Delivered By
C. C. Risenhoover
Delivered On
October 16, 2016
Central Passage
Luke 12:15
Attached Document
Open Document

Jesus said in Luke 12:15, “A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

But how does a person define his or her life?  If you were asked to give a crisp, one-sentence definition of your life…what would your answer be?  It’s natural for us to think of our lives in terms of who we are…what our family background is…the work we do…what our aims in life are…and what we have achieved.

It’s natural for us to think that way because it’s the way the world thinks.  But followers of Christ must refuse to be pressed into the mold of the world.  Jesus warned of the ever-present danger of materialism…of defining our lives in terms of this world's categories.

There are numerous subtle dangers for the Christian…such as seeing your identity primarily in terms of ethnic, cultural, political or nationalistic factors…or even in terms of doctrinal, denominational or group allegiance.

Paul gave the answer to what is the identity and definition of the Christian life with this short, profound statement: “For to me, to live is Christ…” (Philippians 1:21).  In this succinct way, Paul identified Christ as the center of his identity and life.  So it is in Christ where we find our identity and the true focus of our unity.

Paul is writing to the church in Philippi…and most of you know that he had a special relationship with that church.  He’s writing from prison in Rome while awaiting the outcome of his appeal to Caesar.  What should strike us forcibly is his realism combined with an optimism born of an unshakeable faith in the Christ.

Some would consider imprisonment as an unmitigated disaster…but Paul saw it as an opportunity to advance the Gospel.  Because of his witness while in custody…Christ was made known throughout Caesar's palace and beyond.  And because of his courage other believers were emboldened to witness for Christ more fearlessly.

When in verse 20 he faces the possibility that he might be called upon to face a martyr's death for the sake of Christ…he expresses confidence that whether he lives or dies Christ will be exalted though him.  That’s because he truly believes that for him to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

This is a man who is so Christ-centered that he would prefer death in order to be with Christ…but thinks it may be his duty to the church to remain alive to labor for it and for the Lord.

In this entire passage in Philippians, Paul uses the personal pronouns “I” and “me” again and again.  That’s because it’s a personal testimony.  In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, he is reticent to talk about the extraordinary experiences he sometimes had…but he is not reluctant to talk about his personal experience of the grace of God in Christ.

When he reluctantly recounts his experience of being caught up into the third heaven…he introduces himself as “…a man in Christ.”  That’s the most important aspect of his identity…his relationship with Christ…his love for Christ…his desire to glorify Christ…his aim to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Some question whether there is any significance in Paul's choice of the title “Christ” when referring to our Lord.  I don’t know…but I believe that it stresses the office of the Lord Jesus as Messiah and Redeemer…and thus draws attention to his saving work…and in particular his cross.

Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “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 faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Paul took seriously the words of Jesus…especially those in Luke 9:23 that declare: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Paul understood that the cross was not merely the symbol of the atoning death of Christ by which He was reconciled to God.  He saw the cross as the symbol of his own death to self, sin and the world…and to his new life in Christ.  Christ now lived in him by the Holy Spirit…and he was no longer in control of his own life.  Saul…the proud, self-righteous Pharisee…had become Paul…the humble bond-servant of Christ.

When Paul says, “To me, to live is Christ…” he is talking about his ordinary, everyday life, not some secret, hidden or mystical aspect of his spiritual life.  In Colossians 3:3 he speaks of our life being hidden with Christ in God…a glorious truth expressing our objective union with Christ and guaranteeing our eternal salvation.  But in Philippians he is referring to his subjective experience of that union.  He is joined to Christ in such a way that his life is now identified with Christ and the whole aim of his existence is to give expression to that union.

Paul showed that for him to live was Christ by his concern for the Gospel.  His life was bound up in the proclamation of the good news of Christ.  He says in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.”  He never forgot his sense of indebtedness to bring the Gospel to all people…both Jew and Gentile.

We’re all aware of how much Paul suffered for that commitment.  But he followed the example of Christ.  When he was insulted…he didn’t retaliate…but entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.

Paul put the advancement of the Gospel above all else. To the Corinthians… who took pride in their personal allegiance to leaders such as Paul, Peter and Apollos…Paul declared that it was Christ who had been crucified for them…and that Jesus alone should be the true focus of their lives.  He urged them to stop quarrelling among themselves about secondary matters and to center their thoughts and lives on Christ…who had become for them wisdom from God…and their righteousness, holiness and redemption.

