The Christian Motive Text
Text: Philippians 1:22-26
The sovereignty of God is the most comforting doctrine for the child of God. To be able to rest in the knowledge that God knows best and that nothing can or will thwart His purposes either in a general sense, or towards each of His people as individuals.
One of the reasons I find it so comforting is because I’m regularly conscious of the fact that I just don’t know what is really good for me. I know holiness is good for me. I know the Word is good for me. But in things that aren’t specifics of the Christian life, I don’t know what’s good for me. I don’t know if poverty or wealth is good for me. I don’t know if sickness or health is good for me. I don’t know if ease or trial is good for me at each stage of my life. So resting in the sovereignty of God takes a great burden off my shoulders because if I started to be convinced that wealth is good for me, then who knows what foolish decisions I would make. I might leave the ministry, or give money to some TV evangelist. No, there are certain things we leave to God because we simply do not know what is good for us.
And that’s what we find with the Apostle Paul from v22. In a form of parallelism, he sets down the alternatives facing him: life or death, departing and being with Christ or remaining and fulfilling his responsibilities to the Philippians. But he doesn’t really know what’s best.
One commentator notes, “At this point Paul’s language becomes somewhat obscure, and the grammar of the passage reflects the conflict of feeling in his mind. He is tossed to and fro between the desire to labour for Christ here on earth and the desire to be united with him in death.” In other words, it’s like we’re looking into the strange uncertainty of the mind of Paul in this matter. Like he’s having a conversation with himself about what’s best. What would he choose if he had to choose between the two options of life and death?
Yet he knows that ultimately he stands under providential ordering and control, so that no evil force can touch him except by divine permission.
I. THE MOTIVE ARISES BY ACKNOWLEDGING THE OPTIONS
v22 – Here we see Paul acknowledging the options before him and revealing that if given the privilege to live on, it would only be for one purpose; the spread of the gospel. In doing so he clearly defines for us what v21 means when he says, “to live is Christ”. Living for Christ is not something abstract, it is to serve the Kingdom.
v23 – He begins to describe the difficulty with the options before him. “strait” i.e I am pressed. “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Lk 12:50. “the love of Christ constraineth” 2 Cor 5:14. So it was intense.
It has two desirable options – not unpleasant. “desire to depart”. Usually translated ‘lust’. He lusted for death.
“which is far better” – could be translated ‘very far better’ or ‘much more better’. And the picture is one of setting sail. It would be much better to leave this port and sail to another.
Doesn’t this show the stupidity and erroneous notion of soul sleep? The idea that when we die nothing happens until the final resurrection? What nonsense this would be for the apostle to desire to go into obscurity over the privilege of life. Let me make it plain, that when we die our souls continue to exist, either in heaven or in hell. To the believer, you have something to look forward to.
II. THE MOTIVE ARISES BY ASSESSING THE NEED – v24
In spite of how he felt, Paul observed an awareness of the need in the church of Jesus Christ, and specifically, the Philippians.
“abide in the flesh” – to continue living, is more needful for you the people of God. He is aware of a little bit of strife among the church, and he’s aware of the enemies that will attack that he refers to in chapter 3, and so he sees a pressing need to remain to help the church through these anticipated difficulties.
And beloved, that is one of the sad, but crucial parts of the ministry. It isn’t just about advancing the work numerically, and building the people theologically, it’s also preventing harm to the body of Christ through strife within and attacks from without.
In fact, through example, Paul is already subtly addressing the disharmony among some in Philippi, for he is showing that his love for Christ and his love for His people are in equal measure. You say, surely that’s going overboard. Not at all, one is the head, the other is the body – Christ and His people are one organic unit, and therefore the love MUST be equal. Did you ever realize that beloved? Do you excuse your lack of love for the people of God? If you don’t love His people, you don’t love Him.
Notice that Paul judges the scenario as one who looked at the needs of others above his own interests. He wanted to be with Christ, but he puts the needs of the Church over his own desires. This is always the attitude of the godly. What about you? Are you self-serving? I mean, that’s how some of you pick and choose which church services to attend. It’s a matter of which services suit you best, rather than realizing that if you really had the interests of the God’s people at heart, you’d attend at every opportunity and as regularly as possible. Your presence strengthens the witness. Your prayers strengthen the work.
Listen, the needs of others were such a priority to Paul it dictated how he would eat and drink, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” Rom 14:21. “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” 1 Cor 8:13.
Do you put believers and the witness ahead of your own personal interests and desires? Paul did. But most of us are too self-centred. Too self-centred to progress in godliness! What a lamentable testimony. Is it any wonder your Christian life is a struggle. You know, they say that one of the keys to a successful business is to realize that the first priority is not you, but your customer. They tell us that you will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want. Selflessness.
The business that just considers its own interests languishes at the bottom of the market, while the one that thinks of the customer enjoys the profits. Take Dominoes for example. Why is it everywhere you look there’s a Dominoes? In 1973 they began with their slogan “30 minutes or it’s free”. That’s giving the customer what they want.
Isn’t it sad that the business world understands something of this but the church doesn’t? Your Christian life is like a struggling business because you’re too self-centred to embrace true gospel servitude. If you got out of your carnal comfort zone you might find that the joy of the Lord might fill your heart as Christ promises. To tip the scales of choosing life or death, all Paul needed to see was the need in the people of God.
III. THE MOTIVE ARISES BY ACCEPTING THE CIRCUMSTANCES
2:23 – he doesn’t know the future. Unlike in 2 Tim “the time of my departure is at hand”. But v25-26 it seems that Paul is accepts circumstances indicating he must live on to assist the Philippians.
Even though he is imprisoned, Paul senses there’s more work to be done. Now don’t misunderstand him. Paul wasn’t so self-inflated that he thought the church would die with his death. There may have been some who thought the vacating of the leadership here would end in the death of the witness. But it is Christ that preserves and builds the church.
But underline the fact that Paul’s continuance was for their spiritual benefit. That’s all. He would go there to minister the Word, and he knew the Word would not return void. It would prosper in hearts. And beloved I am absolutely convinced of the same, not because there’s something special about the presence of any mere man, but because of the profit of the Word of God. And like Paul, I’m not given a mandate to tend to your self-esteem. I am here to declare the truth, God helping me.
“furtherance” – like v12. And the idea is that his ministry would help them take new ground for the Lord in their lives. That they would make spiritual strides in subduing sin and advancing the Kingdom. He was praying for their advancement v9-11, and if he would visit them he would preach for their advancement. So the question is, are you progressing?
In v20 death and life were viewed from the standpoint of glorifying Christ; here Paul says that his life is to serve God’s people. This is his motive for continuing in life! To bring joy to the Church and glory to Christ. I wondered as I prepared this if you have more spiritual joy since our arrival.
Is this your motive for living? I’d say most of you want to live on for a while yet. Many of you want to live for decades. But why? Why do you want to live? Why should God give you life? Is it so that you can consume your years upon your own selfish lusts?
Close – Only the godly face life and death with such positivity. Canada is revealing it’s ungodly perspective with a pursuit of legalizing euthanasia. Such is the unbelief in this land, that people think to end life is to end suffering, but since the vast majority who think that way are unbelievers, hastening death is only hastening their misery. Without Christ death is the portal to true misery! Oh how the minds of men have succumbed to the teaching of Satan, who would hasten the death of all men to finalize their eternal state.
If you’re unsaved and sometimes wish you were dead, those thoughts were stimulated by Satan. You need Christ!