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To Live is Christ

December 1, 2019

Phil 1:21-24



Bible References

Phil 1:21-24

Sermon Notes

To Live is Christ


The basic idea of Christianity of the passage that was read during our Scripture concerned the most important. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, he responded, “Love God and love people.” We love God first and we love people second.

One of the main ways that we express our love for God is through loving others. To show God how much we love him we are called to serve people. Serving people is about serving God. When you serve people as a Christian, you are not mainly serving them. What you are mainly doing is loving, worshiping, and honoring God. It is through people that this love for God is expressed. If you love God, you will serve others.

This morning this is the one basic idea that we will be exploring. For a good passage of Scripture where this idea is laid out very clearly, turn with me to John 21:15 to further explore this idea. In this passage, Jesus has risen from the dead. This is one of the post-resurrection stories that John tells us about. Beginning in v. 15, we will read through v. 17.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

What Jesus teaches Peter and by consequence us in this passage is that if we say we love him, we most also love other people. Peter’s love for Christ is proven in his love for Jesus’ sheep. Our love for Christ is demonstrated in our love for people.

This idea of loving Christ by loving people is the basic idea that we will be exploring in our Philippians passage this morning. Let’s go ahead and turn to Phil 1:21. We will read through v. 24. The passage reads,

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

For this week and next week this will be the passage that we deal with. As my sermon title suggests, we will focus upon the “to live is Christ” theme of this passage this week. Next week, we will focus upon the “to die is gain” theme of the passage.

“To live is Christ” is an odd phrase. It is grammatically awkward. Normally, we would expect an adjective to be at the end this statement. So, rather than, “to live is Christ,” we would expect Paul to say, “to live is good,” or “to live is wonderful,” or “to live is delightful.” Something like that. Rather, though, what we have here is “to live is Christ.” This is an odd statement. What does it mean? This will be our central question this morning—what does Paul mean when he says, “To live is Christ?”

I take it that this statement entails three different yet complimentary ideas. They are complimentary in that they all concern the idea of loving others. They are different in that they express different aspects of loving others.

To Live is Christ is to Labor for Others


The first idea that “to live is Christ” entails is to labor for others. To live is Christ is to labor for others. I get this point from what Paul says in v. 22. He states, If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. In the book of Philippians, Paul is at a place in his life when he is having serious and considerable contemplations regarding life and death. We say this last week where he mentioned that whether in life or death Christ will be glorified in his body. We will see that in the next coming weeks as well. Paul is reflecting upon his own mortality.

What he says in this verse is contextual to his reflection upon his mortality. Paul statement, “If I am to live in the flesh” is a reference to his physical life. If Paul continues to live. If Paul’s earthly life continues. The reference to “in the flesh” is a reference to his earthly life. Paul does believe that he can live “not in the flesh.” That existence is to live in heaven with Christ. Paul includes this preposition phrase “in the flesh” to specify which existence he’s referring to.


If Paul continues to live this earthly life, it means “fruitful labor” for him. Now what is this idea? To understand the word “labor” turn with me to Phil 2:30. In this passage, Paul is speaking of his friend Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus was sent from the Philippians to Paul to help Paul in his ministry. Epaphroditus became sick, though, and almost died. Paul specifies in 2:29–30 the reason why he became sick. Philippians 2:29 reads,

So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

You see that word “work” in v. 30? That is the same word that shows up in our passage as “labor.” What both terms refer to is “ministry.” Epaphroditus was engaged in “the work of Christ.” He was engaged in ministry. Paul, if he continued to live, would continue to engage in “fruitful labor.” He would continue to engage in spreading the gospel and building up churches. Now it is interesting that of all the words that Paul could use to refer to ministry he used the word “labor.” The reason for this is because ministry is labor. It’s work. It’s not easy. Ministry is war. It is all about vigorously fighting your own sin and lovingly fighting the sin of others.

Fighting your own sin is no easy thing. It is a constant, daily battle. Every morning we wake up, what lies before us is a battle, the battle of saying yes to Christ and no to sin. Sin can even show up in your dreams. For the Christian, this life is a constant, ongoing battle. There’s no break. No time out. Temptation can strike at any time.

