Sermon: Philippians 1:18b-27
Pentecost 18 - October 8, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
How much do you want to go to heaven? I’m sure that probably all of you would say that you want to go to heaven a lot. You want to go to heaven really badly. It’s the most important thing imaginable.
But what if Jesus appeared to you right now and said, “If you want you can go to heaven right now? Just drop everything, leave everything and everyone, and I’ll take you to heaven right now.” The possibility of going to heaven right now puts a different perspective on going to heaven. Some people would say, “Sure, I’m ready to go right now.” Others might say, “Well, give me a few days. I need to say good-bye to some people.” Younger people might say, “Not right now. I want to live more of my life in this world.”
The Apostle Paul was someone who really wanted to go to heaven and be with Jesus Christ. And I believe that if God had given him the opportunity, even at the moment he was writing this letter to the Philippians, he would have left mid-sentence to be with Jesus in heaven.
Paul’s words today cause us to consider our desire to leave this life and be in heaven. But they also urge us to live as faithful Christians and children of God until that day really comes when we depart to be with Christ.
So we consider the question
HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN?
Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Philippi because they were concerned about how he was doing. The letter to the Philippians is probably the most uplifting and joyful of all of Paul’s letters. We might be surprised by that fact because when Paul wrote this letter was in prison in Rome. This was Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. It was kind of house arrest that restricted him but still allowed him to do some preaching and write his letters.
But Paul noted that his imprisonment encouraged other Christians to even more boldly preach the gospel. He noted that some men preached the gospel out of good motives, but that some preached the gospel out of selfish ambition - maybe for money or personal recognition. But Paul finally admitted that whether men preached the gospel out of good or not so good motives, he rejoiced that the gospel was preached. He concluded at the beginning of our text today, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
Are you glad that Christ is preached, that the gospel is proclaimed? We ought to be glad. Don’t take the preaching of the gospel for granted. You and I are here today because someone, somewhere, at sometime in our life took the time to preach or teach the message of Jesus Christ to us. For many of us it was first of all our parents. Or that person might have been a pastor, a teacher, a Sunday school teacher, a relative, a spouse, a friend. But however it happened we learned the message from the Bible about the forgiveness of sins.
And it’s a good thing that we did. We’re all born sinful. We commit sins every day of our life. And sin would separate us from God now and always in hell if we had never learned the gospel. Paul understood this crucial truth better than anyone. That’s why he rejoiced so much that the gospel was preached. Later in this letter he describes his salvation in this way: “I consider [all my work-righteous efforts at salvation] rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Paul’s words tell us two vital truths. Jesus Christ is our righteousness. Jesus lived a holy life and died an innocent death to atone for our sins. His righteousness is credited to us and covers us. Our sins are forgiven. And we receive Jesus’ righteousness and forgiveness merely by faith and are saved eternally. Jesus is the reason, the only reason, we can go to heaven.
That’s why we ought to be glad that Christ is preached, that the gospel is proclaimed - not only to us but around the world. If the Apostle Paul was glad in his day that the Christ was proclaimed in Philippi and Greece he would be ecstatic today. By the end of this day we really can’t calculate in how many churches around the world the true gospel of Jesus will be preached. And that’s just today. Throughout the week pastors and Christian teachers will preach and teach the message of Jesus Christ to people in classes and personal encounters. People will talk to their friends in conversations. Christ will be preached, and we ought to be glad.
Paul was glad, and he was glad because he knew that through the prayers of the Philippian Christians and the work of the Holy Spirit his imprisonment in one way or another would work out for his good and the good of the gospel. He wrote, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Either Paul would be released from prison, and through his life Christ would be exalted in the preaching of God’s word, or Paul could possibly be put to death. Even in that case, literally in the killing of his body, Christ would be glorified by the death of his faithful apostle.
That’s why Paul writes that sentence that many of us know by heart: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Would you be willing to say those words of Paul and really mean them? “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul is really saying that his whole life has meaning and his actions are motivated because of Jesus Christ. And if he died everything would be even better for him.
For to me, to live is Christ. Imagine if you didn’t know Christ. Imagine if there were no Jesus. What would your life be then? Your life would be work. Your life would be earning enough to live. There would be some joys. There would also be a lot of sorrows and troubles. Worst of all there would be no real point. There would be no purpose or goal beyond this life. The Apostle Paul once wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
And dying would be no gain for us. Dying would mean the horror of hell and separation from God. For Paul dying was gain. It was an advantage for him. It would be better because he would go to be with Christ forever.
Do you think dying is a gain for you? Do you think dying is better for you? Those questions really bring us back to our original question: How much do you want to go to heaven? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life in this world. God gave us life in this world. He has a purpose for each one of us being here. But would you rather depart from this life to be in heaven? That’s an interesting question. It challenges our Christian faith. It takes a lot of faith to desire heaven, which we have not seen, over life in this world that we have seen and experienced.
Paul had no problem desiring heaven over this world. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” Paul had known the goodness of this life. He was a privileged Roman citizen. He was a man of religious and political power and prestige. But then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and nothing in this life could compare to knowing the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ. He wanted to be with Jesus.
Do you want to be with Jesus? How much do you want to go to heaven? Like Paul, the more we learn to know Jesus Christ, the more we learn his love, the more we understand his mercy and forgiveness, the more we appreciate what he has done to save us from our sins, the more we’re going to want to be with him and be in heaven.
But Paul knew he would remain in this world for some time yet. And that was a good thing. He would go on preaching the gospel so that more people would come to know Jesus and be saved, and, most important of all, Christ would be glorified.
How long each one of us has in this world yet varies widely - some a short time, some many years yet. We just don’t know. But no matter how much time we have in this world yet, it’s important how we conduct our lives.
As Christians we really do think a lot about going to heaven. And we know that Jesus redeemed us so that we could go to heaven. It’s also very important for us to remember that Jesus redeemed us so that we could serve him and live as children of God in this world before we get to heaven. Paul puts it this way: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
How are you going to live your life this week so that you conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? You’re starting out well. You’re here in church worshiping God and hearing his word. But this is just one hour. There are 167 hours until you return again next Sunday to worship your Savior.
You and I will sleep some of those hours. But get up each day remembering that Jesus has saved you from your sins. To live is Christ. I’d suggest that you begin each day by reading a chapter from the Bible, maybe a psalm or a chapter from the gospels. You’ll learn to know Jesus better that way. Then go to your job and do your work remembering that Jesus has saved you from your sins. To live is Christ. Take care of your responsibilities, spend your leisure time, remembering that Jesus has saved you from your sins. To live is Christ. Spend the hours of your life loving God and serving your neighbor.
Then you’ll know that to live is Christ, and as good as that is you’ll know to die and be with Christ is even better. Then you’ll really want to go to heaven. Amen.