What is the Meaning of Philippians 1.18-21

“Rejoicing in the Face of Death”

Philippians 1:18b-21

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Philippians 1.18-21

Thomas Cranmer was a 16th century Reformer. He would unfortunately get involved in politics. In 1529, King Henry VIII happened to visit a neighborhood Cranmer was in and the two spoke. Henry was trying to figure out how to divorce his wife Catherine, and he was impressed with Cranmer’s reasoning, and had Cranmer write it down. He then made Cranmer one of his European ambassadors.

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Even though he had taken priestly vows of celibacy, he married his wife Margaret in 1532, but kept his marriage a secret for years because of politics.

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Later that same year, he became the new Archbishop of Canterbury and immediately declared the King’s marriage to Catherine void and validated his marriage to his new wife Anne Boleyn.

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The reason he could do this in good conscience was that he believed in an absolute monarchy. This was God’s chosen man, he believed, to lead the nation and the church. Cranmer often supported religious policies that he personally disapproved of.

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He would later invalidate the king’s second marriage and validated his third marriage to Anne of Cleves. And again voided it six months later!

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But he was instrumental in the Protestant church in England. Under Edward VI, Cranmer began to make the Church of England Protestant, not Catholic. He wrote the Book of Homilies and the Book of Common Prayer both of which were instrumental in making England more Protestant and less Catholic.

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But Queen Mary I [aka Bloody Mary], a devout Catholic arose to the throne, and reintroduced heresy laws. And so Cranmer was charged with treason and put in prison in November 1553.

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He spent two years in prison and under a humiliating trial, he was stripped of his offices and was commanded to be burned at the stake. He seems to obey man rather than God when he then decides to submit to Catholic teaching and reject the Reformation.

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He signed a document stating… “I confess and believe in one, holy, catholic visible church; I recognize as its supreme head upon earth the bishop of Rome, pope and vicar of Christ, to whom all the faithful are bound subject.”

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But they did not receive his recantation and ordered him to be burned at the stake anyway.

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In the excellent book, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, the authors write…

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On the day of his execution, Cranmer was led into a church, and when it was his turn to speak, he drew out a piece of paper and began to read. He thanked the people for their prayers and then said, “I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that I ever said or did in my life.” Referring to the recantations he had signed, he blurted out, “All such bills which I have written or signed with my own hand [are] untrue.”

Loud murmurs sped through the congregation, but Cranmer continued, “And as for the pope, I refuse him as Christ’s enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine. And as for the sacrament—”

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Cranmer was immediately dragged from the stage and out to the stake. The fire was kindled and quickly the flame leapt up. Cranmer stretched out his right arm and hand into the flame and held it there as he said, “This hand hath offended.” … He then prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”

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He faced persecution and was almost ashamed, but in the end stood up for Christ. He seemed to falter, but in the end clung to Christ and the Scripture. Cranmer could know, having persevered to the end, that he would be seen as righteous before God in this situation and that his persecutors would be condemned; Cranmer did the right thing and he would be shown to be right before God because of it.

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Perhaps as Cranmer sat in jail, other were praying for him to stand his ground for the truth of God’s word and the Holy Spirit was working in his heart. If true, then he would have desired boldness and that Christ would be exalted in his body whether by life or death.

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And that’s exactly the stance the apostle Paul has in our passage.

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Philippians 1:18–21 18 …Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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Like Thomas Cranmer, Paul was in jail. He’s been persecuted. And we studied in a previous message that even brothers in Christ are preaching Christ out of envy and strife and even seeking to harm Paul while he’s in prison. But Paul is rejoicing because he himself knows that will persevere in the faith and he knows he’ll be found to be in the right. The Romans were wrong for imprisoning him; the other brethren are wrong for seeing him as a washed up, sinful missionary.

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But Paul is joyful. “Yes, I will rejoice.” Paul knows that because he has done the right thing, that he will be shown to be right before God in the end. He knows this because he has it in his heart to exalt Christ at all times, whether in life or death … to live is Christ, death is gain.

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Proposition: You too can rejoice in difficult times if you have this in your heart: to live is Christ, death is gain.

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That means you can’t quit on God; you have to keep on trusting in Christ; you can’t forsake Christ. Paul had to keep going too. What if Paul quit on Christ during the trial?…and he said, “Ah, forget it; I’m going back to Judaism.” Paul would not be shown to be in the right; his detractors who said he was all washed up … why, they would have been right!

