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TO LIVE IS CHRIST, TO DIE IS GAIN
By MATT CHANDLER, JARED C. WILSON
David C. CookCopyright © 2013 Matt Chandler and Jared C. Wilson
All rights reserved.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you. (Phil. 1:3)
The gospel absolutely drove Paul.
A missionary church planter, Paul's primary field of ministry was major metropolitan areas. If Paul were around today, he would be going to places like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago, and he would be planting churches. After developing a community of believers in these places, establishing leaders, and grounding them in the gospel, he would then move on to begin the work again in another area. But, a good shepherd, Paul tried to stay in contact with the churches he had planted. The churches would write to him with questions they had or about difficulties they faced, and Paul would write back with instruction and encouragement. The New Testament book we call Philippians is one of these encouraging missives, but it's fairly unique among Paul's letters.
Philippians is the only letter that we have in the Scriptures in which Paul is not trying to correct bad teaching or rebuke bad behavior. Instead, the letter highlights Paul's personal affection for the Philippian church and his commendation of (and exhortation toward) their Christian maturity. We see in this little letter what it looks like to be a mature man or woman in Jesus Christ.
Maybe you've already realized that Philippians is filled with what we might call "coffee-cup verses"—passages of Scripture that have so stirred the hearts and minds of believers over the years that we've thrown them on coffee cups, T-shirts, and bumper stickers. As a quick survey, we see in Philippians 1 that "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (v. 21). In chapter 2 we get the famous proclamation of Jesus's sacrificial and humble self-emptying, learning that this humility makes Him worthy of all honor and glory but led Him to lay all of that aside to exalt God in service to sinners. In the third chapter, Paul says that he counts all things—even good things—as rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ. And finally, in the fourth chapter, we find the epic and well-known declaration, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (v. 13).
Clearly, Paul has a lot to teach us about life—by which I mean he has a lot to teach us about Jesus.
If you read any of Paul's other letters, you will always find him saying, "Do this, don't do that, stop this, start doing that, quit going there, now act like this, get right, act right, be right." He grounds these commands in the finished work of Christ in the gospel, but they're still there. Paul apparently feels that these other churches have a lot of work to do. But Philippians is different. Paul gives the Philippians some instructions, sure, and he appears to address some issues needing correction, but he does so implicitly. Overall, the letter to the Philippians is colored with favor. It may be, then, that this letter is the best New Testament picture we have of what a maturing church looks like and what maturing people do.
As a result, the letter to the Philippians overflows with Paul's heart of affection for them. He considers the Philippians not just sheep in his care but friends in his heart, and in this book he wears his heart on his sleeve. You can glimpse the depth of his love for these people in his introductory remarks:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (1:1–8)
That last sentence may give the more stoic among us a bit of concern: "I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus." Of course, from what we know of Paul, he's a pretty tough guy. A man's man, perhaps. But he is moved enough by his connections with these friends of his to say that he "yearns" to be with them again, and this yearning is characterized by deep affection. How deep is his affection? It is affection sourced in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
This is the affection that took Jesus Christ to the cross. It is the affection that led Jesus to submit to arrest, to torture, to death. This is obviously a deep and abiding affection. And Paul is telling his friends that all this affection that is in Christ Jesus is in his own heart, which yearns for them.
Now, Paul loves all the churches to which he has written. He loves them all with the love of the Lord, and he has different kinds of connections to each one, which elicit varying degrees of personal affection. Remember in Galatians, for instance, how exasperated and angry he is. That's an expression of love as well, because he loves them enough to correct the church's acceptance of heresy. It's a loving shepherd who disciplines the sheep. In Ephesians, Paul reminds the Ephesian church that they were predestined before the foundation of the world. He tells them about God's feelings for them and about God's love for them. But he doesn't say, "I yearn for you." You are not going to find that language in Paul's letters to the other churches. You will find him often referencing who they are in Christ and what Christ did for them. He wishes them well, and he expresses love to them. But not like this. There is a serious affection here.
How did he get to feel this way about these people?
THE BLESSED BACKSTORY
Philippi was what we might call a major metropolitan area. Located along a major commercial road for the Roman Empire, the city teemed with industry and intelligentsia, agriculturalists and artists. Since it was a well-populated city with lots going on, it made sense that a missionary church planter like Paul would want to go there and preach the gospel. So to get a fuller picture of the affectionate connection revealed in his letter to the Philippians, we need to look further back at the roots of his relationships there. We will start in Acts 16.
So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. (vv. 11–15)
Previously, Paul received a vision in which he saw a Macedonian man calling for help, which Paul took as a spiritual calling. Without delay, he and three companions—Luke, Silas, and Paul's young protégé, Timothy—set off for Macedonia, which brought them to Philippi.
