What Is Christianity? (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 1:19–21   |   Sunday, November 18, 2012   |   Code: 2012-11-18-MR



“What does it mean to be a Christian?” That is a question that is of extraordinary relevance to all people. “What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?” “What is Christianity all about?”


Has anyone ever asked you that question? Have you ever asked that question of yourself? If you were sitting somewhere reading your Bible—maybe having coffee at Starbucks, maybe waiting for a bus—if you were sitting there reading your Bible, and someone interrupted you and said, “Excuse me, I notice you’re reading the Bible, there. Are you a Christian?” And you’d say yes. And they said, “You know, I wasn’t raised very religious, and with all this talk recently about the “Christian” position on abortion and homosexual marriage—I’m just really curious: what is Christianity all about?” How would you answer them?


Or, imagine that you’re meeting with a new believer in Christ—someone who just recently got saved who’s asked you to disciple them. And because they know very little, and because they just want to try to get their arms around this whole Christianity thing—they want the big picture so they don’t miss the forest for the trees. And so they ask you: “If you had to boil it down to a few sentences, what is the essence of what following Christ is all about?” What would you do? What would you say?


In both cases—both for the curious unbeliever, and the new convert eager to grow in grace—probably the most accurate thing to do would be to give them a Bible and tell them to read it from cover to cover, prayerfully asking God for illumination and understanding. The answer to what Christianity is about is the sum and substance of God’s revelation of Himself to humanity in His Word.


But if that were your response, both the unbeliever and the new believer would probably be disappointed, and a little overwhelmed. After all, the Bible is a huge book. It’s actually more of a library—composed of 66 books, written over 1500 years by over 40 authors, and containing a variety of history, biography, poetry, personal letters, and ethical instruction. It discusses a broad array of topics—from a creation account, to a constitutional law code, to records of kings and battles and wars; from songs of praise, to lamentations of mourning; from prophetic warnings of judgment, to divine promises of blessing; from the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, to the history and correspondence of the early church; from exhortations to faithful service, to the detailed description of the end of the world. The essence of Christianity is most certainly found in this library of books that we call the Bible. But simply telling your curious unbelieving friend or your new discipleship partner, “Go read the Bible,” while accurate, isn’t the most helpful answer to their question.


But the good news is that throughout the various sections of the Bible, God has graciously given us portions of Scripture that encapsulate the essence of what it means to be a follower of Christ and a child of God. He has given us particular texts that summarize the whole of Scripture’s teaching on a subject in a digestible portion that, while not exhaustive, nevertheless give insight and provide a framework for our understanding.


Well, dear friends, our text this morning—Philippians chapter 1, verses 19 to 21—is just such a text. It is a magnificent treasure from the Apostle Paul, a text whose riches we could mine out literally for months. In it, we get a glimpse into the very bedrock foundation of the Christian life.  In his commentary, James Montgomery Boice entitles the chapter on this passage, “What is Christianity?” It is that foundational. He says it is “a text that cuts like a surgeon’s scalpel to the heart of Christianity. … What is Christianity?” he asks. Because of this text, “the answer to that question is not unknown to the believing child of God” (Boice, 74).


The answer is that Christianity is about a Person: the Lord Jesus. And the Christian life—and not just the Christian life, but life in general—is about worshiping the Lord Jesus in spirit and truth. All of life is about worship. And if we can grasp the truth that is revealed in this text, along with its implications, we will have a handle on the very essence of Christianity—on the very essence of the Christian life—on the very essence of true worship.


As I mentioned, this marvelous text comes in the context of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a letter which we’ve had the privilege of studying over the past couple of months now. I’ll remind you once more that we have subtitled the Book, “The Gospel-Driven Life,” after the theme verse, chapter 1 verse 27, in which Paul calls the Philippians to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” His desire is that they would live their lives in light of the Gospel—that everything they do would be driven by the reality of what Christ has accomplished on their behalf. And after introducing the Book, we saw in verses 3 to 8 how the Gospel-driven fellowship that Paul shared with the Philippians drove him to give thanks to God for them with joy, with confidence, and with affection. Then, in verses 9 to 11, we observed Paul’s Gospel-driven prayer—his supplication for the Philippians’ growth in love, discernment, integrity, and fruitfulness, which all abound to the glory of God.