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Your righteous standing before God demands that you keep on serving Christ. And to keep on serving Christ no matter what is going to take this mindset: to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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Thomas Cranmer almost faltered; in his time of trial, he didn’t seem to have that mindset, although he did great things for God. But he died with that mindset: to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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  1. Paul rejoices because he knows that his trouble will result in his vindication before God. (v.19a)

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    Paul is rejoicing because he knows that his trouble will result in his vindication before God; he knows he’ll be shown to be in the right even though he’s in prison.

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    He says, “for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance.” He’s confident that he’ll be acquited of this in the heavenly court, as it were.

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    EXP: Now, there is much debate concerning what he means by his deliverance. “I know that this will turn out for my deliverance.” Deliverance from what? Does he mean his deliverance from prison? It’s literally the word salvation. That word salvation can be translated either salvation or deliverance. Salvation is deliverance … from sin.

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    But is Paul talking about that here? I argue that Paul is talking about his divine deliverance from false accusation. In other words, his deliverance in the sense of his being acquitted of wrong doing before God, not man. Paul is talking about his being shown to be in the right about all this; his vindication.

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    Paul is saying, “Look, I know that this situation I’m in right now … where I’m in prison and there are the brethren who are preaching Christ out of envy and strife seeking to do me harm … The situation that I’m in right now itself will actually turn out for my deliverance. It will turn out that I’m not in the wrong here; I’m in the right! I’ve not done anything wrong!”

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    It can’t be talking about being delivered from prison, like how I used to take it … because first of all … he says, “this will turn out for my deliverance.” And by “this” he is referring to his difficulty that he is in. How will his imprisonment turnout for his deliverance from prison? That doesn’t make much sense.

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    Second, it can be talking about deliverance from prison because of the phrase in verse 20 … “earnest expectation and hope” … this language is almost exclusively used for salvation or for final redemption when all of creation stands redeemed, as in Romans 8:19-22. Paul has his eye than on his standing before God.

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    But third and perhaps most important is this: the phrase “this will turn out for my deliverance” is a direct quotation of Job 13:16. The context of that verse shows that Job was concerned about being in the right before God. Because Paul quotes Job 13:16, Paul also therefore, in this passage is concerned with his being shown to be right.

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    Most times, the NASB puts direct OT quotes in all capitals so that you know it’s a direct quotation. They didn’t hear, for what reason I don’t know … they don’t have it even as a cross reference. But anyway, I’d like us to turn back there to Job 13:16.

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    You remember the story of Job. The beginning of the book of Job says that Job is blameless and upright, he fears God and he turns away from evil. God says that there is no one like Job on the earth. Then one day Satan presents himself before the Lord and the Lord asks Satan, “have you considered my servant Job? … to tempt and test him, is the idea.

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    So Satan takes him up on the challenge. And eventually, all of Job’s children are killed and all his property is destroyed. And Job’s wife even says, “Curse God and die.”

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    Job’s 3 friends come to be a help to him and the majority of the book is taken up with their counsel to him. And it is lousy counsel. They basically are saying that Job has sinned against God and that is why these bad things have happened to him.

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    But Job maintains his innocence.

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    He calls his friends’ counsel “proverbs of ashes” in Job 13:12. He then goes on to declare that he hasn’t sinned so as to deserve this kind of punishment.

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    Job 13:15 he says … “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.” He’d argue that he hasn’t done anything to deserve this …

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    Verse 16 is our line … “This also will be my salvation, [that’s a direct quote from the Greek translation in Philippians 1:19 … This also will be my salvation, deliverance] for a godless man may not come before His presence. 17 “Listen carefully to my speech, And let my declaration fill your ears. 18 “Behold now, I have prepared my case; I know that I will be vindicated” or shown to be righteous in this case.

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    Clearly, Job’s concern is that he be shown to be in the right before God; that indeed he didn’t do anything wrong. And to demonstrate that Job says in verse 15, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; I’ll defend myself to his face … and this is will be my deliverance, for what godless person would dare come before him and argue his own case before him?”

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    In other words, Job will be delivered from any charge of wrong doing; he knows in his own mind that he’ll be acquitted… for what godless person would dare bring God to court and think that they’ll actually win? Job believes he’s innocent…

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    And Job’s mindset confirms this: “even if he were to slay me, I will hope in Him.” What a trust in God!

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    Job was concerned that he be shown to be right before God; that his supposed friends wouldn’t be right that he himself has sinned and that’s why all this trouble has come upon him.

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    And so just as Job used the phrase in verse 16 “this will turn out for my deliverance” to show his innocence in this case, so also Paul uses it in Phil. 1:19 to show his own innocence.

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    Back to Philippians 1.

