by Rev. William MacLeod
"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
This is true Christianity, isn't it? What a wonderful confession this man is making: "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain". It is passionate. It is full of love - full of zeal. It is single minded; he had one thing in view. There was one thing for which he was living - "For to me to live is Christ."
Now look at the Christians of today - they are so half-hearted, compromising and worldly, aren't they?
2nd Timothy 3:4
But wait a minute, it is easy for us to see the faults of others. Christ said to look at the beam in your own eye before you start trying to take the mote, the speck, out of your brother's eye.
Did He not tell us that two men went up to the temple to pray? The one said, "I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess (Luke 18:11-12)." Then there was the poor publican - he wouldn't lift up so much as his eyes to heaven but beat upon his breast; standing afar off he cried -"God be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 18:13)." He went to his home justified rather than the other one.
There is a great tendency with us, isn't there, to be righteous overmuch in ourselves. And it is so easy for us to criticise others. But we should leave other people and concentrate first and foremost on ourselves. What about you tonight? What about me? Can I say, "For to me to live is Christ?" Can you say, that for you, "To live is Christ" - whatever about other people. Many, if they were honest, would say, "For me to live is my work." Their whole time seems to be taken up with their work. Is that you? Is it me? Worldly work - the things of this life. "For me to live is my family," in the case of some. They idolise their children. The husband or wife has far too great a place in their lives - Christ has second place. "For me to live is my home," and they spend all their time beautifying their home. They have a lovely home and they are extending it or maybe they are buying a more beautiful and better house. Someone else - "For me to live is pleasures" - pleasures of the world and pleasures were never more accessible than they are today. Any pleasure you want is readily available; you can have it in your own home and it is cheap or even free. Ambition: "I want to get on. For to me to live is, my goal, myself, my promotion, my name, my reputation, me."
Christianity today is so superficial, isn't it? What about your Christianity and what about mine - is it half-hearted, is it self-centred? Is your life dominated by worldly things or can you say in truth, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
It is important for us to examine ourselves as we are thinking about coming to the Lord's Table - to look into our hearts, to question ourselves and to seek to prepare ourselves for the Lord's Table. It is important to see what is wrong in our lives and to return to the Lord.
All the things keeping you back - the things that are dragging you down - lay them aside. Whatever it is, whatever the baggage, whatever the weights - lay aside the weight, lay aside the besetting sins. Set your eye on the goal, running "the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). Let our hearts, our minds, our thoughts, be filled with Christ and then, to die would be gain.
1. TRULY CONVERTED
2. THE PASSIONATE LIFE
3. THE BLESSED DEATH
Tonight I want us to think about the first essential if this is to be true concerning us, and that is: we need to be truly converted. Secondly, the passionate life of which the apostle is speaking here and finally, the blessed death.
1. TRULY CONVERTED
Firstly, it is essential to be truly converted. That is a problem isn't it? There are many people who profess to be Christians but they are not really Christians. Many people make public profession but they have never been born again. It is not a new problem; it was around right from the beginning. Remember Judas Iscariot, he was a professing Christian - in fact, he was a minister. He was more than a minister; he was a very special minister - an apostle. He went around with Jesus for three years - hearing that wonderful teaching, seeing these powerful miracles, witnessing that perfect life. Judas went out preaching. He taught other people. He performed miracles and cast out devils. One day, he betrayed his Master and then went out and hanged himself. He ended up in hell.
In Acts chapter 8, we are told about a man by the name of Simon who lived in Samaria. He dealt with devils and was a medium. He was a powerful, successful individual until Philip came on the scene. Philip began preaching and with great effect - many were converted. He saw the power that accompanied Philip and the mighty works that were done, and we are told that Simon believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13). No doubt, he took Communion also. A promising young convert, so it seemed. Then Peter and John came down from Jerusalem and they, the apostles, laid hands on the converts, and as they did so, the power of the Holy Spirit came upon the converts. Simon was mightily impressed. He was a rich man. He came to Peter and offered him money:
Peter looked him straight in the eye and said,
He thought he was a Christian and other people thought he was a Christian. Phillip thought he was a Christian, no doubt, but he was "in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity," on the road to hell.