And then, last time, in verses 12 to 18, we considered Paul’s Gospel-driven ministry. Beginning in verse 12, Paul turns from his opening greetings, thanksgiving, and prayer, to immediately inform the Philippians of how things were going with him. They’re concerned about him. They know that he’s been in prison for close to two years now. They know he’s been prevented from ministering the Gospel freely. And they know he’s awaiting trial before Nero which will determine whether he lives or dies.


And so Paul begins the body of his letter by allaying any concerns or fears they may have about the difficulty of his circumstances. He informs them that God has actually ordained that the Gospel would advance because of his imprisonment. He says, in verse 12: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” And because his ministry is driven by the Gospel, even though he faces hardship, trials, and even antagonism from other preachers, his response is to rejoice. Verse 18: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.” Far from being defeated by his imprisonment, and by the antagonism of jealous and selfish preachers, Paul is rejoicing, because the Gospel is going forth and Christ is being preached.


And verses 19 to 26 really continue the theme of Paul’s ministry as it is driven by the Gospel of Christ. Verse 18 acts like a hinge that connects Paul’s present rejoicing as a prisoner because of the Gospel’s advancement to his future rejoicing as a prisoner he looks forward to his trial and its result. Look again at verse 18 and see that shift from the present to the future: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes and I will rejoice.”


And then the very next words that begin verse 19 are: “…for I know…” So just like we saw two reasons for Paul’s present joy in verse 12 to 18, so now what we have in verses 19 to 21 is the reason, or the ground of Paul’s future joy. Why will Paul go on rejoicing? Let’s read the text together.


Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.


What we have in this text are four layers of Paul’s joy. And as we peel back those layers one by one and dig deeper and deeper into the ultimate foundation and source for Paul’s joy, we discover precious realities about the nature of true worship, and the very essence of the Christian life.


I. Salvation


Let’s begin with layer number one: Paul rejoices because he knows that his circumstances will result in his salvation. Verses 18 and 19: “Yes and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance…”


Now, this word that most of the translations render deliverance is the Greek word soteria, which is the normal word in the New Testament for “salvation.” And because deliverance and salvation are fairly close synonyms, there’s some question about what precisely this deliverance is that Paul is confident in. Some people believe that Paul is rejoicing because he’s sure that he’ll be released from prison. But that can’t be, because verse 20 says that Paul is sure that this deliverance will come “whether by life or by death.” Others believe he is speaking of his final spiritual salvation. Whatever happens in his trial, he will one day finally be saved, and this brings him comfort.


But we gain the greatest insight when we understand that this is an exact quotation of the Greek translation of Job chapter 13 verse 16. Paul is intending to draw a parallel between his present situation and the situation of Job.  The passage he quotes comes directly after Job’s declaration that, “though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” Job goes on: “This also will be my salvation”—that’s the part that Paul quotes—“This also will be my salvation, for a godless man may not come before his presence.” And if you skip down to verse 18 he says, “Behold now, I have prepared my case; I know that I will be vindicated.”


And so as Paul faces his imprisonment, his impending trial, and his potential execution—and as he faces the false accusations of those selfishly ambitious preachers in Rome who are preaching the Gospel to try to cause him distress, men who were saying that Paul was imprison because of some moral or ministerial failure—he draws this parallel to Job. He comforts himself by turning to the Word of God. Though Job faced accusers who charged that he was suffering as a result of hidden sin, he knew that wasn’t the case, and he looked to God for his vindication and rescue. In the same way, Paul knew he had maintained his integrity, and he entrusted himself to the Judge who judges righteously. As a result, he could rejoice in his sure vindication.


And Paul goes on to say that this deliverance, this salvation, this vindication, will come, verse 19, “…through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Now, Paul is absolutely confident that God will sovereignly work all things for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). But he is also absolutely convinced that the sovereign God works through means. Paul will be sovereignly delivered by the dynamic duo of the prayers of the saints and the provision of the Spirit.