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    Paul is rejoicing in spite of all the trouble he’s in … from being in prison in Rome to the envious brethren who are preaching Christ to hurt Paul … he’s rejoicing because verse 19 he knows that in the end this will all turn out for his deliverance; he’ll be shown to be in the right, delivered from any charge of wrong doing… he’s not an all washed up missionary who’s sinned against God in some way and so that’s why he’s in jail … not at all, he’s done nothing wrong in this case.

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    APP: Paul’s difficult trial will prove his righteous character. Broadly speaking, that happens to Christians today. Though we might not be in a situation where we’ve been wrongly accused like Paul or Job, our difficult trials show our character. Problems are a good thing in the Christian life; problems progress the Christian life … this is good … problems make us like Christ, and show what’s truly in there. You need them!

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    TRANS: But when you’re in a trial like that you can’t go it alone and in your own strength, you need God and other Christians. And that’s true for Paul too.

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  2. Paul’s vindication will be accomplished through (1 their prayers and (2 the Holy Spirit. (v.19b)

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Philippians 1:19 19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

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For Paul to be shown to be in the right on judgment day is going to take: prayers of Christians and the Holy Spirit.

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Because what could happen is Paul could falter, like Thomas Cranmer. Paul could shame himself and God and deny Christ. Paul knew that it was going to take perseverance for him to be shown to be right in this case. And perseverance …. to keep on following Christ despite persecution would take the prayers of God’s people and the Holy Spirit.

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Now, Paul wasn’t concerned about his salvation or that he would could lose his salvation. Not at all, because Paul had just said in Phil. 1:6

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Philippians 1:6 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

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Paul knew, as well as anybody, that God had begun a good work in Paul. And that God would keep him by His own power, as 1 Peter 1:5 says.

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But the point is that Paul nevertheless had to persevere. He had to follow hard after Christ and keep on trusting in him “though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Anything less, would show where his heart really was.

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APP: We need each other! As followers of Christ, we help each other persevere, to keep going in the faith. If you have sin issues in your life, you let someone know to help you through that. If you have doubts about God and His word, you let someone know to help you through that. We encourage one another and we pray … pray for one another. I don’t want to see your kids leave the faith; neither you mine … let’s pray for each other that we might be a people who can say together, “though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

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APP: And like Paul, we need the Holy Spirit! Without the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we are without comfort! We are without His power in us working in us to help us troublesome times … how we always need a greater provision of the power of the Holy Spirit. This will require prayer and fellowship with the Lord.

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TRANS: But it’s not like Paul is worried about whether or not he’ll forsake the faith…far from it, he has full confidence that he won’t forsake the faith in his time of persecution and that he will continue magnifying Christ in his body.

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  1. Paul’s vindication is in keeping with Paul’s confidence that he will persevere (vv.20-21)

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    Paul can say…

Philippians 1:20–21 20 [This is according] to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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Paul knows that this time of persecution from unbelievers and ill treatment from envious brethren will turn out that when Paul enters the heavenly court, he will be cleared, vindicated, and shown to be in the right before God in this situation. Paul knows that this will happen through the prayers of God’s people and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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And the reason he needs prayer and the Spirit is because he needs to persevere in the faith while under persecution. He doesn’t want to forsake Christ; he wants to be strong….and he has every reason to think he’ll do that…he says verse 20…

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“this is my earnest expectation and hope” He means he’s totally assured of this … what about Paul? … “that I will not be put to shame in anything…” What do you mean Paul?

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He means that he has every confidence that he won’t deny Christ. As John writes … in…

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1 John 2:28 28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.

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Paul doesn’t want to shrink away from Christ now or at His coming; Paul wants to stand firm, to be a witness, to be fearless in the face of death.

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He wants all boldness in the face of persecution … He wants boldness to exalt Christ even if he faces death. This is the way it’s always been for Paul. He can say he wants all boldness that Christ will even now as always be exalted in my body, whether by life or death.

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This is Paul’s way of life; it has been up to this point and it always will be. What you are before the trial will always come out during the trial.

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APP: That’s why you better prepare now for trials to come. Are you ready to handle difficulties that will come? Are you working toward that mindset, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him?” Are you seeking that in no matter what circumstance, in health or in sickness, in plenty or in want, in good times or bad, when things are going your way or aren’t, that you magnify him, that you exalt him?

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That word, verse 20, exalted can be translated to magnify, or to make big.

