To Be with Christ

Philippians

To Be with Christ

March 31st, 1957 @ 10:50 AM

Philippians 1:22-24

But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
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TO BE WITH CHRIST

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 1:22-26

3-31-57    10:50 a.m.

 

 

You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled To Be With Christ.  It is a text.  Last Sunday night, we left off preaching at the twenty-first verse of the first chapter of Philippians.  This morning, we begin at the twenty-second verse and continue through the twenty-sixth.  Now, that I might read the context, we shall begin at the nineteenth verse and read from Philippians 1:19-26:

 

For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

According to the earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so also now Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain.

But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour:  yet what I shall choose I wot not.

For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:

Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;

That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.

 

Now, our passage:

 

But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour:  yet what I shall choose I wot not.

For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:

Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

[Philippians 1:22-24]

 

A little word of explanation of the text.  The meaning is very obscure when you read in the English: "But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour:  yet what I shall choose I wot not" [Philippians 1:22].  You could hardly say what does he mean there with intelligence and explain it because it is very obscure.  "But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour:  yet what I shall choose I know not." 

Well, it is obscure in the English because it is a very difficult Greek sentence to translate.  But the meaning, if you look at it in the Greek, the meaning is very clear, most obvious and plain, and it is this.  He had just said: "For to me to live is Christ and to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21]. He had just said, "To die is gain." But there comes into his mind as he says that this other thought that it is only here in the world, it is only in this body, that we can win souls and that the poor, struggling, infant churches can be built up.  So he says, "To die is gain, but to stay here in the flesh, to stay here in this world, is gain also; for this is the fruit of my labour:  that souls are won to Christ and the churches are built up in the faith."  So he says:

 

What I shall choose I don’t know.  It is a gain to be with Christ.  It is a gain to stay here in this world.  What I shall choose I don’t know; for I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is a gain.  Nevertheless, to stay here and to win souls and to build up the church is also a gain.  So I don’t know –

he says –

                        and I leave the choice with God.

[from Philippians 1:21-23]

Now that’s the meaning of the text.

Now he says here: "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" [Philippians 1:23].  That is a very unusual Greek word there translated "far better."  Pollō  means "much, greater."  The next word is mallon which means "more, superior."  Kreisson, the next word, is your comparative for agathos meaning "good."  So your comparative would be "better."  Now, you couldn’t say that in English and make it fine grammar at all.

"Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is pollō mallon kreisson, much more better."  It’s just a very strong way of saying it in the Greek that you don’t doubt what he means: it is much, much, much, far, far, far better.  Isn’t that an unusual way to say a thing?  "A departing to be with Christ, which is far better" [Philippians 1:23]. How different that is from all the other literature you’ll ever read in that ancient world?

When Socrates drank the hemlock, his last sentence was this.  Do you remember it?  "It is now time to depart.  I to die, and you to live.  But which one of us shall go to the better destiny is known alone to the deity" [from Apology," by Plato, c. 360 BCE].  You could translate that "deity," I guess, to "the gods."  That’s the best man that the world ever produced outside of the Scriptures was Socrates [d. 399 BCE].  But when time came for him to drink the fatal draft, he said, "I do not know.  Shall it be better for me?  I do not know.  Is it better for you who abide?  I do not know."  That’s the highest human intuition represented in the greatest philosopher the ancient Greek world produced.

How different, I say, is the word of Paul here: "Nevertheless to depart and to be with Christ is far better" [Philippians 1:23].  Paul says that the tarrying believer here below, though he has many of the mercies and comforts of God, yet he’s in a wilderness still; and it is so much better on the other side.  Down here we are grateful for the mercies of the Lord, for the manna that drops from heaven like blessings, like the dew that distills, for the streams that follow us in the desert.  But oh, to abide in the wilderness, says Paul, is nothing comparable to the land of milk and honey promised to those who love Him [Romans 8:18].  To be with Christ is far better.

"Nevertheless," he says, "to abide in the flesh is more needful for you" [Philippians 1:24].  Paul has come to the place where his spirit is like this.  As a mariner on a storm-tossed sea, after a long voyage, is just now in the sight of the port of home, and he can see the light in the window and, just beyond, the faces of those who love him and are watching and waiting, just at the time the storm-tossed, battered, old ship is turning into the port and to home, he hears the voice of the captain saying, "Turn her around! Turn that prow around and head out into the stormy sea again.  There is still a work to do."

Now, that’s the spirit that he has here in this passage:  almost home and desiring to be with the Lord, but no.  There’s a voice who says there is a ministry yet to perform, people who need Christ, the little churches that need building up.  So Paul says: "To abide here in the flesh is more needful for you.  And I have this confidence that I shall abide and continue with you that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus by my coming to you again" [from Philippians 1:24-26].