Now, you can’t quite see the emphasis through the English translation, but the grammar of the original language is calling attention to the inextricable relationship between faithful prayer and divine help. The provision of the Spirit’s gracious help and powerful protection in times of need comes as an answer to the faithful prayers of the saints.  Never underestimate the power of prayer. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much,” James 5:16 says. And Paul believed that. We saw, especially in verses 9 to 11, that Paul faithfully prays for the Philippians. Now, he is enlisting their prayer support as he hopes to faithfully and boldly bear witness of Christ and the Gospel at his coming trial.


And so, layer number one of Paul’s joy: Paul rejoices because his circumstances will result in his deliverance, or his salvation, which will come through the prayers of the saints and the provision of the Holy Spirit.


But what precisely is his deliverance? What is his salvation? Well, we get a step closer to understanding that as we peel back layer number one and dig into layer number two.


II. Eager Expectation and Hope


The second layer of Paul’s joy: Paul rejoices because his earnest expectation and hope will be realized. Let’s read verse 19 again, into the first part of verse 20: “…for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope…”


This deliverance—this salvation, this vindication—that Paul confidently trusts God for is in keeping with his earnest expectation and hope. “Earnest expectation” is an attempt at translating the Greek compound word apokaradokia. It comes from the word head and the verb to stretch, and adds the preposition apo- to intensify it. It speaks of an intense, eager longing—the kind of yearning for something that makes you stretch your neck in anticipation of it. The only other place it’s used in the New Testament is in Romans 8:19, where it describes the “anxious longing” of the creation, as the creation, groaning under the curse of sin, eagerly awaits the redemption that will accompany the revelation of the sons of God.


And “hope” is what characterizes this earnest expectation. Now I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but in case you haven’t: it’s important to understand that the Bible’s word for hope is very different than the way we use the word in English. We say things like, “I hope I get a good grade,” or “I hope everything goes well for you.” It describes our wishful thinking. But in the Bible, hope is the expression of certainty in the future tense. That same passage in Romans 8 also speaks of hope when it says that the creation was subjected to futility in the hope that it will one day be set free from its slavery to corruption (Rom 8:20–21). Now, that’s not wishful thinking. There is no doubt that the creation will be restored when Christ returns and ushers in the New Heavens and the New Earth.


And in the same way, Paul is not saying, “Oh, I just have a feeling,” or “My heart is telling me everything is going to be OK.” No. He is expressing a rock-solid confidence—on the level of a guarantee—that God will be faithful to realize his hope-filled eager expectation. And so he is rejoicing.


But of course, the question is: “What is his eager expectation and hope?” To answer that we must penetrate to the third layer of Paul’s joy.


III. He Will Not Be Put to Shame


Layer number three: Paul rejoices because he will not be put to shame. “I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything…”


Paul first states the content of his earnest expectation and hope negatively—as that which will not happen to him: he is absolutely certain that he will not be put to shame in anything.


Now, in Scripture, shame is not the same as “feelings of embarrassment.” Rather, the one who is not ashamed is the one whose trust is not misplaced (Boice, 63). Shame speaks of the disgrace and disillusionment one experiences when they proudly place their confidence in something, and ultimately discover that it did not deserve that trust.


For example, the one who builds their house on a foundation of sand will be ashamed when the wind and the waves crash against that house and it is destroyed (cf. Matt 7:26–27). Or, from another of Jesus’ illustrations: the one who lays a foundation to build a tower, but isn’t able to finish because he did not adequately count the cost—he will be ashamed (Luke 14:28–30). And from a more spiritual perspective: those who put their confidence in their good works to achieve acceptance before God will be ashamed on that day when they face the Judge of the world in confident expectation and He chillingly declares, “I never knew you. Depart from Me” (cf. Matt 7:21–23).


But Paul knows that his confidence and trust are not misplaced. Turn with me to Isaiah chapter 28, verse 16. Paul quotes this verse twice in Romans, and Peter quotes it in his first letter. Isaiah 28:16: Yahweh says, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.”