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ILL: Does Christ need to be magnified? After all, how can a mere human being ever magnify the Son of God? Well, You say, “it doesn’t seem to me Christ needs to be magnified; how could He get any bigger?” One commentator points out, “the stars are much bigger than the telescope, and yet the telescope magnifies them and brings them closer. The believer’s body is to be a telescope that brings Jesus Christ close to people. To the average person, Christ is a misty figure in history who lived centuries ago. But as the unsaved watch the believer go through a crisis, they can see Jesus magnified and brought so much closer. To the Christian with the single mind, Christ is with us here and now.

The telescope brings distant things closer, and the microscope makes tiny things look big. To the unbeliever, Jesus is not very big. Other people and other things are far more important. But as the unbeliever watches the Christian go through a crisis experience, he ought to be able to see how big Jesus Christ really is. The believer’s body is a “lens” that makes a “little Christ” look very big, and a “distant Christ” come very close. [1]

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And so magnify Christ to the unbelieving word with your life and words.

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APP: Now, you might not think that you’re even able to do that. Well, have you put a simple faith in Christ? Have you turned from your sin and called upon the name of the Lord to be saved? Does your life give evidence of a work of God in your heart?

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You say, “Sure, but what could I ever do for God? I’m not persecuted like Paul.” How could Christ be magnified in my body. But you can still make Jesus Christ big in the eyes of others…how? By getting more of Him in your heart everyday; more of His word more of His Spirit. And from there, your mind can magnify His love for you; your hands can be used to type encouraging messages, your feet could be swift to do good to others; your voice can magnify Him as you give testimony to Him, pray, or sing…your ears as you listen to God’s word or listen to another believer’s deepest needs.

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To live Christ die gain

Now Paul give us his own mantra, just as Job did, literally verse 21 … “For to me, to live: Christ and to die: gain.”

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Paul knew that for him, from his perspective living is Christ. Christ is life and there are no other details. Christ is everything. In all things, Christ.

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Christ is the goal when eat, drink, sleep, or work. That he’d be magnified when I speak or when I listen. That whatsoever I would do that I would do all to the glory of God.

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Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

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TRANS: and because Paul had this perspective, he could say that “death is gain.”

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How often the world thinks of death as a loss! But for the Christian, it’s the gateway to glory. Dying is gain!

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And Paul knew of the glories to follow. He says in 2 Co. 12 that he was on one occasion caught up to the third heaven, into paradise itself and heard words that a man is not permitted to speak. He knew what it was that was waiting for him.

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1 John 3:2 2 …We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

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There is glory that awaits us, where there is no crying, tears or pain … it is all gain!

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APP: And so there are worst things than death. Far worse. For the Christian, that’s like the world saying, “There are worst things than being financially secure, a great family, and lots of stuff.” There are worse things in life than that.

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Today on the streets you may pass by and talk to people who are in the world and who have different perspectives on their life. The professor may say, “to me to live is knowledge” … the actor or actress, or professional sports player may say, “to me to live is fame” or the businessman might say, “to me to live his wealth” … and the mom might say, “to me to live is peace and quiet.” …

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What about for you? If you listened closely to the world you’d hear others, “to me to live is to fornicate and accumulate” or to work, travel, play video games … If this is your lot than at death is your loss! Because you take nothing of that with you.

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What or who has deceived you to live for this life?

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Philippians 1.18-21

[2]We sing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” at our baptisms. The story behind that hymn goes back to a “head-hunter” tribe due to their custom of collecting human heads and hanging them on their walls. In his book Why, God, Why?, Dr. P. Job reports that 150 years ago a Welsh missionary lead a man, his wife, and his children from that very tribe to Christ.

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The village chief demands that the man renounce his faith in Christ, but he spontaneously sang the now-famous words, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”

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Reportedly, the chief then orders his archers to kill the man’s two children, threatening to kill his wife as well; but the man sang, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” The archers shot his wife, but still the man refused to deny Christ, and he was executed while singing: “The cross before me, the world behind me.” Allegedly, the chief was so moved that he declared, “I too belong to Jesus Christ!” and the entire village converted.

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Christ, Christ, CHRIST! He is everything to me while I live; and it will be glory for me in heaven with Him. For He has died for me and His resurrection was for me too.

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Let’s sing that.

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.

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The world behind me, the cross before me;

The world behind me, the cross before me;

The world behind me, the cross before me;

No turning back, no turning back.

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Though none go with me, still I will follow;

Though none go with me, still I will follow;

Though none go with me, still I will follow;

No turning back, no turning back.

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Number 561.

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Go to BibleTrove.com Home Page from What is the Meaning of Philippians 1.18-21

Go to New Testament Books Page

Go to Philippians Main Page

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  1. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 69.

  2. http://www.ccel.org/newsletter/6/10

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