The fact that the group is looking for a synagogue but finds instead what is basically a women's Bible study shows not only the lack of Christian presence in Philippi but the lack of Jewish presence. Typically Paul and his cohorts sought out a Jewish house of worship in which to proclaim the good news of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, but Philippi was such a densely Roman city that there were not even enough Jewish males to constitute a place of worship. Instead, where the missionaries expect to find a "place of prayer," they come upon a group of religious women having their own riverside Sabbath service. This is where Paul first meets Lydia.
Lydia is from the city of Thyatira. This tells us that she is likely ethnically Asian. But she has a house in Philippi. So this tells us that economically she's very wealthy. Both Thyatira and Philippi are major metropolitan areas. The portrait we see developing of Lydia is that of a woman who's in the fashion industry—think "fashionista"—essentially the CEO of her own fashion empire. Thinking in today's terms, she'd have a house in Los Angeles, a house in New York, and a house in Paris. This is a woman who has done very, very well for herself.
But Lydia is also what the Bible calls a God-fearer. Here's what that means: She has rejected paganism. She has rejected polytheism. She does not believe that there are dozens of gods—that there's a god of the wind, a god of the rain, a god of the purple cloth, or a god of the fashion world. She's worshipping the Father, not Prada. Lydia has come to believe that there is one God. She listens to the teaching of the Jews, trying to grasp what it means to live a God-fearing life; she wants to live out her faith in the context of her family and her business.
This is an important point in the story of Lydia's conversion: she is an intellect and, by all indications, a seeker. She has gathered with a group of women to hear the Scriptures explained. Lydia, by listening to the Torah, knows that God gave His people the law. She knows that God gave the Ten Commandments. She understands that she does some of those things well, but she also understands that she's broken some of those laws and commandments too. She likely has some concept of the need for atonement. But without the good news of Jesus, she's confused. It is into this setting that Paul shows up and starts to fill in the spiritual framework through which Lydia has operated up to this point.
This is like a Tuesday-morning women's Bible study! This is like a bunch of women doing a Hebrew precepts study, and Paul shows up, says, "Hold on a second," and presses pause. Paul begins to explain to the women's Bible study that God gave us the law to reveal that we all have fallen short of God's glory and that atonement was made only by Christ's work on the cross.
Paul engages Lydia's reason, engages her intellect—and it is through the impartation of this knowledge that she becomes a believer in Christ. In fact, she immediately believes and gets baptized, her whole household gets saved and baptized, and then she invites Paul to stay in her home. I'm guessing she's got a nice joint. For Paul the bi-vocational missionary and blue-collar tent maker, this is a pretty sweet deal. His time in Philippi is a refreshing respite from the glorious grind of faithfulness to the gospel call.
THE SLAVE GIRL
This is how the church in Philippi began: the conversion of the high-society businesswoman Lydia through intellectual engagement with the gospel. But the story, like the church, becomes more complex. As Acts 16 continues, we see how the mission in Philippi reveals the diversity of the church being planted there:
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. (vv. 16–19)
This little girl stands in absolute contrast to Lydia. Where Lydia is Asian, this girl is Greek. Where Lydia is in control, an intellect, this little girl is impoverished, enslaved, and exploited. Where Lydia is a seeker, this little girl proclaims the way of salvation. Of course, she's doing it perhaps unwittingly, under demonic control, but she believes that salvation is available the same way the demons do. While Paul and Lydia meet in the context of a formal, orderly group meeting, Paul and the slave girl meet as she follows the missionaries around, screaming her head off. She is disruptive. As in control as Lydia is, this little girl is out of control.
Now watch how God goes after her. Paul doesn't turn around and say, "I'm doing a seminar Saturday on 'Crazy.' I would like for you to come because I think you have crazy in you." He does not invite her to a Bible study, and he does not appeal to her intellect on any level. He doesn't appeal to her reason. She's irrational. No—instead, in an act of Holy Spirit power, he rebukes and exorcises the spirit that rules her and enslaves her on the inside. In an instant she finds the salvation she's been demonically mocking.
The contrast between these two Philippian conversions is startling and instructive. With Lydia, the gospel gets at her heart when Paul engages her intellectually. With the slave girl, the gospel gets at her heart when Paul engages her spiritually. In both instances, the Holy Spirit grants new birth and repentance, of course, but the deliverance of the gospel takes on the context of the personal need. Paul shows how he as a missionary is willing to become all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22).
But the conversions aren't done.
THE BLUE-COLLAR JOE
The deliverance and conversion of the possessed slave girl is an exciting scene, but the story intensifies as we continue reading in Acts 16:
And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, "These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. (vv. 20–24)
As Westerners, when we think of "the stocks," we picture New England in the 1700s, the embarrassment and shame of having your head and hands stuck in a public contraption. But that is not what first-century Roman Empire stocks were like. These devious contraptions would contort the prisoner's body into all sorts of excruciating postures, locking limbs and joints in place to the point of making the entire body cramp. The prisoner's body would seize up with searing pain, and then the Romans would just leave the person there for days.
