Whether We Live Or We Die
September 28, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
That Christ Be Worshipped!
1. "What is the purpose of your life? Ultimately, what are you living for and wanting out of life?" If you were dead serious and asked someone [that] straight to their face, they would probably look puzzled, or might even make a face that says, "Leave me alone about my life!" This is a good example of an unwelcome question. If you have questions for them like "What is your dream of the future?," or "What is the goal for today?," then they may be glad to give you an answer. But when the topic is "What is the purpose of a person's life?," or "On ultimate things," then it gets awkward. Why is that? It's because we will have to think it all the way through to the end. Then there will always be that problem we cannot look passed. We'll have to confront the fact that our lives will inevitably end with death. So, we usually just put that question on hold. We make it a rule not to think about it.
2. But eventually, sometime, somewhere, everybody will have to come face to face with this question. Even if no one else ever asks us, we will have to ask it ourselves. There will be a time, perhaps during [one of] many different hardships, during a trial, or while locked up in frustration, when we will not be able to avoid asking ourselves "the meaning of life," namely, "What in the world am I living for?" Or there may be a time, during an illness, or an injury, or some crisis situation, or during some situation when a person is facing his or her death, when a person will have to ask oneself, "What am I living for? For what purpose am I alive?" Whatever the case may be, sooner or later, that hour will surely be here [for each of us].
3. Well, today we read from The Epistle To The Philippian Disciples, and [we] can make the case that even the man named Paul who wrote it was put into a situation in which he could not help but ask himself the meaning of life and death. I say that because, just as it says in today's passage of scripture, Paul was in prison [on death row] at the time. When we read this epistle, we see that Paul is clearly resigned to [his] death. In fact, it is highly probable that he is about to be executed. Thus, he was forced to stand between life and death. [Probably] worse still [for him], while Paul was in jail, those against Paul were going around with all their might and did things to destroy the fruit of Paul's labors. Yet, supposing they could have taken everything [Paul] had done so far and turned it into nothing, they would still, no matter what, have to come to terms with the meaning of their own lives and face that question.
4. But there was Paul taking his stand at such a place, and actually, Paul already had a sure answer. Indeed, it may be more accurately said as he said it, "I have already always lived with that answer." He did not have to ask himself about it for a long time [because he had settled it long ago]. What was the answer that Paul had? It is recorded in verse twenty as follows. "And, not ashamed on account of anything whatsoever, now as always, whether I live or I die, I earnestly ask and hope that Christ be worshipped publicly through my body," (verse twenty).
5. What was he living for and seeking for? Whether he was alive or whether he was dead, what was the one thing that he was asking for? Where was the purpose of his life found? "That Christ be worshipped!" That's what he said. The phrase translated as "to be worshipped" originally means "to be made bigger, greater." He was seeking that Christ be magnified more and more.
6. Usually when we use such terminology, people, generally speaking, mean that they are living and seeking that "I myself become bigger and greater." That I myself become great in my own heart. And that I myself become great in the hearts of others, and that I have a high standing among them. I think we're living for and seeking for that quite hard. Even when we do good things, it's like that too many times. We are seeking for ourselves to become great. This truth may become obvious looking at it from the reverse, when what we do isn't valued by anyone, when it is not recognized. When that happens, will we keep on doing, still persistently and hard at it, what we're doing? When [you're] made a fool of or made fun of, when [you] see that [you] will never have a high standing in other peoples' hearts, will [you] be able to keep doing the same thing? No, you won't be able to. In this manner then, people live seeking that they become great.
7. However, on the one hand, while we're always wanting to be great, on the other hand, there is the real world where we cannot avoid coming face to face with our own puniness. Along the way in life, any number of times, people will come face to face with their smallness. Also, when [we] must inevitably admit that our own lives will end in death, we'll have to take a good look at our smallness and fleeting natures. As the text actually says in the Bible, humankind was taken from the ground and will go back to the dust of the earth. God said it to Adam like this, "You will obtain bread by sweating on your face, until you will return to the ground. You, who are no more than the dust, will return to the dust," (Genesis 3:19). With that reality before us, the life that persistently makes itself great will, on the ultimate level, lose its meaning. Indeed, even if we don't speak in regard to "the ultimate level," as a person steps closer and closer towards death, as a person gets close to the end of life, he or she will lose meaning surely more and more and faster and faster.
8. And here is a man who is at the point of death but still has not lost the meaning of [his] life. At that point Paul still states "Whether I live or I die." He still knows at that point what he is supposed to be living for. "That Christ be worshipped!" He knows the one who is truly worthy to be worshipped. He knows the one who is truly great. Since he knows the one who is truly great, that it's not himself, it is not an issue at all that he is small, that he is approaching [his] end. He can live with hope until the very end. His having been able to live with a purpose until the very end says that.
