The heavens scream out and tell us of God’s surpassing worth (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). God’s glory is beyond our comprehension. For example, do you know how far away the closest star is (besides the sun)? It is approximately 4 light-years away. A light-year is the length that light travels in one year. Light travels 186,000 miles per second and there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year. A light year is really far. One light year is almost 6 trillion (6,000,000,000,000) miles! So, it takes four years for the light from the closest star to get to us.
The universe is also vast beyond comprehension. Hugh Ross said, “Somewhere around 50 billion trillion stars make their home in the observable universe.” That is impossible to conceive. “A comparison may make it more comprehensible: if that same number of dimes were packed together as densely as possible and piled 1,500 feet high (as high as some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers), they would cover the entire North American continent.”
Jesus knew no sin, yet He became sin for us. We see the idea of someone bearing sin in the place of others attested to in both the OT and NT (cf. Lev. 10:17; 16:21-22; Is. 53:6, 11-12; Jn. 1:29). Jesus is the Lamb without blemish that takes away our sin by dying in our place but He also rises; priest and lamb are not His only office. Jesus is also the coming King who reigns eternally. Consequently, union with Christ as our corporate head not only brings appeasement from wrath but entrance back into the true Promised Land. So, the gospel is the good news of the Kingdom through the cross.
Hughes says of 2 Cor. 5:21 that “there is no sentence more profound in the whole of Scripture.” It is profound, amazing, and unexpected because although Jesus knew no sin He is treated as sin personified. What is further remarkable is that while “Christ alone in actuality suffered the penalty for sin, all are regarded as though they had suffered it themselves.” Read More…
The doctrine of union with Christ is all throughout the Pauline corpus but 2 Cor. 5:16-21 seems to be the most explicit of Paul’s earlier letters. Christ is the operative word in our passage. Everything happens in and through Him. So, it seems good to ask: “How can being ‘in Christ’ have the effect that it has?” However, as we will see the answer to that question is: “How could being ‘in Christ’ not have cosmic significance?!”
Christ’s work and resurrection propels on this world new creation (cf. Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18), it is the inevitable avalanche that will eventually encompass the whole earth (Ps. 72:19; Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14) and those in Christ will be swallowed up in the effulgence of its glory, there to bask in eternal joy. Christ’s resurrection is the dawn, the first light, but soon the full splendor of the sun.
We will first see how union with Christ is foreshadowed in the OT which will help us substantially to understand the full significance, indeed the cosmic significance, of being “in Christ.” Then we will see that 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 teaches us that union with Christ is the means by which reconciliation—cosmic, corporate, and individual—happens. Read More…
When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.
However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering.
Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.
Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.
So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not it. We thankfully are not left there. We also see…
God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering. God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.
First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.
Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.” Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!
Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.
God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.
So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!
Actually, even now we have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).
Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Read More…
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Do you know what a “honey do list” is? Have you every seen one of those? I still have flashbacks when I think of the list that Leah gave me when we bought our first house. Scary stuff, it’s like you can’t win. I mean if you do them, well you have to do them so you don’t win, and if you don’t do them you certainly don’t win…
What is a “honey do list”? It is a checklist of expectations. My wife, Leah, gave me a list and expected me to get everything done on that list. I am glad my wife is understanding, and the list wasn’t very long. That being said, there was stuff I had to get done within a few days of buying our house.
Well, today, in celebration of Christmas, we are looking at a “honey dew list” of sorts. We are talking about expectations, about what was on the Jewish “honey do list” for the Messiah. We see from Scripture and history that the “honey do list” was not as small and understanding as my wife’s. They had a huge list. Different people had different lists but any list would be a hard list to check off, actually all but impossible, in less of course God were to act in an amazing way. Read More…
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul is seeking to bless and encourage the Philippian church. He has encouraged and wants his friends in Philippi to be bold (1:14), receive joy in the faith (v. 25), and live a life worthy of the gospel (v. 27).
So, how is Paul encouraging the Philippians (and us) in this passage (v. 18b-26)? Paul is showing the Philippians, and us, what is worth living for. Paul gives himself as a prime example.
So, what is worth living for? I mean, what is ultimately worth living for? And, what do you live for?
Let’s look at Philippians 1:18b-20 and see what we should live for:
“Yes, and I will rejoice [because Christ is proclaimed],  for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this [the present situation] will turn out for my deliverance,  as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
What is Paul saying here? Paul is saying that he rejoices in the midst of the struggles and trials of life because he expects to magnify Christ through them. So, we see we too must…
Magnify Christ in all of life (v. 18b-20)
First, it is important that we ask, “What was Paul going through? What was the situation he was facing and how did he magnify, honor, glorify God in the midst of it?”
Paul was in prison (1:7, 13) and it seems since he was in prison the question of death was on the table (v. 21, 23). Since Paul was in prison he must have had many physical concerns. Paul was suffering. His situation was not easy. Paul acknowledges that he needs help. He knew he needed the Philippian’s prayers and “the help of the Spirit” (v. 19). Paul knew he would need to “not be ashamed,” he knew he would need to have “full courage.” Paul was aware of the difficulties that awaited him but he was very sure that he would be able to be faithful (v. 20).
Paul believed the truth of Matthew 10:
“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved… And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell… So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:22, 28, 32-33).