God is just piling on the modifiers in this verse. This stone is a tested stone. It is a costly cornerstone for the foundation. The cornerstone was the most important stone of the building because it held up multiple sides of the foundation. When you chose your cornerstone, you made sure you got the best quality no matter what the cost was. He goes on to say it was firmly placed. The picture is: You can build your home on this stone. You can bring your family into this building and trust that everyone will be safe.


And of course, that stone that Yahweh would lay in Zion is the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 2:4–8, Peter quotes Isaiah 28:16 and identifies the Lord Jesus as “the chief cornerstone” of the spiritual house that is the Church.


And so just as Paul has placed his confidence in Christ as the chief cornerstone of his salvation, in the very same way he trusts that God will see to it that he has not misplaced his confidence, but that he will be vindicated according to his hope-filled expectation.


But again, we come back to the question: What is Paul’s eager, hope-filled expectation, stated positively? Well, that brings us to layer number four.


IV. The Bottom Layer: Christ Will Be Magnified


Paul’s hope is that in all things that Christ will be magnified. And here is where we hit bottom. Let’s read all of verses 19 and 20 now: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”


This is level number four. This is the rock bottom layer of Paul’s joy. When you strip away every other outer layer—when you dig and penetrate deeper and deeper, until the shovel finally hits something solid—this is what undergirds all of Paul’s affections. This is the passion of his life: that Christ would be exalted. The word is megaluno; literally: magnified—that He would be made to look great!


This is what makes Paul tick. Paul has been under house arrest for two solid years. He has been prevented from moving about freely and ministering the Gospel as he would like. He is constantly maligned by other preachers of the Gospel with no way to defend himself. He awaits with uncertainty a trial before the ruler of the known world, and a very likely outcome of that trial is his own death. But Paul is rejoicing! And he insists that he will continue to rejoice! Because his joy isn’t most deeply in his own prominence. Paul didn’t find ultimate satisfaction in easy and comfortable circumstances and a life without conflict. His joy isn’t in making a name for himself among other Christians. His joy isn’t even in keeping his own life! Paul’s happiness—at its most foundational and ultimate level—was about making much of Christ whether by life, or by death. “If Christ is magnified, my joy is full.”


Notice how deep this runs for Paul. This is part of the very fiber of his character. He contrasts his shame—not with his honor and exaltation, but with Christ’s honor and exaltation! His eager expectation and hope is that he would not be put to shame in anything, but that in everything—and you’d expect him to say, “I will be honored and vindicated.” But he doesn’t! He says, “that I would not be put to shame in anything, but that in everything, Christ would be honored”! For Paul, the opposite of shame was not his honor, but Christ’s honor.


Oh, may we get to a place, dear friends, where in the deepest cavities of our affections, we consider it pure joy when Christ is honored and magnified, no matter what is happening to us! May we get to a place where for us, the opposite of self-abasement is not self-exaltation, but Christ-exaltation! May we be freed from our suicidal love-affair with ourselves, so that we find all our joy, and all our satisfaction, in the exaltation and magnification of Another! Of our Lord, Jesus Christ!


John the Baptist got this. When John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the guy you were talking about—the One you baptized—He’s baptizing everybody now, and everybody’s going to follow Him instead of you,” do you remember what he said? John 3:29? He says, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” His joy is made full because he vanishes into obscurity, as long as Christ increases. Oh, may it be for us as natural as breathing to rejoice from the depths of our souls as we proclaim, “He must increase, and I must decrease!”


Even the Lord Jesus got this in the days of his earthly sojourn! In John 12, Jesus acknowledges that the time for His crucifixion is near. And as He contemplates coming under the wrath of His Father to pay for the sins of His people, He confesses to His Father, verse 27: “Now My soul has become troubled.” What is His comfort? To ask for deliverance? He says, “And what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” So what is His comfort as He contemplates laying aside the privilege of the consummate joy and love and delight that He has shared with the Father from all eternity? Before the greatest trial, the greatest suffering, that anyone has ever endured, and that anyone ever will endure, the Son asks the Father, John 12:28, “Father, glorify Your name!” This is what He wants! This is what will strengthen Him to accomplish that terrible, awesome work of atonement. The joy set before Him for which He endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb 12:2), was the glory of His Father’s name!


