The Lord's Day Morning

June 24, 2007

Philippians 1:21

“Dying to Live”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Dr. Thomas:

Well, good morning. Welcome to our eleven o’clock service. We are so pleased and excited, as you are, to be back here in the sanctuary. A couple of thoughts went through my head as people came in. There's a sense in which this is very familiar. The architects have designed this building, and as you walk back into it–and some of you have not been in it at all to even spy out what it looked like–it's a bit like heaven, [in] that when you get to heaven, you will actually get the sense that you have been there before, but it was the place that you were always looking for. There's a sense in which it is home — and there's a very real sense of that here in the building this morning. But more than that, and above that, I think, we trust that as you appreciate the beauty of this meeting house this morning, that more than that you and I will appreciate the beauty which is Christ, and the beauty which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Duncan:

As we continue to prepare for worship, let me invite you to take your hymnals in hand and turn to No. 53. Our opening song of praise is Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. Boy, I've been waiting for Connie to play this hymn in here for two years now! The words to this hymn — this psalm — it's based on Psalm 103 and Psalm 150…glorious — and you may want to use those as you prepare for worship. I'm actually going to put something up on the web log this afternoon about this hymn, this very, very favorite hymn of our own congregation, and really one of the best hymns in terms of text and tune that's been written in the last 350 years. That's going to be our opening song of praise.

On Sunday morning, October 9, 1853, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, who was then the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, made some remarks in dedication of their new sanctuary. Now some of you may know there's a connection between Dr. Palmer and First Presbyterian Church/Jackson, because Dr. Palmer left Columbia just a few years later to become the pastor of First Presbyterian Church/New Orleans, and he was there for about a half century. In 1892, he got on a carriage and he came from New Orleans to Jackson to dedicate the second sanctuary of this congregation, when Dr. Hunter was our pastor, and he preached the sermon of dedication. And this is what he said on the Sunday morning that they were dedicating the new church building at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina:

“As for this building, beautiful as it may be in our eyes, let it please us to call it only a plain Presbyterian meeting house. The glory you see in it, let it not be the glory of its arches and timbers, nor the glory of its lofty and graceful spire pointing ever upward to that home the pious shall find with God, nor the glory of this chaste pulpit with its delicate tracery and marble whiteness, nor the glory found in the eloquence and learning of those who for generations shall here proclaim the gospel, nor yet the glory traced in the wealth and fashion, refinement and social position of those who throng its courts; but let its glory be the glory of the Lord risen upon it. Let its glory be the promises of the covenant engraved upon its walls, which are yea and amen in Christ Jesus. Let its glory be found in the purity, soundness, and unction of its pastors, in the fidelity and watchfulness of its elders, in the piety and godliness of its members. Let its glory be as a birthplace of souls, where shall always be heard the sobs of awakened penitence, and the songs of newborn love. Let its glory be the spirituality of its worship, its fervent prayers, its adoring praise, and the simplicity and truth of its ordinances and sacraments. Let its glory be in the communion of the saints who here have fellowship with one another, and also with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Let its glory be as the resting place of weary pilgrims toiling on toward the heavenly city, the emblem of the church above, where congregations never break up and Sabbaths never end. May the glory of the Lord be so manifest in our hearts and lives and public worship through the grace of Christ in the gospel that those who gather with us to join in His praise will ever say, ‘Surely God is among you, and surely the Lord is in this place.’”


If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter one. We've been in Philippians 1:21 for three weeks now. The first week we were in this great verse, a verse that's virtually a life motto for the Apostle Paul, our only goal was to look at both sides of this verse (to live is Christ; to die is gain) and to ask and answer the simple question, “What does Paul mean, to live is Christ and to die is gain?” We said it was worth doing because Paul has packed so much so densely into those few beautiful, elegant words that it would be possible for us to memorize these words and quote them to ourselves and miss something of the richness that is contained in them. So we said in short that when Paul says to live is Christ, he means that real life is knowing and loving, and serving and glorifying, and enjoying and communing with Christ. This is an affirmation that that is a reality not only for him, but that is a reality for all those who are disciples of Christ: that real life is caught up with knowing, loving, serving, glorifying, enjoying, and communing with Jesus Christ.

Then we looked at the little phrase to die is gain, and we said that when Paul says to die is gain, he means that because of that previous truth (that to live is Christ), death is even better than life for the believer, for in death we will by God's grace have more of Christ…Who…to live…is.