Demas was a fellow worker with the apostle Paul. In Colossians, we read of him sending greetings to the Colossian church. Then we read of him again in 2 Timothy where Paul says:
2nd Timothy 4:10
Had he ever been converted? Maybe he was just backslidden, or perhaps he had never been converted - like a dog returning to its own vomit, to eat it up; like a sow that was washed, returning to wallow in the mire. What is the use of washing a pig if it has still got a pig's heart and a pig's mind, it will go back into the mire again. A partial reformation is not enough; turning over a new leaf wont do. You must be born again.
Some people think that professing Christ or coming to the Lord's Table is the same as conversion. I remember an old man in my congregation in Glasgow who came to me and said, "I have been in this church since 1916 and I feel it is now time I became a member. I am an old man and am soon going to die and I feel it is time I sorted things out, so that I will get to heaven." His view was that by coming to the Lord's Table he would become a Christian and get to heaven. I had to try to explain the Gospel to him. It is amazing how people can be under the Gospel all their lives and it seems the Gospel never really penetrates. They don't seem to understand. So there are some in our churches - they think coming to the Lord's Table is the same as becoming a Christian. However, only those who are Christians should come to the Lord's Table. The Lord's Table is for the Lord's people; it is not the way of salvation; it is not a converting ordinance. You must be converted first and then you come to the Lord's Table to profess your conversion - to profess your faith in Christ. In Philippians, the apostle complains:
He was in prison in Rome. He was looking at the Christian's around him and thinking perhaps, too, of some in Philippi. "All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." How many there are who are living for this world. How hard it is at times to distinguish the Christian from the world, and yet conversion is a huge change. Somebody, before their conversion, is dead in trespasses and sins. Maybe you have seen a dead body; there is no life there at all: dead as the people in the cemetery. That is the way we were at one time towards God - we were dead; and conversion is that radical change when we come to life. You are resurrected; you begin to live for God.
In Romans chapter 6, Paul describes conversion as being crucified; you are crucified, dead, buried; you rise to another life. What a change is involved - it is not a minor thing. It is not a minor change to be crucified - it's a transformation, a total change. It is an end to your existence in one world and the beginning of an existence in a new world. At one time, we were slaves to Satan, now we are servants of Christ. At one time, we were enemies of God by our wicked works, now we are His followers - His disciples. At one time, we were the old creation, now we are the new creation.
1st John 4:19
He doesn't say, "We believe in him, because he first loved us." He doesn't even say, "We follow him," or "We obey him," but he says, "We love him." There you have the essence of Christianity: loving God, knowing God. Nobody who is unconverted loves God because they have a heart of stone - a cold dead heart. You need that heart of stone to be taken out and to be given a heart of flesh - a living heart, then you will love God.
Think of the apostle Paul himself - a persecutor, a blasphemer - breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. Not only persecuting in Jerusalem but going to distant cities like Damascus in order to destroy the church of God. The persecutor was changed into a servant, the blasphemer into a loving worshipper of Christ. That is a huge change. You say that you never hated Christ; you were never like the apostle Paul - a blasphemer. However, I wonder were you careless about these things. Did you at one time perform religious matters simply as duties: going to church, saying grace, praying, reading your Bible - not because these things thrilled you but as a mere duty. You had to do it; you felt you should do it; it was the right thing to do and, therefore, you did it. Now you are converted and converted you love. Now the Sabbath Day is not a long rather tedious day but is the best day of the week. The Bible is the best book - you would rather have read a novel at one time. Worship is the best activity you could be involved in. Christ is now the centre of your life. That is not a change you could bring about by your own efforts - it is a miraculous change, a huge transformation.
It is the Holy Spirit that performs it. A massive change takes place - even in the best-living person in the world when they are converted - from one merely performing duties out of a sense of obligation, you become one who is thrilled with Christ. "For to me to live is Christ."
Has that massive change taken place in your own life? It takes place in various ways; no two conversions are the same. In some people, it seems to take place over a long period of time, others in a moment. Some suddenly change from darkness to light; with others it is a more gradual sunrise in their hearts. But has the change taken place - the way it happens doesn't matter - the vital thing is, can you say, "To me to live is Christ."
2. THE PASSIONATE LIFE
In the second place, I want to examine a bit further this passionate life of the Christian.
"To me to live is Christ," Christ is my life and without Him I am dead. My life revolves round the Lord Jesus Christ. My life is Christ-centred. "To me to live is Christ," a Christocentric life.