What Paul did
Even in suffering, Paul’s concern was not his own welfare. Paul cared about Christ being honored (v. 20) and the church receiving joy in the faith (v. 25). So, Paul boldly shared the gospel with the Roman guards and he encouraged others to also be bold. And Paul served and encouraged others. Actually, he wanted to depart and be with Christ, that’s what he wanted to do, but he said it is better, even “necessary” that he remain so he could be a means of joy and encouragement for his friends in Philippi. That’s why Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians in the first place. Paul modeled what it means to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (2:4).
“Paul’s deepest hopes for his own immediate future turn neither on the bliss of immediately gaining heaven’s portals nor on returning to a fulfilling ministry and escaping the pangs of death, but on what is best for his converts. Often we are tempted to evaluate alternatives by thinking through what seems best for us. How often do we raise as a first principle what is best for the church?”
So, what did Paul do? Paul sought to live his life—through thick and thin—to magnify and honor Christ and encourage the saints.
What about us?
We, like Paul, should seek to magnify Christ in all we do. Yet, this is very hard. How can we?
Let’s look at Philippians 1:21-26 and see how we can live for Christ:
“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 [between life and death] 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.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,  so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”
What is Paul saying here? Paul is saying that he rejoices in the midst of the struggles and trials of life because he is motivated by the majesty of Christ. So, we too must…
Be motivated by the majesty of Christ (v. 21-26)
If we are to be motivated it is important that we understand how. So, first, how was Paul motivated by the majesty of Christ?
Paul saw Christ as so awesome, so majestic, so worth it, that he would give up all for Him, live for Him, die for Him. Paul cared about Christ. Paul saw Christ’s glory in an amazing way and it radically changed him.
If Paul lived, who would he live for? Christ! Paul said, “If I am to live in the flesh that means fruitful labor for me” (v. 22). Paul said, “to live is Christ.” That’s what life was about for Paul. Paul even said that he wasn’t sure which he would choose, life or death? Paul said, he desired “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (v. 23). How is departing, dying, “far better”? Because he would get to be with Christ! Everything, for Paul, is about Christ (see also 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 14-15).
What is our motivation?
Our motivation is often success, beauty, fun, etc. But it should be Christ. He alone is worthy. Yet, it is so easy to get distracted. Of course, success, beauty, fun are not bad. But they are not ultimate. They can’t and won’t fulfill. We shouldn’t live for those things. Only Jesus is worthy.
“In the logic of the gospel, there are no alternatives to Christ. Every other option is no option at all. When everything considered valuable in life is seen to be nothing in comparison to the glory of Christ, you learn rather well that Christ alone is worth living for. Christ alone is worthy of an entire life’s affections and devotions.”
What does understanding the majesty of Christ lead to?
For John G. Paton, it meant to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Paton who was a missionary to the South Sea Islands (where Fiji water comes from) was told, “You will be eaten by Cannibals!” Paton responded:
“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
We must know, as Paul did, that “There is a greater day coming, a greater reward coming, a greater life coming, and the purpose of life while we are alive is to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, which hold the promise of life everlasting.” We will be more alive than we are now! We shall have life and peace beyond what we can imagine. We shall be at perfect peace with God and see Jesus!
Death is “far better” for us too!
Paul encouraged the Philippians (and us!) to live a life worthy of the gospel and in verses 18b-26 he gives us an inward look of how he hopes to live a worthy life: treasure Christ. Christ was Paul’s controlling core. Paul loved Christ and so he lived for Christ.
God is calling us to also love Christ with all we are and live for Him with all we have.
So, what do you live for? What motivating, explosive force, is at the core of your life? What propels you to do what you do?
And notice, if we get it wrong here, we will carry out all sorts of destructive actions.
What is at your core?
Can you say your life is motivated by the majesty of Christ? Can you truly say, “To live is Christ, to die is gain”?
A few questions
1. Paul said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” What do you think about that? Should you be able to say that as well?
2. What’s at the motivational core of your life?
3. How will you stay on track through the temptations and struggles of life?
4. Do you currently feel purpose in living for Jesus Christ?
5. How was Paul impacted by having Christ at his motivational core? How would you be impacted with Christ at the motivational core of your life?
6. What about Christ is so majestic and beautiful and awesome that makes Him worthy of first place in your heart and life?
7. How will you keep Christ at the motivational core of you life with all the other things that fight for that place?
8. Read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 14-15 and pray that you would be motivated to live for Christ because of the majesty of Christ.
 This is very hard for us to understand in our current society and situation. It “can only strike us as strange in the modern church if we have allowed the comforts of our present physical existence to usurp the place of Christ in our lives as our chief priority” (Frank Thielman, Philippians: The NIV Application Commentary, 83.
 Carson in Basics for Believers, 30.
 “In the context, ‘to live is Christ’ surely means that for Paul to keep on living here means ministry, Christ-centered ministry, Christ-empowered ministry, Christ’s presence in his ministry” (Carson, Basics for Believers, 29).
 Matt Chandler, To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain, 36.
 As quoted by Carson in Basics for Believers, 31.
 Matt Chandler, To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain, 37.
 I concur with what C.S. Lewis says in The Last Battle,
“We can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: NY: Harper Collins, 2002), 228).
I believe we, upon arrival to the new Eden, will exclaim with Lewis’ Unicorn: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it to now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia [“old creation”] is that it sometimes looked a little like this” (Ibid., 213).