Oh friends, if the glory of the Father’s name could strengthen Jesus to endure the most awful suffering in history, then we can bear the scoffing and mocking of an unbelieving generation; we can gladly sacrifice popularity among our friends; we can endure the disowning and snubbing of our own family; we can face cancer, disease, and arduous medical procedures with joy; we can live our lives with next to no money and worldly comforts for these 80 short years; we can lay down our entire lives in service to Christ— if our Father will glorify His name. If the name of my God would be lifted up and exalted and magnified, if I can see Him and enjoy Him in all His majesty, then for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.


This is the answer to my opening question. What is Christianity all about? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? It means that when you peel back all the layers, at the very bottom of all your affections, at the most ultimate level of your soul, what makes you happy, what satisfies you, is not the glory of yourself—but the glory of Jesus. The Christian life is about magnifying Christ.


Is that you? Is He the passion of your life? Do you live and breathe for the magnification of Christ? For the display of His glory? If not, that means you’re an idolater. You seek your joy and your happiness somewhere other than Christ. And I just invite you to repent, and to learn what true joy, and true satisfaction, are all about. I know that your idols don’t condemn your sin, like the true God does. But they can’t save you either, because they are no true gods. Turn from your idols; stop pursuing your happiness in alcohol, in drugs, and in sex; in money, and prominence, and in the approval of others. Lay aside those broken cisterns that can hold no water, and come and drink from the Fountain of Living Waters (Jer 2:13), and be satisfied.


And so Paul’s joy is unshakable. Though he’s facing trial before Nero that could mean his execution, he’s convinced that whether he lives, or whether he dies, Christ will be magnified. And this he regards as his deliverance. This is his eager expectation and hope. And in this he rejoices.


Part 2: Because To Live is Christ and to Die is Gain


Now, those are the four layers of Paul’s joy. But that is not the end of the sermon. Perhaps the most important point is how verse 20 relates to verse 21.[1]


The infinitely important question is: Why can Paul be so confident that Christ will be magnified? All of his joy is staked on this one reality: that Christ will be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. But how can he be so sure? How will Christ be magnified? Why will Christ be magnified in Paul? Here is a treasure: verse 21: “For,” or “Because to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.


This is so key. If our goal as Christians is to magnify Christ in all things—if worshiping Christ, spreading forth His fame, and magnifying His worthiness is our singular passion—verse 21 is absolutely key, because it tells us how that is accomplished. How do we worship Christ? How can Christ be magnified in our bodies, whether by life or by death?


We need to follow Paul’s thoughts closely here, if we’re going to grasp this. Paul says that he will rejoice, because he is absolutely convinced that his great passion—the magnification of Christ in his body—will come to fruition. Why? Because—notice that little word for there; it means because. Why will Christ be magnified? Because: to him, to live is Christ and to die is gain.


We need to unpack what this means. And our hope for understanding this is in considering each statement one at a time, in relationship to verse 20. And I’d actually like to start with the second one first, because I think that understanding what it means that, “To die is gain,” will shed light on what it means that, “To live is Christ.”


  1. To Die is Gain


So let’s look at the death half first. Verse 20: “My eager expectation and hope is that Christ will be magnified in my body by death, because to me to die is gain.”


Now the first thing to notice that is very easy to skip over or to misunderstand is that tiny phrase, “to me.” It’s emphatic in the Greek text; it’s brought to the very front of the sentence for emphasis. Now, not only does this phrase make what Paul is about to say intensely personal, but it also introduces a subjective component to all that he is talking about. Christ will be magnified in Paul—Paul will worship Christ by magnifying His glory—because to him to die is gain. He is emphasizing that there is a real, subjective experience that drives his worship of Christ.


And what is that experience? It is the experience of death—which is the loss of all things—as gain. Now, death is not gain for Paul, simply because he thinks death will bring him to some generic “better place.” We need to understand: Paul does not view death as an escape from the worst things of life. Rather, he views it as an infinite improvement on the very best things of life.