And so we spent our first week looking at “What's Paul saying?”

Then last time we were together in this passage, we said that this verse suggests two questions. First, what does it mean for us to live as if to live is Christ? If to live is Christ means to know, love, serve, glorify, enjoy, commune with Jesus Christ, what does that look like? How do we know that we are doing that? What does that involve?

We also said that this verse suggests the question, “How can we approach death as gain?” But we never got to that part — and we haven't got there yet, and we won't get there today! That's next week! But let me say that that's appropriate, because the second half of this verse will not make sense and is not a reality for anyone who doesn't understand the first part of the verse. In other words, the words to die is gain are hollow, empty, sentimental babble unless you believe the first half of this verse. And so it's appropriate for us to spend three weeks making sure that this truth has been worked deep down into our hearts so that we can get all the glory and the comfort that is waiting for us when we get to that Pauline affirmation that to die is gain.

Now as we ask the question what does it mean to live as if to live is Christ, we suggested four answers — four examples of what it means to live as if to live is Christ. First of all, we said that to live as if to live is Christ is to live with a desire to know as much of Christ as is possible to know. Those who live as if to live is Christ is really true, and is true for them in their personal experience, want to know as much of Christ as it is possible to know.

Secondly, those who live as if to live is Christ want to be as much like Christ as they can be like Christ. Thirdly, those who live as if to live is Christ want Christ to be known as widely as it is possible that He can be known. And, fourth, those who live as if to live is Christ want to enjoy Christ now as much as He can be enjoyed, and forevermore.

So today I want to simply more deeply and specifically apply and illustrate those four ways of manifesting that to live is Christ. Let's pray before we hear God's word.

Heavenly Father, by Your Spirit so show us the glory of Christ that we will be satisfied by nothing above Him or beside Him, and that we will want to know Him, emulate Him, make Him known, and enjoy Him in all of our life, in every way conceivable, for Your glory and our everlasting good. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is God's word, Philippians 1:21:

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

OK. Here's the question. If those for whom it is true that to live is Christ want to know as much of Christ as possible, want to be as much like Christ as possible, want Christ to be known as far and wide as possible, and want to enjoy Christ more than anyone or anything else, what does that look like? And what does that involve? If that's what it means to live as if to live is Christ is true and has been found to be true in our personal experience, what does that look like and what does it involve?

Well, let me go back to our four things and simply try and illustrate and apply those things more deeply and specifically.

First, those who purpose to know as much of Christ as it is possible to know read their Bibles looking for Christ, come to church hungry for Christ, and are avid learners of the truth of Christ.

You know, we have more Bibles — we own more Bibles — than perhaps any Christians that have ever lived before us. We have more Bibles than our parents’ and our grandparents’ generations in our homes. Some of you have five, six, eight, ten, twelve, fifteen, twenty Bibles in your home. Let me ask you this: Do you pick those Bibles up daily, thirsting for Christ in them? Do you love that word as the word of Christ? Are you like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who can testify that as Jesus opened that Bible to them and preached to them Christ from all the Scriptures, that their hearts burned within them, when you read the word of God? Those who want to know as much of Christ as possible read their Bibles wanting to get as much of Christ as possible from Genesis, from Numbers, from I Samuel, from the Psalms, from Lamentations, from Micah and Malachi, from Matthew and Revelation. They read their Bibles looking for Christ, because as our Lord Jesus said, those Scriptures speak of Him. Those who want to know as much of Christ as possible read their Bibles regularly with a view to seeing Christ revealed in all His glory.

And those who want to know Christ and want to know more of Christ, and want to know as much of Christ as it is possible to know come to church looking for Christ as He is offered in the gospel. They come to church not looking for excitement, not looking for entertainment, not looking for particular forms or styles; they come looking for Christ as He is offered in the gospel. They look for Him in the songs that are sung. They want to sing songs about Christ as He is offered in the gospel, and they look for Him in the prayers that are prayed, and they look for Him in the words that are read, and they look for Him in the message that is proclaimed. And if Christ as He is offered in the gospel is given to them, their souls are fattened and satisfied. But if He is not there, no matter what else is there, no matter what entertainment, no matter what excitement, they go back empty, because what they have come for is for Christ. They want to know Him, they want to commune with Him, they want to fellowship with Him, they want Him to be in them, they want to become the temple of His Holy Spirit. They want to know what He is like. They want to know what He does, they want to know His names, they want to know His character, they want to know His work, they want to know His will; and when the substance of their worship is focused on God in Christ in the word, their souls are filled and they are satisfied, and they grow up in their knowledge of Christ.