Now As Always
9. So the message today that we will need to keep in mind somehow is the phrase, "now as always." Paul had so far been running all over everywhere and preaching the word. He had led people to salvation, built up churches, coached pastoral leaders, and served folks in visible forms. Unarguably, he had been useful to people by many different visible works. That was the "as always, or, from the time up to this point so far" [part] of Paul. But, it is different "now." Paul has been arrested and is in jail. He cannot go around everywhere like [he has done] so far until now. Quite the opposite, the brothers and the sisters of several churches were ministering [to Paul] in various forms in order to meet his needs while jailed. Unless he received material assistance from others, he could not make it. That's how it is [for him] "now." It is a "now" where there will never again be room to even think about what could be accomplished [by him] at a later time.
10. When you think about it, like he had, we've got in our lives as well a "so far up to this point" and a "now." If you have a time when you're actively going at it and working, you'll also have a time when you're unable to be active because you're bound up and constricted by something. If you have a time when you've obviously been useful to people and admired, you'll also have a time when you're unable to contribute anything to people in a visible form. If you have a time when you carry the heavy burdens of others wholeheartedly, you'll also have a time when it does turn into the heavy burden of others. You'll have a time when you won't be able to stay up under [the loads]. However, not just "as always, or, from the time up to this point so far" but also "now" Paul is earnestly hoping "May Christ be publicly worshipped through my own body!" He is hoping that "Even in his dying, may Christ be publicly worshipped through my own body" as well as by his living.
11. So then, the phrase "through my body" has great significance. He does not write "through my work." Our "work" is only a small fraction of what the word "body" stands for. Those who think work is everything are unfortunate because as long as one thinks that work is everything one cannot make the claim [like Paul] "now as always, or, from the time up to this point so far and even now."
12. [Listen] everyone, in the life where one seeks for Christ to be worshipped, what will have meaning at the very end is not that person's "work." It will be how great a presence is Christ to that person. How great will what Christ has accomplished for that person be to that person? How great will the cross of Christ be [to that person]? It will be that. It is impossible that Christ will ever be worshipped through a person's body when that individual doesn't even worship Christ himself or herself. If Christ is a trivial being to that person, then it is impossible that Christ will be manifested as a great presence through his or her body. When other things are more important to a person than Christ, it is hardly likely that [the fact that] Christ is truly a great presence will be revealed by that person's body. Christ was everything to Paul. Paul says it like this in verse twenty-one, "For me, to live is Christ."
13. People can show forth the glory of Christ by moving themselves and what they can do. But, even when they are arrested they can show forth the glory of Christ. In a sick bed unable to move, they can show forth the glory of Christ. If they can show forth the glory of Christ with a healthy body, then they can also show forth the glory of Christ amid different disabilities. Just as one can show forth the glory of Christ while in one's youth, one can show forth the glory of Christ while old. It is when Christ is a great presence for someone. When Christ is a great presence, to the degree that one says, "For me, to live is Christ," then that person can show forth the glory of Christ even through his or her death. In fact, at death, there are not a few persons who have left the world showing forth the greatness of Christ and carving Christ into the hearts of others. That's right; beginning with Paul, Christ has been communicated by these kind of persons.
14. "For me, to live is Christ," said Paul. Well, is that the truth for us, too? Or rather is "For me, to live is me" [the truth]? If it is "For me, to live is me," then the words of "To die is gain" will of course not come next [for you either]. [That's] because when it is "For me, to live is me," then to die will only be absolute loss. One's entire life is but a journey heading for loss. However, if it is "For me, to live is Christ," then death is not loss, it turns into gain. [That's] because you will be with Christ forever, the Christ whom you have worshipped, adored, and yearned for. "Meanwhile, I long to be with Christ and leave this world; I want him so much more," (verse twenty-three). Paul said that, as he was longing for [Christ].
15. "To live is Christ, to die is gain." We are led by the Lord to come to the point of being able to add, like Paul, "For me" at the front of those words. It was for that purpose that through the cross of Christ our sins were forgiven and we became persons who live anew. Do [we] have a person now who has been put into [one of] the many various constricting situations, like Paul in jail? Do [we] have a person who feels his or her own smallness and fleeting nature? Let's turn [our] thoughts to Christ! Let's have [Christ] show us how to learn as people who discover more and more! Let's seek for Christ to become a great great presence to us! And shall [we] not live seeking for Christ to be worshipped through [our] bodies, now as always, whether [we] live or whether [we] die!?