He has the same spirit there as if a mother with a little baby in her arms, ragged and poor and starving, were invited into a feast.  But the master of the feast says, "You must leave the baby outside.  You can’t bring the child in."  So the mother is in "a strait betwixt two."  She is hungry and ragged and cold and poor and has been invited into the feast, but the little baby can’t be carried in.  And the mother decides, "I will stay with my child outside in the cold and be hungry and poor rather than go in alone at the feast of the table of the Lord."

Now, that is what precipitated the word when he says, "I am in a strait betwixt two; and what I shall choose I wot not" [from Philippians 1:22-23].  I suppose that the language there came from times in his life when he was chained to two guards, one with his right hand and the other with his left, and being pulled and pressed and bound from two directions, he speaks of the same choice with him.

There is a binding to the churches, to the people here.  There is a binding to heaven beyond.  And he says, "And what I shall choose I don’t know; I’m in the strait betwixt two."  He was honoring Christ in wanting to be with the Lord; he was honoring Christ in wanting to be with His people, and so he was pulled between the two.  Isn’t that a remarkable thing?  Isn’t that a marvelous thing?  I want you to see how different that is from the world.

Do you think the world would look upon that as being something to choose between?  First, if he stayed here – if he chooses to live – think what the world would think of that choice.  He’s in dungeon.  He’s in prison.  He’s got an iron chain on his hand.  This man who’s writing this is in a Roman dungeon [Philippians 1:12-17].  And he says, "I don’t know which I shall choose for both choices are select.  Shall I stay here?"  That’s to be in a dungeon.

Then think of his other choice.  What would the world think but that it was poor business.  The other choice is to die.  You see, he doesn’t use it – the word.  He doesn’t refer to it: "death."  He calls it "to be with Christ" [Philippians 1:23].  What does the world say, I ask, about a choice like that?  I have a choice between living, that’s to be in a dungeon, chained; and the other choice is to die.  That’s poor choosing, says the world.  But to Paul, they both were select [Philippians 1:21].

And that brings me to my message.  First, how Paul describes death:  he likes to use that word "depart" – "for I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" [Philippians 1:23].  I say he liked that word.  You listen to the last time that he ever wrote before he was martyred.  In Second Timothy, the fourth chapter and the sixth verse: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I’ve fought a good fight, I’ve finished my course, I’ve kept the faith" [2 Timothy 4:6-7].  Isn’t that a magnificent way to describe what we call "death?"

He never refers to the word.  It wasn’t worth mentioning.  Oh, that we might have such a faith!  Death, a triviality not to be named – not in the text, doesn’t refer to it.  He calls it a departure.  "The time of my departure is at hand" [2 Timothy 4:6] – with a hail and a farewell and a "God bless you, Timothy.  Keep up the work!"

Ooh, I don’t know what to think of us.  Could I be a little blasphemous here and tell you some thoughts that come into my mind as your pastor?  I go out here to Baylor Hospital, and I see some grand old saint, and the time has come to be crowned in glory.  Well, there on the right side is a bottle, and it contains glucose, glycogen, blood sugar.  I don’t know what all is in that bottle there.  And over here are all kinds of instruments there; and they turn the knob here and turn the knob there, and one of those dear, blessed old saints brought back to life.  When she opened her eyes and looked around, it wasn’t heaven at all: same old world of death, same old world of disease, and illness, and pain.  And the dear old saint said, "Oh, oh. I have to die all over again.  Oh, oh," she said, "Why couldn’t I go on to be with the Lord?  Oh, oh," she said, "Must I do it all over again?"  Now those are blasphemous thoughts.

I suppose the dedication of medicine and science is to keep us as long as science is able to keep this protoplasm functioning. I suppose it.  But the thing that troubles me about it is this.  I wonder if what lies back of it is a conviction that this life is all. Therefore, I will hang on to that last breath just as long as a scientific machine can help my pulse to beat and my lungs to bellow.

You know what?  I say – I may be speaking blasphemy, and when the time comes I may be altogether different – but I’m just talking to you like I would to my other self.  When my work is done, and my task is finished, and the church says, "Bless his old, gray head and his old stooped form.  He did a great work among us these thirty or forty years, or twenty, or fifteen.  Bless his heart.  But his task is done now, and we’ve got another young preacher and we just doing twice as good."  And you will, and you will. 

When that day comes, and I’m sick and ready to die, if they’ll listen to my humble persuasion, I want to go on.  Why not?  That’s my point.  Why not?  What is there in us that makes us think, "Far better here, let’s tarry here.  Far better here, let’s cling to this life here"?  No, sir.  God says it is better over there [Philippians 1:23]. 

When I can’t be strong and well, and when my life is finished and my years are done, and I know I can hear the great and final summons, why not?  Let’s go across the river in triumph.  Let the trumpet blow, and let the angels sing.  To be with Christ is far better.