And when they’re apart from the assembly of the saints they are always reading sound books and good things which expound the Scriptures and tell them of Christ, and they’re listening to sermons and they’re memorizing Scripture, and they’re using the Catechisms, and whatever means that they find most helpful, they’re pressing Christ deep into their hearts. Those who purpose to know as much of Christ as it is possible to know read their Bibles in this way and come to church hungry for Him in this way.

Secondly, those who purpose to be like Christ — who want to emulate Him, who want to love the things that He loves, who want to have the same goal of life as He had to do the will of Him who sent Him — know that their acceptance with God does not rest on their wanting to be like Christ.

It's very important for us to pause right there and emphasize that. If you think that your acceptance with God…if you think your forgiveness and pardon and salvation from God is dependent upon your wanting to be like Christ and in some measure becoming more like Christ, I've got some very bad news for you. You will never be pardoned or accepted because you want to be like Christ, or you’re trying to be like Christ. The message of Christianity is not God giving you some good advice on what you can do to help yourself out. The gospel message of Christianity is about what Christ has done, so that you could be accepted by your loving heavenly Father, justly and mercifully, righteously and graciously; and you cannot add a jot or a tittle to that. And so those who want to be like Christ, who want to be as much like Christ as possible, don't want to be like Christ so that they will be accepted by their heavenly Father: they know that in Christ they are loved as much as it is possible for a child to be loved. By His grace, sins are forgiven and washed away, not because of anything that they have done, but only because of the blood of Jesus Christ, of the obedience of Jesus Christ.

But precisely because they have been given that grace, they crave to manifest His character in their character. They want to manifest Christ-likeness in their vocations, in their recreations, and in their relationships. That is, they want no part of their life untouched by the sovereign grace, the transforming grace of God in Jesus Christ. They want the way that they go about work to be utterly changed, because God is making them to be more Christ-like.

They want the way that they enjoy recreation in this life to bear the marks of the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. There will be some things that they will no longer want to pursue as recreation because Christ has changed them; and then there will be other things that they will continue to enjoy that they enjoyed before, but they will enjoy it with a view to Christ and to His glory.

And in their relationships…they will want their relationships in the home and at work and in their neighborhood and in their community to reflect something of the character of Christ, the loves of Christ, the delights of Christ, the desires of Christ. They’ll want to manifest His grace to them in their daily relationships. And instead of being caught up in some pleasure, some escape, some pursuit, some recreation that pulls their hearts away from Him or makes their heart dull to Him, they will want to glorify Christ even in their eating and drinking. In all things they will want to glorify Christ.

Third, those who purpose to make Christ known as far as possible to all humanity are ready to make great efforts in sacrifices to that end. Those who live as if to live is Christ not only want to know Him, not only want to be like Him, but they want to make Him known to the ends of the earth, and they are ready to undertake tremendous costs.

One of my favorite missionary stories is the story of John Paton, who was a Scottish Presbyterian missionary who lived in the nineteenth century (1800's). And in the middle of the 1800's, he left his family, his father, his home, and traveled to Glasgow and eventually got onto a ship and sailed to the South Seas, to the New Hebrides, where he became a missionary to cannibals. By the end of his missionary work there — well over thirty years — his entire island had been converted to Jesus Christ. But I love the story that he told fifty years later when writing his biography about the day that he left his father to leave for the mission field.

Now as you hear this story, there are so many wonderful Christian lessons to be learned from this story, and I'm always affected by it when I hear it. But here's what I'm wanting you to listen for: listen for how much this son was ready to give up to go tell others about Christ, and listen to how much his father was ready to give up so that his son could go tell others about Jesus Christ. Here's the story of John Paton leaving to go to the mission field:

“I started out from my quiet country home on the road to Glasgow. Literally “on the road,” for from Torthorwald to Kilmarnock about forty miles had to be done on foot, and thence to Glasgow by rail. Railways in those days were as yet few, and coach traveling was far beyond my purse. A small bundle tied up in my pocket handkerchief contained my Bible and all my personal belongings. Thus was I launched upon the ocean of life. I thought on One who says, “I know thy poverty, but thou art rich.”

