“I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt? . . . What would Jesus Christ have preached if he’d taken a poll in Israel? . . . It isn’t polls or public opinion of the moment that counts. It’s right and wrong.” — President Harry S. Truman (Truman, David McCullough, 914-915)
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I just finished leading a memorial service for someone—someone young. Death had not been expected. Life was the probability. But death came. It has been shattering for the family, as one would imagine.
Just a few hours before this I was meditating on Paul’s words to the Philippian believers, written from prison. His circumstances were reversed: death was a possibility, though he had optimism for a release from prison and continued earthly life and ministry. Nevertheless, his circumstances were frightening— more for his friends than for Paul himself. As he wrote he aimed to steady their nerves and reinforce their faith. So he began to speak of how he’d come to view life and death. He said, “For me, to life is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
The basics are pretty obvious: Life = Jesus; Death = Gain.
But what does that mean . . . really? Let’s start with the first: Life = Jesus.
There is great economy in the Apostle’s words. Literally, says “to live, Christ.” Is Paul merely using artful expression or is he describing an existential reality? Is his brevity mistaken for more than he intends? Or has he taken off his sandals because he is walking on holy ground and measuring his words lest he misspeak?
The life of the indwelling Christ was a daily, moment-by-moment reality for Paul. He seems to have especially sensed this reality in times of extremity: “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:8-11). The actual, fleshly, earthly engagement of life and all its realities is the arena wherein Jesus personally shows up with the manifestation of His life in and through His child. It is not merely an inward thought, feeling or attitude. It is that, but it is more than that. The life of Jesus is “manifested” in us and through us. It finds expression and evidences itself. Thus Paul can say, “to live is Christ.” He can confess in another place “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). He reminds the Colossian believers that it is “Christ, who is our life” (Col. 3:4). Jesus commanded His followers, “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4a). This is mystery deep, but it is also life indeed.
The Lord Himself, by “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (v.19), takes up residence in the believer. He Himself is the very eternal life He promised us. His life is my life. And moment-by-moment, circumstances-by-circumstance, thought-by-thought, conversation-by-conversation, relationship-by-relationship Jesus aims to manifest His life in me, to me, and through me. He intends that I live by His indwelling life.
This is the privilege and calling and hope of the believer. This has dramatic, transforming implications for our minds/thoughts/reasoning, our words/relationships/interactions, our service/ministry/witness, and our bodies/health/healing … for all of life!
And Paul, with equal brevity can say: “… to die is gain.” Death = gain. But honestly, that just doesn’t compute for most of us. And the only way it will is for us to first begin to live out the reality that “to live is Christ.” The one leads necessarily and supernaturally to the other. Until I have tasted of the life of Christ now as an abiding, sustaining, empowering, sanctifying, satisfying reality, I will never truly believe “to die is gain.” When I do, I will … for to die is to enter more immediately into the life and reality of Christ’s life.
To live = Jesus. To die = gain. They are not merely parallel statements; there is a causative relationship between them. First the life of Jesus manifested in me, to me, and through me in the details of daily life. As satisfying as that is (and it truly is!), once you’ve tasted of His indwelling life the notion of the unfiltered presence and life of Jesus as a manifested reality is too all consuming and the child of God begins to anticipate the release that physical death will bring … and they find themselves genuinely confessing: to die = gain.
Life = Jesus; Death = gain. Both are truly true. But they are only true in experience when we settle the first part: “For to me …”
How do I come to this place?
I’m afraid you won’t like the answer.
Ready? Here it is: disappointments.
Sorry, but it’s the only way.
When I realize that this life can never keep its promises, I will be ready to look elsewhere. Not merely to another day, but to another life. The life of eternity is available to me in time. The life of God manifested in my mortal body, mind, emotions, and will. When I decide that He alone, His life alone, is “For … me” then I am ready to experience the indwelling of His divine life.
I encourage you to purpose, by Christ’s strength, to make God’s Word a part of every day this year. A Gallup poll revealed that while sixty percent of all Americans attend Church at least once a month, only about twelve percent read their Bibles outside of church. The International Bible Readers Association reports that eight-five percent of professing Christians have never read through the entire Bible. It has been said that there are 500,000 Bibles are in circulation, but that forty percent of Protestants say they read it “never or hardly ever.”
If you are a child of God, He has formed within you a hunger that can only be satisfied by consumption of His Word. Are you hungry? Are you at least hungry to be hungry?
- God has handed you Instruction . . . turn off the TV.
- God has handed you Revelation . . . log off the Internet.
- God has handed you His Guarantee . . . stop groping for hope.
- God has handed you His Absolutes . . . stop scratching your head and shrugging your shoulders.
- God has handed you His Counsel . . . stop wondering where to turn.
- God has handed you His Direction . . . no need to look so puzzled.
- God has handed you a Mandate . . . its time to snap to attention!
- God has handed you a Decree . . . it is time to heed His Voice!
Why are we filling our bellies with the Styrofoam fillers offered up on the shiny platters of the word’s media when our spirits cry out for the nourishment of the Word of the Living God? An unknown writer penned this description of the Bible . . .
“This Book is the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding; its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s character. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. Follow its precepts and it will lead to Calvary, to the empty tomb, to a resurrected life in Christ; yes, to glory itself, for eternity.”
Michael Billester was a Bible distributor who visited a small village in Poland shortly before WWII broke out. There he gave a Bible to a resident, who later trusted Christ through reading it. The new believer then passed it on to others. Many of them too came to faith in Christ. They in turn kept passing on that single volume of the Bible until some two-hundred people in that village became believers when they read that single copy of the Bible. When Billester returned in 1940, this group was gathering together regularly for worship. He joined them during his visit where he had been asked to preach the Word. He normally asked people for testimonies, but on that day he asked if some would stand and quote Scripture verses. One man stood, “Perhaps we have misunderstood. Did you mean verses or chapters?” These villagers, with their one Bible, had memorized not a few select verses, but whole chapters and books. Thirteen of them had memorized Matthew, Luke and half of Genesis! Another had memorized all 150 psalms. A single copy of the Bible had transformed an entire village as it became their daily spiritual nourishment!
The fact is we do pretty much what we want to do. We find time for the things we most want to do. We muster strength for the things we truly believe important.
If you are not certain just where to begin reading in the Bible or how to set up a Bible reading schedule, I encourage you to consider using the Bible reading guide we provide at our church: 2015 Bible Reading Guide.
In the year that is before us, may God make you hungry in a way that can’t be satisfied by anything but the Word that proceeds out of His mouth! May He satisfy you again and again as you turn to Him through His written Word!