Paul stated a colossal truth when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Most Christians who have been around the Bible for even a short time have heard it or seen it.
I remember as a teenager, when God got hold of me and several other young people at the church I grew up in, this verse took on a whole new meaning for me. Up until then I would say, “For to me, to live is sports. Or fun. Or girls. Or loud music. Or anything that annoys my parents.” But then God opened my heart to who Jesus is, and gave me what I had longed for and didn’t even realize it: a reason to live.
The joy I had in knowing what I was here for also gave me a desire to help my friends find their purpose in living for Christ. Five teens from our church started a Monday night visitation program. We would ask our friends at school on Monday if we could come to their house that night and tell them what had happened to us.
Mostly they said yes, and we would show up with a few guitars, greet these kids and their shocked parents, then sit down in the living room and start singing songs like, “Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation,” by Larry Norman. The chorus goes, “Sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation, And let your laughter fill the air, Sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation, Tell all the people everywhere. Sing that sweet song of salvation, to every man and every nation, sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation, And let the people know that Jesus cares.”
What can I say? It was the ’70s. The lyrics weren’t deep, but the message certainly was. We wanted our friends to know that Jesus cares, and that Jesus saves, and that the reason we live is Jesus, and our greatest joy is found in Him.
Paul surrounded the colossal truth in Philippians 1 that “life is Christ” with three other powerful truths. See if you can find the other two, but one truth is this: “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” He could say that because he knew that his body was not his own: he had been bought with a price.
Listen, dear readers. If we would honor Christ in our bodies, it has to start with this understanding: This body is not mine. I am not my own.
What are some things we tend to do if we think that we own our bodies? We eat too much, or not enough. Or we eat poorly. We sleep too much, or not enough. We exercise too little, or not at all. Or “too much?” Yes, that’s possible. Anything can become an idol if we think our body belongs to us.
If we believe we own our bodies, then we can put anything we want in front of our eyes, and we can let anything we want come out of our mouths. Sex with anyone at any time becomes an unquestioned right if we think we own our bodies. Sex is separated from marriage and from producing children, if we think we own our bodies. I could keep going, but you get the idea.
Jesus changes our minds about our bodies for our good and our great joy. “My body, my choice,” is blown away by the knowledge that Jesus made the choice to pay for your body and mine, with his blood.
That’s worth singing about.
Do you know what happened after Jim Elliott and four other missionaries were speared to death in Ecuador in 1956? Thousands of young people were emboldened to take the Gospel to the mission field. The suffering and the sacrifice of Christians around the world today should give us courage to put the Gospel first. It’s worth it!
Suppose you had told Elisabeth Elliot when she first met Jim in college that she would one day be a widow with a 10-month-old baby girl, and that she would go with her daughter to the tribe that killed her husband. She would struggle and suffer there, but God would lead that tribe to faith in Jesus. She would have another husband who would leave her a widow. She would become an author and have a radio broadcast and speak at conferences and thousands would come to know Jesus or love Him better because of her. She may have said to that, “I can go through those trials for that kind of fruit.” But Elisabeth Elliot didn’t know any of that when she married Jim, or when Jim was killed trying to take the Gospel to the Waodani people.
When we are in the middle of a trial, we don’t see the fruit that will come. But our job is to trust, to be joyful, and to remain faithful. Because this is the truth: God will give others confidence to trust Him more in their suffering when they see you trusting Him in yours. Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, he wrote to the Philippian church, had emboldened his fellow Christians, “to speak the word without fear.”
Francis Chan tells the story about a fellow pastor who was driving down the road and saw a driver in front of him accidentally swerve and hit a man on a bicycle in the bike lane beside him. The man on the bike was OK, but furious. He ran over to the car and opened the man’s door and started beating him! What would you do if you saw this, Chan asked, especially if the man he was beating was 75 years old? The pastor in the car behind him didn’t know what to do, but finally he jumped out and tried to pull the man off the old guy. The cyclist turned and started beating him, instead. The pastor asked himself, do I fight back? He did. He hit the cyclist and knocked him out cold.
The police showed up and asked the pastor what had happened. Pointing to the unconscious cyclist, the policeman asked, “How many times did you hit him?” The pastor said, “Honestly, just once.” “That’s what all the witnesses said, too,” the policeman replied.
When Chan told this story at church, everybody applauded. Then he said, “How many of you would have gotten out of the car to stop the assault, even if the man were bigger than you?” Most nodded or raised their hands. He said, “OK, so you would have the courage to intervene, to save this poor old man.” Then he said, “How many of you would go share the gospel with a 75-year-old man who is sitting alone in a restaurant, if you knew he was not a Christian?” No one nodded or raised his hand. Chan asked, “Why is it easier to be courageous in physical matters and not in spiritual matters? Could it be (because) speaking the Gospel is warfare?”