My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my mind and in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and the tears are on my cheeks as freely now as they were then. For the last half mile or so we walked together in almost unbroken silence, — my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand [because he was praying; he didn't want to pray with his hat on his head, and so he carried his hat in his hand, praying for his son], his long, flowing yellow hair streamed like a girl's down onto his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain. We halted on reaching the appointed parting-place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said to me, “God bless you, my son! Your father's God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!”

Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and I saw him still standing with his head uncovered, just where I had left him — gazing after me. Waving my hat adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dyke to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke, looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face towards home, and began to return — his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me.

I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and often, by the help of God, to live and act so never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as He had given me. The appearance of my father as we parted, — his advice, his prayers, and tears — have often, often, through all of my life risen vividly before my mind, and they do so now while I am writing, as if it had been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian angel. It is no Phariseeism, but deep gratitude which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by God's grace, to keep me from my prevailing sins, but they also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes. And in all my Christian duties that I might faithfully follow his shining example.

Now think of what that son gave up so that Christ might be known to the ends of the earth, and think of what that Father gave up, so that Christ might be known to the ends of the earth. Do you want Christ to be known like that? Are you willing to part with the ones that are most precious to you, that Christ might be exalted? John Paton was. His father was.

Well, maybe it starts here. Maybe you’re six or seven, or eight or nine this morning. Maybe you need to take up a piece of paper and a pencil and begin writing a letter to missionaries supported by this church, so that when they are lonely and far from home and friends and family, they will know there are little children, boys and girls, teenagers and college students, and graduate students and young adults, and grandparents that so value what they’re doing for Christ that they have not been lost on their hearts, but are praying for them and thinking of them, and writing to them to encourage them. How much do you want Him to be known to the ends of the earth?

One last thing: Those who purpose to enjoy Christ study to delight in Him, and prize or value Him. Those who purpose to enjoy Christ study to delight in Him, and prize or value Him.

My friends, ask yourself this question: What is it that I want most in life? What is it that I care most about in this life? What is it that I love most in this life? Now you say to me, “That's a hard question to answer. I'm not sure I know.” Well, let me put some feet on it. What do you spend your money on? How do you spend your money? It will show you what you love. How do you spend your time? It will show you what you love. Where are your affections? I love the way Derek reminds us of this: “What do you think about when you’re not thinking about anything else?” When you need refuge and respite, and you need shelter, where do you find relief? Where do you find release? Where do you find protection? In your recreations, in your down-time, what do you do? What do you think about? What do you delight in?

True believers have come to understand that God did not send His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, so that He could save us from our sins and save us from hell so that we could go back to loving something else other than Him — or as much as, or more than Him. He saved us from sin and from hell so that we could delight in the thing which God created human beings to delight in, and that is Himself, through Jesus Christ.

But our hearts are tugged — even those who know Him and love Him, we find our hearts being pulled in two directions — to Him and away from Him. And so we have to study to delight in Him. We have to deliberately determine that we are going to delight in Him more than and above anything and everything else.

That's why Jonathon Edwards says:

“True saints center their attention on Christ, and His beauty transcends all others. His delight is the source of all other delights. He is Himself the best among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.”

And that's why John Piper says that the authenticating inner essence of worship is being satisfied with Christ, prizing Christ, cherishing Christ, treasuring Christ. And that's what we are to be doing in our worship services — prizing Christ, treasuring Christ, valuing Christ, delighting in Christ, being satisfied in Christ, going hard after Christ — because His delight is better than any other delight, and His delight alone cannot be taken from us. Don't you love the way that Brister often reminds us that “the afflictions of this life are designed by God to wean us from the affections of this life”? Well, you see, the flip side of that is this: Every time something is taken from us in this life — something good, something precious — we are being reminded that there is a greater delight that cannot be taken from us. And those who live as if to live is Christ delight in that thing, that One who is Christ. Let's pray.

O Lord, as we prepare to sing a song whose words are beautiful to us and whose melody stirs our heart, grant that we would sing it as a prayer to Jesus, who is not only the One through whom all blessings flow to Your people, but He is the One who is the sum of all blessings; and in Him, to live is Christ. We pray in His name. Amen.