Notice that the jailer is not commanded to treat his prisoners this way. The magistrates simply ask him to keep the missionaries safe, and instead he tortures them. So we aren't dealing with a very nice man at this moment. This jailer is very good at his job, and he probably likes it more than he should.
But when it comes to taking pride in one's work, this guy could not out-enjoy Paul. "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25). If you hated the gospel, wouldn't the apostle Paul be the most frustrating human being alive? It did not matter what anyone did to this man, he loved God and continued to show it in every possible way.
We see Paul's gospel fixation echoed throughout his letter to the Philippians. He is the man who when threatened says, "Well, to die is gain." In response his captors will say, "We'll torture you, then." He says, "I don't count the present suffering as worthy to even compare to the future glory." You can't win with a guy like this. If you want to kill him, he's cool with that because it means he gets to be with Jesus. If you want to make him suffer, he's cool with that, so long as it makes him like Jesus. If you want to let him live, he's fine with that, because to him, "to live is Christ." Paul is, as Richard Sibbes says of everyone united with Christ, a man who "can never be conquered."
Paul's stubborn fixation on Jesus is reminiscent of these words from the early church father John Chrysostom, who apparently was threatened with banishment if he did not renounce his faith:
If the empress wishes to banish me, let her do so; "the earth is the Lord's." If she wants to have me sawn asunder, I will have Isaiah for an example. If she wants me to be drowned in the ocean, I think of Jonah. If I am to be thrown in the fire, the three men in the furnace suffered the same. If cast before wild beasts, I remember Daniel in the lion's den. If she wants me to be stoned, I have before me Stephen, the first martyr. If she demands my head, let her do so; John the Baptist shines before me. Naked I came from my mother's womb, naked shall I leave this world. Paul reminds me, "If I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ."
Excerpted from TO LIVE IS CHRIST, TO DIE IS GAIN by MATT CHANDLER, JARED C. WILSON. Copyright © 2013 Matt Chandler and Jared C. Wilson. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER ONE: Odd Beginnings,
CHAPTER TWO: The Worthy Life,
CHAPTER THREE: The One God Exalts,
CHAPTER FOUR: What The Humble Seek,
CHAPTER FIVE: The Passionate Pursuit,
CHAPTER SIX: Owned,
CHAPTER SEVEN: Never Satisfied,
CHAPTER EIGHT: Centering On The Gospel,
CHAPTER NINE: Rejoice?,
CHAPTER TEN: No Worries,
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Christ Is All,
CHAPTER TWELVE: True Contentment,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Matt Chandler with Jared C. Wilson in their new book, “To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain” published by David C. Cook shows us Paul’s radical letter to the Philippians. From the Back Cover: A road map for authentic Christian maturity. This is not a book with popular sound bites and bumper-sticker theology. This is a disruptively inspiring message from Matt Chandler, a pastor and Bible teacher, who invites you to walk with him through the short book of Philippians. A study in the Book of Philippines do we really need another? Yes, Pastor Chandler looks at the cost of growth and maturity in the Christian and, that like a child growing up, it does not happen overnight. It takes some work. What does matured faith include? Making disciples and being discipled, Realizing Christ’s love is unconditional, Rejoicing in The Lord because He is always at hand, Living in such a way that Jesus is seen as glorious, Accepting that anxiety and worry are a waste of mental time and Discovering that contentment must be learned. This is why we need another study in Philippines. Pastor Chandler has done a remarkable job in putting the focus on the pursuing, chasing, knowing and loving of Jesus. Because if we do not have Jesus we have nothing. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from David C. Cook for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
To Live Is Christ to Die Is Gain by Matt Chandler was ___. I don't quite know the word I want to use to describe it. While the title says it all, the book does just an alright job of it, in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, there were really good points made. There were helpful Scriptural references. There were even personal reflections included. Still, it was ___. I elected to read this book for two reasons. One, the Philippians 1:21 reference is one of the most powerful teachings from the New Testament, as I see it. Second, Paul's life experiences and his example of discipleship were riveting. I knew I had to see what this book was all about. The book started out a bit slow to me. I could not grab hold of the words. In many ways, however, it was a review. I did like the questions that the author tended to ask as he went along. It gave me pause and allowed me to reflect. That was appreciated, especially after having to deal with slow pockets associated with the writing. Another plus with this book was the insightful and thoughtful way that the author included unique tidbits about the church at Philippi. All in all, I liked the book. But...I do place emphasis on the word like. Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would recommend it. I think that it could be a solid study resource. If encountered weekly as a study, it would then allow for an optimal breakdown of the material. In truth, this might be a better approach versus how I approached it. Rating: 3.50