The gospel of Christ crucified must take priority in all our thinking and acting.  Until we have this kind of concern for the Gospel…we cannot claim with Paul, “For me, to live is Christ…”

            Paul showed that for him to live was Christ by his concern for the church.  Again we can see the self-denial that he learned from Christ.  Christ made himself nothing for the sake of his church.  And Paul had learned to say no to self and yes to Christ.

            Again and again we see in Paul's letters his deep concern and heavy burden for the churches…not only the ones he had founded but for the whole body of Christ on earth.  For example, in 2 Corinthians 11:28…after recounting his many labors and sufferings…he wrote: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin and I do not inwardly burn?”

Paul pours his heart out to these young churches…pleading, praying, instructing and admonishing.  And remember that he calls them saints…even the proud, contentious, undisciplined Corinthians.

What a breadth of vision by Paul.  What a self-denying, Christ-glorifying care of the church that he exhibited.

How do we measure up in this regard?  Are we too quick to find fault…to criticize…to condemn…to write people off if they do not measure up to our standards?  Have we become too preoccupied with our petty squabbles while the world around us is perishing for lack of the good news of Jesus Christ?  Are we responsible for turning people away because of our attitudes, words and actions?

Paul also showed that for him to live was Christ by his concern for Christ's glory.  He had the eager expectation and hope that whether he lived or died, Christ would be exalted in his body.  The glory of Christ was his prime motivation in life.  He expressed this in his humility.

For example, in Philippians 3:4-11 Paul listed all the things in his background that might people might think made him religious…and that could have made him prideful.  He regarded them all as loss that he might know Christ…that he might gain Christ and be found in Him…that he might share in His sufferings…that he might become conformed to Him in His death…and also conformed to Him in His resurrection from the dead.

In Ephesians 3:8 Paul called himself the least of all saints.  In 1 Timothy 1:15-17 he called himself the worst of sinners…ascribing all honor and glory to King Jesus.

So is the glory of Christ my primary motive for serving His church here?  Is that your primary motive?  Or could it be that we are driven by selfish, self-centered motives?

We need to constantly monitor our motivation towards Christ’s church in order to ensure that we are serving Jesus and not self.  It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that our priorities are His priorities…and that His glory is served only when we get our way.

Paul showed that for him to live was Christ by his freedom in Christ.  In Galatians 5:1 he wrote: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

This freedom of which he speaks is freedom from the slavery of sin…freedom from the law as a system of works righteousness and from the doctrines and commandments of men.  It is freedom to obey Christ.

The law is no longer an outward standard to threaten us…but an inward guide…written by the Holy Spirit on our hearts to direct us about how to glorify and enjoy God.  Christ was delighted to do the Father's will…and when we are in Christ we share that delight.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19 Paul wrote: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”

And in verse 22 he wrote: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

Paul was willing to limit his freedom in Christ for the advancement of the gospel and for building up the church…being especially considerate of the weaker brother.

Can we say that we have this freedom and flexibility in our Christian lives?  Paul was firm but flexible.  Where the integrity of the gospel was at stake…he would not compromise.  But on other matters of lesser importance he sought to find a way of peace and cooperation.  And he exemplified his own instruction in Romans 12:18 with these words: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

We may argue that sometimes it is not possible…and that sometimes it does not depend on us…but we must be willing to go the second mile…striving for a peaceful solution to our differences.

In Philippians 4:13, Paul wrote: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

He had learned the secret of being content in all circumstances…conscious of his own weakness…but fully confident that God would give him the strength to overcome.  And because for him to live was Christ…he could rise above his circumstances…whether favorable or unfavorable.

With Philippians 4:19, he reassured the church with these words: “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

In light of his confident claim that for him to live was Christ…Paul was able to say “…and to die is gain.”  This is not in contrast to the first part of the sentence…but a consequence of it.  Paul believed that if he died a martyr's death… Christ would be glorified and the church would be encouraged to witness more boldly.

The blood of martyrs has always been the seed of the church.  Paul felt that his death could actually benefit the church…but that the greatest benefit would be for himself because he would forever be with Jesus…fully conformed to the Savior’s image.

My prayer for this congregation is that we have the mind of Christ…giving us humility…faithfulness to the truth…love for Christ and for His church…concern for the advancement of Christ’s Gospel…and respect for and trust in one another…that all misunderstandings and false motives be removed…and that Christ alone be exalted.

My appeal to you comes from Paul’s words in Philippians 2:1-5: “If you have any encouragement from being united to Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only on your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

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