5th Sunday of Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “I just don’t get it! What’s your secret? How do you do it? What do you know that I don’t know? You must know something special!” Ever said those words? Ever had someone ask those things about you? Those are the words of the amateur gardener to the master gardener, they’re the words of the amateur cook to the master cook, they’re the words of the amateur carpenter to the master carpenter… “How do you do it?? What’s your secret?” Some people seem to have things mastered, have certain things figured out so well that when the average person tries it, it just doesn’t quite turn out the same as when the pro does it.
Well, what’s your secret as a Christian? How do you do it? How do you keep going when life is against you? How can you remain content and at peace when things are falling apart all around you? How can you remain joyful no matter what circumstance you are facing? How can you continue to have a positive attitude no matter what? What’s your secret?
Do you think some people could’ve asked the same thing about the apostle Paul? “Paul, what’s your secret? How do you do it?” You heard the litany of things that Paul had gone through in life in our first lesson: prison, floggings, exposure to death, 5 times receiving the 40 lashes minus 1, 3 times being beaten with rods, once he was stoned, 3 times shipwrecked, a night and day in the open sea, constant danger, labor, toil, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness, plots against his life, the concern for his churches. And what do we hear him say again in our text? “Because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice”! We’ve got to wonder, “What’s your secret, Paul?” “How do you do it?”
Add to all of that the situation Paul is in when he wrote this letter to the Philippians. He most likely wrote it while he was sitting in house arrest in Rome from the years 61-63 AD. He’s awaiting trial in front of the Roman emperor and his charge? Sharing the good news about Jesus. Can you imagine standing alone on trial in front of the Supreme Court of the U.S. and all the judges on the court you know are unbelievers and you are there because you believe in Jesus? Perhaps we can begin to understand the situation that Paul was facing.
So Paul wrote to the Philippians: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” While Paul was in prison other people were sharing the gospel. However, some were doing so for their own personal and selfish motives, for their own profit and gain, and for antagonizing and stirring up trouble for Paul in prison. Others were preaching the gospel sincerely and truthfully. But either way Paul continues to rejoice. Why? Because what gives him joy is not based on their motives or how people feel about him, but on the fact that Christ is being preached.
Paul goes on: “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” Through the ascending prayers of the Philippians Paul was confident that the Holy Spirit would descend on him in extra measure to give him help and support. He was confident that he would be delivered. We are not 100% sure if Paul meant here his deliverance from prison or if he was talking about his final deliverance in being brought to heaven. It seems most likely that he’s referring to his release from prison. But what is more important is recognizing how this will happen. It is through the prayers of fellow believers that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to give him the help and support he needed. Jesus who rules all things takes into account the prayers of His people as he governs the universe! We can rejoice in that!
“I eagerly expect” – literally, the Greek word is rather picturesque, it means suspensefully looking away from everything else and at something with an outstretched head– and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted – literally “enlarged” or “magnified”- in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Here is Paul’s key to life. Paul’s number one goal that he eagerly expected and hoped for was that in his own body- by his life or death- he might exalt Christ. To him that didn’t matter if that happened by his going on living, continuing to spread the gospel, or by his death as a martyr- dying for the name of Jesus. Either way, his joyful goal in everything was exalting Christ his Savior.
God has given us the example of His apostle Paul for our learning. God had Paul’s example recorded in Scripture so that we might learn from it. When people saw or heard about the apostle Paul they had to wonder: “What’s his secret? What keeps Him going? How can he be joyful all the time?” When people look at you and me, would they ask those same questions? Do our lives reflect the fact that we are different? Do our attitudes and actions in good times and in bad make it clear to others that we as Christians ARE different than this unbelieving world?
What’s our approach to life? Is our joy connected with whether or not we are achieving our personal goals or with how God is spreading His word? When people look at us and our lives, our words, our actions, our attitudes is it clear that we know something that gives us everlasting joy? Would someone ask you: why don’t you fill your mouth with harmful and hurtful language? Why don’t you harbor anger, jealousy, and envy? Why aren’t you down and depressed with all the garbage going on in the world? Or do our lives look as if we’ve never heard about Christ? Do we share the care, kindness, compassion of Christ with all whom we meet or just those whom we want to? “For to me, to live is Christ.” What about our approach to death? Would we rather our text say, “For me, to live is good and to live a little longer is gain?” Our world is embarrassed of death, it doesn’t like to hear about death, most deaths occur in some small out-of-the-way hospital room, then the body is hurried off to the morgue and either promptly cremated or an embalmer sets off to make the dead body as life-like as possible. Death is considered by many the thing to be avoided at all costs. Is that the way we feel too? Are we ready to leave all behind for the sake of Christ? Do we view our death – whenever the Lord should determine it- as a gain?
Paul’s goal in life was to exalt Christ whether it be through his life or through his death. How could he have such a view point toward life and death? He knew the secret. And you know what? You do to! The secret is knowing Jesus. The secret to a joyful life is focusing not on yourself but on someone else. It’s knowing Christ- who he is and what he has done. You know, it’s not a coincidence that in these 4 verses there is a word that is repeated 4 times: Christ. Knowing Jesus means knowing true joy. Why? Who is Jesus? He is the one who saw you and me, helpless, pathetic, miserable sinners condemned to eternal death in hell and although he already had everything and couldn’t possibly have anything more, chose to come into our earth as a little baby, live in this world for you and me, suffer and die on a cross, take upon Himself the full weight of the world’s sins, pay for them in full, win the forgiveness of sins and then rise from the dead to show you and me that the victory really is won – our sins paid, heaven’s doors are open! And all of that he gives to you and me as a free gift! Now he rules all things in your life in order to bring you there! That’s the truth that will never perish, spoil or fade, no one can take those truths away from you, they are yours by faith. That’s your source of joy in anything. Knowing that gives joy no matter what!
That gives you joy in life. Your life isn’t an opportunity to satisfy personal goals or to make the most out of life before you die. Your life is an opportunity to know more about the love of your Savior. Your life is an opportunity to serve Christ in everything you do. You get to reflect the faithfulness and care of Christ as you go to work each day and deal with coworkers. You get to be a picture of Christ as you parent your children. You get to imitate Christ’s love in your marriage. You get to mirror Christ as you stand in line in the grocery store. “For me to live is Christ.” “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Talk about meaning in life! Talk about purpose in life! Talk about joy in living! Your whole life in all you do is an opportunity to exalt your Lord and Savior!
That joy doesn’t disappear when you’re lying on your death bed either. It was Paul’s goal to glorify Christ with his life AND with his death. For the Christian, the promises of God don’t disappear in the face of death. All this world has to offer has to finally come to an end at death. Like the man who had terminal illness and offered the doctor millions of dollars for a cure and the doctor told him, “You don’t understand, there’s nothing I can do, you’re going to die.” However, the promises of God get even more sweeter as we get closer to our earthly life’s end. For a Christian, whenever God should determine it, death is a gain. You see, because Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead, he changed what death means for you. Death is not the end for you, death is the doorway to heaven. Death means you get to be free from temptations, trials, troubles, turmoil, of this sinful world, death means you get to be with Jesus, it means you get to go to heaven, death means you get to enjoy eternal riches, heavenly riches, death means you get to experience eternal joys that have no end! Yes, you can say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
So, what’s your secret to life? How do you do it? How do you handle life calmly, contentedly, peacefully, joyfully no matter what the circumstances? How? Because you know Jesus. And there is always joy in store with Jesus, in life and in death. Amen.