Further, we must fight the sins of others. This, too, is not easy. We fight against the sin of unbelievers by telling them the gospel. Think about the missionary task. Jesus tells us to go to distant lands, to place that are unfamiliar and strange, to tell people of a message that they don’t want to hear. What?! They don’t want us there. But that is what we must do. We must go. We must tell them what they don’t want to hear in the hope that God will change their hearts. This is very hard.

Also, we are called to fight the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This, too, is hard. We’re called to lovingly keep others accountable, to call out sin where it is, and to forgive Christians when they treat us unkindly. This is all hard work. This is labor. Ministry is not easy.


But is it worth it? Is the labor worth it? Did Paul think it was? Yes. It is. It’s all worth it. It’s worth it because its fruitful. Notice the adjective that Paul places on “labor” in Phil 1:22. Paul says that if he continues living, it will mean “fruitful labor” for him. This modifier tells us that though the ministry is hard it is worth it. This notion of “fruitful” describes the type of labor that Paul would continue doing if he remains in his earthly ministry. “Fruitfulness” and “fruit” are metaphors of spiritual growth. “Fruitful labor” is ministry in which spiritual growth is imparted to people. As I’ve mentioned a number of times, Heb 10:14 says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” That is what fruitful labor is. It is engaging in the hard task of stirring up in others love and good works. It’s not seeking


So bringing all of these thoughts together, “to live is Christ” means that if Paul continues in his earthly life, continues in his earthly course, his life will entail laboring to see spiritual growth—love and good works—produced in others. To live is Christ entails laboring for others.


“To live is Christ” is the basic motto of Christianity. That’s what our lives our as Christians. To be a Christian is to live for Christ. This is our identity, our confession, our claim as Christians. What it entails is laboring for the gospel, laboring for God’s work in this world through people. Christian, are you engaged in ministry? Laboring for others wasn’t something just for Paul. Ministry is not just for Paul or for the “professionals” like Jesse and I. It’s for you. God wants you, so long as you have life here on this earth, to be involved in Christian ministry. Are you building up others in this church? Are you giving your money away to global missions? Are you
seeking to find ways how you can share with your co-workers the gospel? Are you encouraging others in their faith? Are you praying with and for others? Your primary purpose for existing is spreading a knowledge of Jesus Christ in this world. We all do that differently, but we all have that duty. Are you doing that? Can you truly say, “To live is Christ?”

To Live is Christ Entails Sacrifice for Others


The second point for you this morning is this: to live is Christ is to sacrifice for others. As I mentioned in the previous point, Paul is contemplating his own mortality in our passage. He is asking himself this question: “Is it better to live or to die?” Go ahead and look at v. 22 with me again.

If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

Paul is weighing his options in this passage. Paul is weighing here the pros and cons of life and death. The pros, the advantages of life are mentioned in v. 22. Specifically, there are what we covered in the previous verse. To continue living means that Paul will have fruitful labor. For Paul, that is a big advantage. In the second part of v. 23, Paul mentions the advantage of death. He says

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

The advantage of death is being with Christ, which Paul says, “is far better than living.” Wow. Quite an advantage. But then look at v. 24. Here is where Paul mentions a con, or a disadvantage of death. Verse 24
But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

If Paul dies, he can’t continue in his ministry with the Philippians. The Philippians need him. To die would be to not meet their need for spiritual growth. Where does this weighing the advantages and disadvantages of life and death end? Look at the end of v. 22 and the beginning of v. 23. Paul says,

Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two.

On the one hand, Paul’s own choice is to die, to not continue living. That’s what Paul wants personally. But to depart would not result well for others. The Philippians need him. And their need weighs heavily on his heart.


Why, though, does Paul even care about what the Philippians need? Paul is torn between the two decisions because he is willing to sacrifice his own desire—to depart and be with Christ—in order to serve the Philippians. Paul is willing to put himself second. He is willing to reject the “I’m just going to do me” mentality so that others can know Christ. Paul is willing to say “no” to self for the sake of others. He is willing to sacrifice.

Saying “no” to self is one of the hardest experiences in life. We have these impulses, these desires, these inclinations that lead us towards making bad decisions. Naturally, we are impulsive, uncontrolled, and selfish people.