Why is death an improvement on his life, then, if not merely to end the pain and the suffering that life brings? Verse 23: “I have the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.” One commentator hits the nail on the head: “Death is gain [for Paul] because it brings more of Christ to Paul, and more of Paul to Christ” (Hendriksen, 76). Paul himself wrote in 2 Corinthians 5 verse 8: “We…prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”


And when he compares that unhindered, unmediated, sin-free, face-to-face fellowship with the Lord Jesus Himself, with all of the things that death can take from him, he esteems Christ as more valuable! Christ will be magnified in Paul’s body, because to him—in his estimation—Christ is more valuable than everything death can take from us!


Now death can take a lot of wonderful things away from us. Death can take money, status, and reputation. Death can take power, fame, and success in business. Death can take away family, and dear friends. Death can rob you of the experience of growing old with your spouse, of seeing your children grow up and have children of their own, and even of seeing their children grow up and have children of their own. Death can take away a thriving ministry where others are receiving great spiritual benefit. Death is the loss of all of those things and more.


And Paul is saying, when you can experience all of that loss—when you can lose the very best this life can offer—and yet call all that loss gain, because you know that it will mean that you will go to be with Jesus—Jesus will look great! Jesus will be magnified! Jesus will look supremely worthy and valuable! And that is the essence of worship: to the degree that you experience death as gain because you cherish Christ, to that degree is He magnified in your death. John Piper puts it this way: “The essence of praising Christ is prizing Christ.”


I spoke in my last sermon about the martyrdom of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley in 16th century England under the reign of Bloody Mary. Because these preachers of the Gospel would not swear allegiance to the Papacy and submit to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, they were burned at the stake.


At the dinner table on the night before, the record of history writes this (slightly updated to more familiar language): “The night before [Nicholas Ridley] suffered, he groomed himself carefully. And as he sat at supper at the house of Mr. Irish, he invited Mrs. Irish, along with everyone else at the house, to his marriage. ‘For,’ he said, I will be getting married tomorrow!’ And he showed himself to be as merry as he ever was at any time before. And desiring his sister to be at his marriage, he asked his brother, sitting at the table, whether she could find [it] in her heart to be there. And he answered, ‘Yes, I dare say, with all her heart!’ which Ridley was glad to hear.


“At this talk Mrs. Irish wept [over the man’s fate]. But Mr. Ridley comforted her, and said, ‘O Mrs. Irish, don’t you love me? Your weeping leads me to believe that you won’t be coming to my marriage, and that you are not content with it. Indeed, you are not so much my friend as I thought you had been.’ [And turning from jest to a more solemn comfort, he said,] ‘But quiet yourself: though my breakfast shall be somewhat sharp and painful, yet I am sure my supper shall be more pleasant and sweet.”


Oh that Christ would be so sweet to us! Nicholas Ridley has loved us in the Church, by treasuring his Lord so deeply—by finding Him so pleasant that He was worth that kind of pain and suffering! And in his esteeming Christ to be so precious that for him to die was gain, He has magnified Christ’s worth in his body by his death. Hasn’t he? When you hear that story, what do you walk away impressed with? “Wow, that man had a strong faith”? No! I read that and I think, “That man had a beautiful Savior!” Surely, for him, to die was gain.


  1. To Live is Christ


But you know, in a very real way, death for the Christian is the easy part. In one sense, to die in such a way that we experience Christ is gain only takes a moment. But living in such a way as to display Christ as our treasure—that takes a lifetime.


So let’s look at the other half. Verse 20: “My eager expectation and hope is that Christ will be magnified in my body by life, because for me to live is Christ.”


Now there is so much written on what the phrase, “To live is Christ” means. People have said it means to believe in Him, to love Him, to rejoice in Him, to live for Him, to have fellowship with Him, to follow after Him, and to serve Him in ministry. They’ve said that it means that Christ gives all meaning to one’s life. That He is the object, motive, inspiration, and goal of all the Christian does. That He is to be our purpose, our priority, our passion, and our strength.