Well, I have another observation.  Do you notice he doesn’t use the word "heaven" here – not in any of these passages?  But he uses an inclusive and descriptive phrase that is superlative and of vast meaning.  And if we had another hour, we would just sit us down here and look at that.  He doesn’t say, "To depart and to be in heaven."  The only characterizing phrase that he uses about it is this:  "To depart, to be with Christ" [Philippians 1:23].  That’s all: "to be with Christ."

You know what that’s like?  That’s like one of our girls.  She’s going to be a bride, and her lover is off in Indonesia.  And she’s heard from him, and she’s received letters from him, and she’s received messages from him; but the day has come, and she’s going to see him.  She’s going to her lover.  She’s going to be married.  And you say to her, "Where are you going?"  And she says, "To my lover to be married."

"But you have a brother there."  She doesn’t mention him.  "And you have many friends and relatives there."  She doesn’t mention them though she will see them and they will be there.  And her husband-to-be is affluent and has a beautiful, handsome estate and a marvelous mansion.  But she doesn’t mention that.  She is going to be with him.  That’s what that is:  "To depart and to be with Christ": that includes it all.  Where He is, that’s heaven; that’s heaven.

Well, where is Christ?  Oh, there are some who say, "He’s in the grave!  He’s in the grave."  Two different people cut out of a newspaper publication this week this report of the scientists of America.  Even of these Christian scientists, he eliminated all of those who had no – who were separated from the Christian faith.  Even these other scientists, only one out of five believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  Out of 228 replies, 38 affirmations of faith in the resurrection, 192 non-affirmations.

Where is the Lord?  "To depart, to be with Christ, is far better" [from Philippians 1:23].  They say, "He’s in the grave.  He’s dead.  And to depart and to be with Christ is in the grave.  It’s to die." 

A young man spoke to me yesterday, and he said, "Preacher, what is the basis of your faith?"  He says, "I believe when we die, we die forever.  That’s the end of it.  There’s no afterlife.  There’s no world to come.  We die, and that’s the night and the dark."  Where is Christ?  "To depart, and to be with Christ."  In the grave?

No.  The Book says, and my heart says – there’s something on the inside of me that responds, that affirms there’s a Spirit of God among us [John 16:7-14].  When the Book says He’s in heaven, He’s in glory, He’s in paradise, He’s there with God the Father, there’s something in us that vibrates like that heart [Romans 8:16-17].

Jesus said to the thief dying with Him on a cross: "Today thou shalt be with Me in paradise" [Luke 23:43].  The angel, speaking to those disciples on Mount Olivet as He ascended said: "He’s in heaven – this same Jesus that has gone up into heaven" [from Acts 1:10-11].  John, on the isle of Patmos, saw Him glorified and in heaven:  "I am alive forevermore" [Revelation 1:9, 18].  "To depart and to be with Christ" [from Philippians 1:23].

The man who wrote this passage, the apostle Paul, was an unusual man: a man of great stability, intellectual power.  There’s no man in Greece or Rome or America or any generation that has ever written literature like this man has written it.  You listen to him – a judicious, earnest testimony.  He says:

 

I knew a man –

and he’s referring to himself –

in Christ about fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. 

And I knew such a man –

referring to himself –

(whether in the body, I cannot tell, or out of the body: God knoweth;)

How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, what it is not lawful for a man to utter." 

[2 Corinthians 12:2-4]

 

Now this man Paul says – – and his metaphysical mind wrestled with that thing – – he was caught up into paradise.  He was caught up into heaven, and he heard there words that he was not allowed to write down: unspeakable, unlawful words for a man to divulge [2 Corinthians 12:2, 4]. 

Now, his metaphysical mind, I say, wrestled with that.  He was in the body, yet he was caught up into heaven.  If his spirit was caught up into heaven, then his body had to die.  But his body didn’t die.  Yet the body was here and alive, but his soul was up there in heaven, in paradise, and his metaphysical mind could not untie the knot: "Whether in the body, I cannot tell, or out of the body, I cannot tell; only God knoweth" [2 Corinthians 12:3].  "I cannot understand," says Paul. "But this I know: that I was caught up to the third heaven. I was caught up into paradise" [2 Corinthians 12:2-4]. This man says, "I have been there. I have been there, and I have heard these words which it is not lawful for a man to utter." 

Where is our Lord?  Our Lord is in paradise.  He is in heaven.  And when Paul says, "Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ is far better" [from Philippians 1:23], he’s talking about a place where he himself has been and where Jesus now awaits for those who trust Him.

Oh, what a confidence, what a blessing, what a faith!  Far better: we shall have a clearer vision.  "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" [1 Corinthians 13:12], we shall speak with our Lord and no veil between.  Now we see Him through the grating of our prison bars.  There we shall walk by His side and touch Him and converse with Him and talk with Him face to face.  We shall have a fuller knowledge.  "Now we know in part; then shall I know God in heaven even as I am known" [from 1 Corinthians 13:12].  "And to know with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the knowledge and the love of God in Christ Jesus" [from Ephesians 3:18-19].

