say that his advantage really serves us as our advantage as well.  For Paul, he had already met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus at his conversion.  He saw a vision of Jesus Christ.  He also had the advantage of going up to heaven and seeing everything that heaven is.

2 Cor. 12:2-4 (ESV)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  [3] And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— [4] and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

Paul here is briefly describing his trip to the third heaven.  He speaks in the third person to not elevate himself too much and cause those in the church to boast in him.

So, Paul had seen heaven in all its glory and that sight caused his love for this earth to diminish.

This works to our advantage as we can read about Paul’s passion for Christ and his willingness to sacrifice everything to follow his Lord.

His joy was in direct proportion to his proximity to Jesus.

If we read about the change that Christ made in the Apostle Paul and how Paul gave everything away in order to serve this same Jesus, then we should realize that we should live in a similar manner since we too are in Christ.

The sense in which his death would be gain was that death is the doorway into the fullness of Christ.

A biblical principle for us today is this: The more we with Christ now the more we will long to be with Him on the other side.

If you fear death and that fear overtakes you at times then what you need is to know Jesus better.  Once we have consistently been in Christ’s presence death will be seen as a friend and not the enemy it once was.

For Paul, he realized that God probably had other plans and his work on earth was not finished yet.  If his life continued for a while longer he would be happy because he knew the churches would benefit greatly.  In this Christ would be honored in his body.

To be a Christian then means that God has taken us out of a lose-lose situation and placed us into a win-win situation.  If our lives continue things are good because we bring glory to Christ through ministry and if we die then we will have the fullness of Christ forever.

My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

He desired death…because as he states to depart and be with Jesus is far better.

Since my Dad’s death I’ve often thought that I’d like to have a few minutes to just hang out with him.  I don’t really have any regrets in the sense that I have some burn thing to say to him or anything like that but for me to want my Dad to come back is a selfish desire on my part.

John 14:28 (ESV)

You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

I can best love my Dad now as I rejoice in the fact that he is with the Father.  I would never want him to come back from such an amazing place with such an amazing Savior.  Death is the door to infinite joy with Jesus Christ.

If you have a departed loved one who is a Christian then the way you can truly love them is to rejoice and be glad that they are in the presence of Jesus Christ and experiencing infinite joy.

So to believe the Gospel is to rejoice in life and death.  The more we encounter Christ as Christians the more we will love life and even begin to love death.

While we live we glorify Christ with our lives and when God takes us home then we glorify Christ in person.

Maybe your fear of death is an indicator that you don’t have a true relationship with Christ.  If you’re lost today and Christ is not your Savior your fear of death is warranted.  Some lost people fear death and others have just decided to live their lives not thinking about it.

If you fear death as a believer then maybe it’s an indicator that you need to spend more time with Christ.  The more time you spend with Christ in prayer, meditation, and Scripture reading, the more you’ll desire Him even through death.

I pray we think about death as believers and not as lost people.

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