This is what Paul said concerning some who were in the church. Then he said, "Timothy, he's different. I'm sending Timothy to you from Rome and he will naturally care for you." Why would he naturally care for the people of Philippi? Was he a Philippian? Did he come from Macedonia? No, he came from Asia. Why would he naturally care for the Philippian church - because he naturally cared for God; because he had a new nature and he lived for Christ? He was thrilled with Christ and, therefore, it was natural for him to care for all the children of God and for the work of God, and that Christ would be magnified in Philippi, and that these Philippians would prosper in their souls and grow in grace and bear the fruit of the Spirit.
Remember Jesus Himself. It was said of Him, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up -John 217"). Even as a child, He was asking the rabbis in Jerusalem these questions. He wanted to find out more - He was about His Father's business (Luke 2:49). When He grew up He began His ministry and He went round doing good, preaching the truth. When He went into the temple and saw them buying and selling, He was stirred in His heart. He made a whip and chased the merchants out of the temple. He chased out their animals, saying to those who kept the doves, Take these things out of here!
My house shall be called the house of prayer for all nations, said God. You have turned it into a place of merchandise and a den of thieves. The disciples remembered that the Scripture said, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." He was consumed with a passion. There was a fire burning within Him - zeal for the house of God. Is this true of us? "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." - I have a passion for Christ and for His church and for His glory, for the salvation of His people and for the coming of His Kingdom.
The apostle Paul said to the Corinthians that he would "spend and be spent" for them (2nd Corinthians 12:15). Why would he "spend and be spent" for them but because he would "spend and be spent" for Christ? The one who previously had been a persecutor and a blasphemer says that he will "spend and be spent" for the Corinthian church and for Christ. Can you say tonight, "I will spend and be spent," not for my family, not for myself, not for my boss, not for my friends, but I will "spend and be spent" for Christ? Christ, for Paul, is his all and in all. He says to us,
Where is your life - in the world or with Christ in God? If your life is in heaven, your affections will be in heaven. Your desires, delights and emotions will be on heavenly things: your affections upon these things.
In Psalm 18 we were singing -
The Lord will light my candle so that it shall shine full bright: The Lord my God will also make my darkness to be light.
When you are converted, God sets the candle alight. He starts a fire burning - the candle of your life - so that you will shine like a torch, a flame, in the midst of darkness.
The Lord will light my candle so, that it shall shine full bright:
What about my candle? What about your candle? Is the light going out? Are you like a smoking flax - just a little smoke rising where there ought to be a bright light, a flame, radiating in the darkness?
The Lord will light my candle so, that it shall shine full bright:
Oh, that God would cause us to burn brightly for Him.
We are to give ourselves as a burnt offering. The burnt offering was different from the other sacrifices in that there was no part of the animal that you were to eat - the whole was burnt on the altar to God. You and I are to offer our bodies and in offering our bodies, we offer ourselves. Offer our bodies upon the altar to burn for God: consecrated, dedicated, devoted unto the Lord.
With other people, their work is most important to them, their pastimes and their pleasures are most important, their wealth their families and their homes are most important, but for you, for me, "To live is Christ." Is that the case? Can we say it in truth - "To live is Christ." Love is a passion and our love ought to be passionate - it is not simply believing in Jesus.
Yes, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, but it is a faith that worketh by love. Saving faith is always accompanied by love. By faith alone, James says, no man is justified but by works also (James 2:24), because the faith through which we are justified, does not remain alone but produces works. It is a faith that reveals itself in love. Therefore, it is not simply believing certain things and it is not simply doing certain things. True Christianity is loving Christ. "To me to live is Christ."
Jesus warned that before the end of the world, the love of many shall wax cold. The world is coming to an end and it would seem that the love of many is growing cold. What about us? Whatever is happening to others, you and I must look at ourselves. Is our love for Christ growing cold?
A letter was sent to the church at Ephesus. There are many things, Jesus says, which He could praise them for. He could praise them for their orthodoxy; He could praise them for the way they stood for the truth; but He had one thing against them - they had left their first love (Revelation 2:4). He said if they did not repent, He would come and fight against them with a sword in His mouth (Revelation 2:16) - a two-edged sword - to destroy them. Friends, have we left our first love?
Remember the church at Laodicea - it was lukewarm and Christ said He would spew them out of His mouth.
Are we lukewarm, pretending Christians or are we hot, hot for God: on fire for Him? He is worth being on fire for. He is a great God and a great Saviour.