This battle shows up every night in my own mind. Every night my mind tells me that I should eat some cookies. I love cookies. I could eat a cookie every night of my life. I enjoy them that much. But, I don’t need a cookie every night. I just don’t. So, every night I have this battle with myself to say “no” to cookies. Now sometimes I say yes. You got to enjoy life. There’s no better way to enjoy life than with a cookie. But sometimes you have to say no. It’s hard, though. Very hard. Saying “no” is not just about cookies, though. Saying “no” to yourself has major impact for every part of your life. Especially the Christian life. Central to what we do—absolutely central—is to say no to self. Jesus says that we must deny ourselves. To deny yourself is to say “no” to yourself. To live is Christ is to say “no” to yourself.

Further, to live is Christ is to say “no” to your own pleasures and comforts for the sake of saying “yes” to the pleasures and comforts of others. That is love. Love for others is sacrifice. This is what “to live is Christ” means. It means to say “no” to my rights, comforts, privileges and to say “yes” to the rights, comforts, and privileges of others,

This is very hard. There is no shortcuts here, either. No life hacks. No TED talks that are going to help you. Your only hope to attain this type of desire for sacrifice and the ability to sacrifice for others is through the grace of God. We are powerless to effect in ourselves the desire and ability for sacrifice. But with the grace of God we can.

To Live is Christ is to be Selflessness towards Others

Last point for you this morning is this: “To live is Christ entails selflessness towards others.” I get this from v. 24. We’ve already alluded to this verse. It states, But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. What is it that motivates Paul’s desire to continue living? It’s the needs of others. Paul’s love for others, specifically the Philippians, consumes his love for his own desire to see Christ. Paul’s concern for the corporate well-being over the church triumphs his concern for himself. To live is Christ entails selflessness towards others. This idea of selflessness is opposed to selflessness. What is selfishness, though? Selfishness is a posture of the heart. It’s a motive. It’s a deep abiding inclination of the human heart. It is the
impulse to seek self.

Often when we speak of sin, we speak about sinful deeds. The Ten Commandments largely focus upon sinful deeds—do not murder, do not kill, do not lie, do not commit adultery. These sinful deeds are a big deal. However, there is more to sin than just sinful deeds. Sin isn’t just what we do (our deeds), sin is also a posture. And it is this state, this nature, this posture, this inclination where selfishness shows up. Selfishness is an overall heart orientation. Selfishness is a motive that can undergird any deed, even good deeds. Let’s say you offer someone a compliment in order to have that person recognize you back. That’s selfishness. It can show up in any deed at any time.

We very often fail to see how selfish we are. It hides. It lurks. You can easily hide it and not let other people see it. But it’s there. It’s in all our hearts. We all naturally want what we want and not what others want.


When Christ gets a hold of us, he opens our eyes by the Spirit to just how selfish we are. He begins pulling back the veil of our ignorance regarding our selfishness. He begins reorienting our lives away from self and begins to reorient our desires towards other people. This is what sanctification is. It’s a continual and gradual move away from self and towards others. Paul’s posture of selfishness—his desire to forgo being with Christ in order that the church in Phillippi can be benefitted—is what we need to model. Rather than seeking to have people meet your needs and waiting around for others to serve you, what Paul’s example teaches is that I/you need to take the initiative. Don’t wait for someone to be nice to you for you to then be nice back.

That’s selfishness. Seek others out. Seek their needs, not yours. Make much of others, make much of this body, and make very little, very little of yourself. This life is not about you. You need to stop acting like it is. By the grace of God, put to death the selfishness that is in you and seek, with all your might, to make much of other people.



The goal of this morning’s sermon was to unpack that phrase, “To live is Christ.” What this meant for Paul was that he earthly life, if he were to continue, would entail labor, sacrifice, and selflessness towards others. That’s what that phrase means. The application of all of this was that a total abandonment for Christ manifests itself in a total abandonment for others. If you want to demonstrate to Christ how deeply you love him (which I hope you do), you must sacrificially and selflessly labor so that others grow in their relationships
with Christ. You must say “no” to yourself so that you can say “yes” to others. And you must seek our others. Don’t wait around for others to meet your needs. Rather, actively seek out ways how you can show other people how much you love Christ.

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