And I say “Amen!” to all of those! Acts 20:24, Paul says: “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” That’s what he says in the next verse, Philippians 1:22: “To live on in the flesh will mean fruitful labor for me” in the ministry of Christ. It is living for Christ, Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” And Colossians 3:4 says, very simply: “Christ…is our life.”


But there is one text, just a little bit later on in Philippians, that I think nails what “To live is Christ” meant for Paul, practically. And that is Philippians 3:7 and 8. In the verses just before, Paul speaks about all of his earthly credentials—the spiritual resume of the Hebrew of Hebrews. And in verse 7 he says, “But whatever things were gain to me—” notice that key word: gain. “…those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”


There it is! How does the Christian magnify the supreme worth of Jesus? How do we make Christ look as great as He is? By experiencing, or esteeming, or counting Christ as such a treasure, that everything else is as nothing by comparison. “To die is gain” means to survey all the wonderful things that death can take from us, and to prefer Christ as more valuable. In the same way, “To live is Christ” means to survey all the wonderful things that this life can offer, and prefer Christ as more valuable, such that everything else in your life is lost on you—it has no hold on your affections—you count it as garbage so that you can gain the surpassing value of knowing Christ.


Paul can be absolutely certain that Christ will be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death, because He is more satisfied by Christ than by all that life can offer and all that death can take.


Now, if you understand that, every part of your life is transformed! It transforms the way we think about what it means to be a Christian—how we get saved. It’s not by praying a sinner’s prayer; it’s not making a decision and raising your hand; it’s not “accepting Jesus into your heart.” It’s not even subscribing to a new theology, merely. Becoming a Christian is finding a treasure! Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Out of the overwhelming joy of finding such a treasure, the repentant sinner sees the surpassing value of Jesus, and he counts everything that he has as loss, and sells everything he has so he could gain that treasure!


Not only does it transform the way we think about conversion, it transforms the way we think about sanctification—the way we fight against sin and temptation. We experience the temptation to sin because everything in our flesh sees value in that sin. You believe that money and power and fame will satisfy you and make you happy. You believe that satisfaction and happiness are found in the approval of other people. Fear of man. You esteem pornography and sex outside of marriage as of great value so as to satisfy your desires. You look to alcohol and drugs to assuage the pain that you feel. You get angry and remain bitter at another person because it feels good to be right and vindicated, and that person was wrong!


But when for you to live is Christ—when all things—money, power, fame, the praise of men, pornography, sex, alcohol, drugs, anger, bitterness, impatience—are counted as loss in comparison to the surpassing worth of Christ, then He is more valuable and desirable and satisfying than all the false pleasures that those sins so deceitfully promise you. And you fight the temptation to seek satisfaction in happiness in those things—not by squelching your desire to be satisfied and happy—but by glutting the appetites of your soul on the feast that is Christ Jesus Himself. You fight the temptation to evil pleasure with the promise of a superior, holy pleasure!


Understanding this transforms our understanding of conversion, of sanctification, and, the last one I’ll mention, it transforms our understanding of how to steward the gifts that God gives us. Everything in your life—everything you have—is given to you so that you might use it in a way that makes it plain to the world that things are not your treasure, but that Christ is. Money, family, friends, houses, cars, are all given to you so that when the world looks at the way you use your money, or the way you use your car or your house—or when they look at the way you interact with your friends and family—they know that none of those things is at the bottom of your joy, but that Christ is. That will display the value of Christ to a watching world.




Paul’s joy is unshakable. He may face the worst of circumstances, but he is adamant that he will rejoice. Because he knows that his circumstances will turn out for his salvation. And how does he define his salvation, in this case? Well he says God will bring about his eager expectation and hope. And what is his eager expectation and hope? That Christ will be magnified. He is absolutely certain that Christ will be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death, because He is more satisfied by Christ than by all that life can offer and all that death can take.


What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to live and die in order to magnify Christ by being satisfied in Him. The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.


What are you living for? What are you dying for? Where are you pursuing your satisfaction? What is the bottom of your joy?


I pray it’s Christ.

[1] I would be remiss if I didn’t express my indebtedness to Pastor John Piper for aiding my thinking and highlighting the connection between verses 20 and 21.