And we shall have an unbroken fellowship.  Here is our Lord, and we shall be forever, forever with Him and one another [1 Thessalonians 4:17].  That’s what heaven is.  Without it, be like a day without the sun, like a sea without water, like a feast without food, like a firmament without the stars.  But with Him and these whom we love, that is the glory that is to come.  Incidentally, the streets are gold [Revelation 21:21].  Incidentally, the gates are pearl.  Incidentally, the foundations are gems [Revelation 21:19-20].  Mainly, it is our Lord and one another [Revelation 21:3-5].  Now I have to close.

"Oh, pastor!" somebody would say, "I wish I had a faith like that.  I wish I had a hope like that.  Wouldn’t it be a comfort and a strength if I could be like the apostle Paul?"  Bless your heart.  Listen to me just this second. 

On what did Paul base his hope of heaven?  Did he base it on his earnest ministry, on the success of his labors, upon his apostleship?  Did he?  No, sir. 

You read it.  Paul based his hope for heaven on the promises of God, on the mercies of the Lord, on the blood of Jesus.  Listen to him: "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" [Galatians 6:14].  Listen to him: "That I might be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness . . . " [Philippians 3:9].  Listen to him: "Where God hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" [2 Corinthians 5:21].  Paul based his hope on Jesus.

When he looked to heaven, he didn’t look in hope to his ministries or his apostleship, but he looked to Jesus.  And, my brother, the feeblest and humblest among us can have a like faith and a like hope.  "He that believeth on Him is not condemned" [John 3:18].  "There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus" [Romans 8:1].

You remember the passage we read together: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?" [Romans 8:33]  That means us.  It means we.  It means you.  It means me.  It doesn’t just mean Paul.  It means the feeblest, humblest of His saints that come by faith and trust in Him.  "These are they . . . who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14].

Oh, my friend, my friend, come!  Paul has no faith we cannot have.  He has no hope we cannot share.  The mercy of God that forgave him forgives us.  And the love and tender grace of Jesus that called him to heaven is the love, and mercy, and grace that beckons to you today.  Oh, my brother, come!  My brother, come.

While we sing this song of appeal and prayer, into that aisle and down here to the front: "Pastor, I give my heart to Jesus.  I take Him as my Savior; and here I am."  Or a family of you coming into the church, or one somebody you confessing your faith in our Lord: as God shall open the door, you come.  You come.  In this balcony around, down these stairwells, here on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here by us: as God shall say and lead the way, make it now.  Give your heart to Him, give your hand to us, while we stand and while we sing.

TO BE WITH CHRIST

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 1:22-26

3-31-57

 

I.          Introduction

A.  The meaning of the text

1.  Difficult to translate – English version obscure

2.  Paul’s meaning is plain – he just said "to die is gain", but it is only here in this world that souls can be won and the infant churches built up

B.  A strait betwixt two choices

1.  To abide with Christ – "which is far better"

a. Pollomallonkreitton – "much more better"

b. So different from all other literature in that ancient world

i.  Last sentence of Socrates

ii. Paul says the highest joys of the tarrying believer are inferior to being with Christ

2.  To abide in the flesh – "more needful for you"

a. Like a mariner on a storm-tossed sea, after a long voyage is just now in the sight of the port of home, and then he hears the voice of the captain, "Turn her around, there’s still a work to do"

i.  Almost home, desiring to be with the Lord, but there is a ministry yet to perform, people who need Christ

b. Same spirit there as if a mother with a baby in her arms, ragged, poor and starving was invited to a feast, but asked to leave the baby outside – the mother decides to stay outside with the baby

C.  He does not choose, but leaves it with God

1.  In the strait betwixt two – literally held by two forces

2.  Asthe world would judge it, both a poor choice; but to Paul they were both select

 

II.         Observations

A.  Paul’s attitude toward death

1.  "To depart" – he never refers to the word "death"(2 Timothy 4:6)

a. The dedication of medicine and science to keep us functioning as long as possible

b. When my time comes, I want to go

B.  He doesn’t use the word "heaven"; only, "to be with Christ"

1.  Where is Christ?

a. Some say in the grave

b. The Book says He’s in heaven with the Father(Luke 23:43, Acts 1:11, Revelation 1:18)

2.  Paul says he was caught up into heaven(2 Corinthians 12:2-4)

C.  Far betterthere

1.  We shall have a clearer vision (1 Corinthians 13:12)

2.  We shall have a fuller knowledge (Ephesians 3:18)

3.  We shall have an unbroken fellowship

D.  Paul based his hope for heaven on the promises of God, the blood of Jesus (Galatians 6:14, Philippians 3:9, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 8:1, 33)