Hey, I dare you. Ask God to give you courage today to put the gospel first. Then get ready to speak when He opens an opportunity the same day. He will.
There’s a great story in Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Nora Ephron, the late screenwriter known best for her works that included the movies “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally,” said that what helped her the most in learning to capture the essence of a story was her high school journalism class. Charlie O. Simms started the first day of class explaining the concept of a “lead” for an article, that it covers the who, what, when, where, and why of the piece. Then he gave his students the facts of a story and asked them to come up with the lead. “Kenneth L. Peters, the principle of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.”
The students clacked away on their manual typewriters, trying to get all the information from the teacher. Then they pounded out leads in the next few minutes and handed them in. Each student tried his best to summarize the information for their lead. One wrote, “Margaret Meade, Maynard Hutchins, and Governor Brown will address the faculty on…” Another wrote, “Next Thursday, the high school faculty will…” Simms read each of the leads and said that they were all wrong. He said, “The lead to the story is, ‘There will be no school Thursday.’”
“In that instant, Ephron recalls, “I realized journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. It wasn’t enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it meant. And why it matters.” She added, “He taught me something that works just as well in life as it does in journalism.”
Now there is some news you can use, some truth you can hold up to the light. More important, there’s truth you can hold up to your life. Let’s face it: we can spend the rest of our days mastering the who, what, when and where of every detail of our lives, and never get to the why. McKeown uses the example from the Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crash of December 29, 1972, to illustrate. Over one hundred passengers were killed even though the investigators found that when the plane crashed it was in perfect working condition. What happened? “The Lockheed jet had been preparing to land when first officer Albert Stockstill noticed the landing gear indicator, a tiny green light that signals the nose gear is locked down, hadn’t lit up. Yet the nose gear was locked; the problem was the indicator light. While the officers hyper-focused on the gear indicator, however, they failed to notice that the autopilot had been deactivated until it was too late. In other words, the nose gear didn’t cause the disaster. The crew’s losing sight of the bigger problem – the altitude of the plane – did.”
When the women came to the tomb on that early Sunday morning many years ago, they clearly saw the who, what, when and where. Jesus was not there. The stone was rolled away, and the tomb was empty.
What’s the lead to that story, and indeed, to ours as well? “He is risen, as he said.” No knowledge in the universe is more powerful. No reason for your existence and mine is more satisfying. Jesus Christ is Lord, just as He said.
Why hammer away through the rest of your life trying to write any other ‘lead’?
Imagine this. A shyster comes through your neighborhood and talks an elderly widow into a new roof, collects $15,000 from her, blows town with her money, and she ends up with no new roof or a shoddy job. What are two things he needs to accomplish his deed? His guile and her gullibility. Imagine this. You read an email from a stranger who is supposedly in Nigeria and has 2 million dollars he wants to give you. All he needs is your bank account information, and he will make the deposit. What two things does he need to accomplish this deed? His guile and your gullibility. He plays on your greed, your desire to take shortcuts.
Paul wrote “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” It is clear from Scripture that “human cunning” works best on children, and on gullible and immature believers who have not grown up on the milk and the meat of God’s Word. Every heresy that has ever been foisted upon the church depends on the ignorance and gullibility of immature believers to be successful. If the man on TV is telling you to put your hands on the TV set and receive a blessing, what does he depend on for you to do that? Ignorance and gullibility. How do I know that the man telling you to put your hands on the TV set does not have your best interests at heart? Because in the next breath, he is asking you to put your hands on your checkbook or your wallet. He is telling you that in order to really get a blessing from God, you need to give him some money. Why are these guys still on television, saying the same things they said 40 years ago? Because it works!
The last phrase Paul used, “craftiness in deceitful scheming,” reminds me of an animal stalking its prey. We have a dog and a cat at the Fox den. And I have never seen our dog stalk anything. Maybe his food bowl as he “lies in wait” for it to be filled up. The cat is a different story. I love to watch her try and catch a bird. The only way an earth-bound cat can catch a healthy bird is with deceitful scheming, with infinite patience, and with a 48-inch vertical leap.
If you don’t believe there are traps being set for you on a daily basis, then you believe denial is just a big ol’ river in Egypt. How many credit card applications did you get in the mail last week? How many creditors sent you checks, made out to you, for large amounts? All you have to do is sign the check and cash it, and you are set! Bass boat, here I come. Trip to the Bahamas, I am there. New 65-inch OLED television, come to Papa! What the creditors do not tell you is that you will end up paying more than double on what they just “gave” you.
The best way to shyster-proof yourself and your family is to follow the principles in the Bible. I am not saying that because I am a preacher. I am saying that because it is the truth. Read the Bible. Get involved in a good church that really believes the Bible and teaches it.
And just send a smiley face back to the “Nigerian” crook who has two million he would like to give you.