Look at the context of this verse. In this chapter, Paul was in prison and he was happy to be in prison. He was in prison, not because he had done some evil deed, but simply because he preached the Gospel. He was being persecuted. This imprisonment had an effect upon those who heard about it. Some of the Christians were greatly encouraged - they were stimulated and provoked by Paul's imprisonment. They said that if the apostle Paul was prepared to suffer imprisonment and death then they must stand up too. They were going forth and witnessing for Christ - making the Gospel known and standing firmly and steadfastly on the side of Christ. So Paul's bonds provoked them to a further witnessing and testifying on the side of Jesus. They were persuaded to greater zeal for the Lord by Paul's imprisonment. Paul was delighted.
Then there were others - they were quite different - they hated Paul. They preached Christ out of envy and strife, supposing to add afflictions to his bonds. They were trying to hurt Paul by preaching the message in a divisive way - trying to put Paul down and overshadow him in some way: trying to hurt him. Paul responds in wonderful love and says,
What does it matter what happens to Paul? What does it matter what happens to my reputation? The only thing that matters is that Christ is preached -"To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
"I don't know what is going to happen to me," says Paul. To depart and to be with Christ is far better - and I would love to depart. Maybe I am going to be executed, but perhaps not. To remain in the flesh - to remain alive is more needful for you, the Philippians, and maybe God will keep me in this world if He has some more work for me to do.
Whatever happens - "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." All I want is that Christ would be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death.
You notice too that the apostle is very concerned.
Be sure about this, that your life is appropriate, becoming to the Gospel - that you don't bring shame upon the Gospel of Christ. That is my concern for myself and for you that in everything, Christ would be magnified: in my body, in life or death, in my preaching, in you the Philippians. "To me to live is Christ" - that is all that matters: Christ exalted, Christ's cause exalted, Christ's name glorified.
Is Christ the centre of your life? Is He your "all, and in all (-Colossians 3:11)?" Is there a fire of love burning in your soul for Him? You say you feel so cold and so dead, so hard-hearted and worldly. Yes, we are worldly and dead, and we are ashamed of ourselves but do we have any love for Christ? Can you say you love Him? Is your concern to love Him more? Can you say, "To me to live is Christ?" Can you say that you long more and more that this would be true of you - "To me to live is Christ?" Do you love Him? If you do, your place is at His table along with the others of His people who love Him.
3. THE BLESSED DEATH
Thirdly, a blessed death: "To die is gain." For many people death is a loss, a terrific loss. Think of the person who lives for money; when they die they leave every penny behind. Think of the person who lives for possessions; they take nothing with them. Think of the person who lives for their home - always extending and beautifying it - until one day they are carried out of it, never to return. They are homeless throughout eternity: there is no place for them in the Father's house. Think of the person who lived for hobbies, for pleasures; one day they leave it all behind. Think even, of those who live for their family; one day they will have to say goodbye. Think of those who live for their friends; one day they end up in a place where there is no friendship, only bitter hatred and fighting forever. "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (text). There is only one person for whom death is gain and that is the person who lives for Christ.
Think of a young couple looking forward to their wedding day. They are waiting, expecting, planning, yearning for it; they are in love. Then the wedding day comes and they are joined for evermore - till death us do part. Think of the Christian in love with Christ; one day they die and it is their wedding day. "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain>." When I die, Christ's arms embrace me and He will never part from me again.
We sometimes talk about the pleasures of heaven: the beauty of that place - the river of the water of life, clear as crystal; the golden city; the jewels; the tree of life, so beautiful. We speak of the 'rest' of heaven.
After the weary wilderness journey, a rest; after the fighting, the peace. How wonderful it will be with the angels. We think of loved ones that we will meet in heaven. We think of the saints who have gone home: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Peter, John, James, Paul. How wonderful it will be to be with them.
Friends, all these things are very, very secondary. Heaven is really just one thing - CHRIST. Christ is all the glory in Immanuel's land. "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." I live for Him now; I possess Him already. Then, I will have Him in a way that I never had Him before.
1st Corinthians 13:12
Now, we have moments of fellowship with Him and they are so sweet. Even just a few seconds of His presence and our heart is melted. If a few moments of His presence are so sweet to us now, how wonderful it will be to be in His everlasting presence. Leaving this world of sin and misery; leaving this world of the devil and the flesh behind - embracing Christ for ever: the One "who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20)," the One Who came from heaven and took my place, took my sins, was laughed at, mocked and scorned, whipped and nailed to the cross, God-forsaken, to save my soul. What a wonderful thing to think that one day I will embrace Christ, my beloved Saviour. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."