It matters what you believe. A few years ago there was man who was was in high school and decided that since he didn’t believe in God, there was no meaning or purpose to life. And since there was no meaning or purpose in life, he could just do whatever he wanted to do and it didn’t matter. So he began by torturing animals, and eventually he became a serial killer!
It matters what you believe. And honest atheists admit: since there is no God, they do not believe there is any real “meaning” to life. Our life is just a cluster of cells that accidentally happened to evolve, so our life here has no overall “meaning” or “purpose” whatsoever.
On the other hand, Christians believe that “in the beginning, GOD created the heavens and the earth.” And that God made man in His image, and that even though we sinned against Him, He still loves us and sent Jesus to die for us and save us if we would return to Him — and that He has a plan and a purpose for our being here — especially if we are followers of Christ. It makes a lot of difference what you believe.
Last week we looked at that powerful verse of scripture, Philippians 1:21, where the Apostle Paul, with his life on the line in prison, could write, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He said that he lived his life for Christ, but to die and go to be with the Lord was “MUCH, MORE, BETTER.” (I was grateful that several people last week told me that the Lord used that verse to comfort them regarding their loved ones who had gone to be with the Lord: it reminded them that they are “very much better” with Him there in heaven than here on earth — and that through Jesus we can join them in that “very much better” place one day too!)
But despite heaven being “very much better,” Paul said there was something that was keeping him here — and that “something” is what I want us to focus on today, as we look at the next several verses, which talk about God’s PURPOSE for us here on earth. “While we are waiting” for that “MUCH, MORE, BETTER,” what should we be doing?
I. FRUITFUL LABOR
:22 He says: “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me”
Paul says we as Christians are here on earth for “fruitful labor.” There are a couple of important lessons we get here, from this phrase “fruitful labor.”
For one, it teaches us that to live on here on earth means WORK! “Labor,” he says. We are here to work. Now, this runs contrary what some call “The American Dream,” which says that we should try to make as much money as we can (or nowadays, be GIVEN as much money as we can!) so we can stop working. It may be some people’s idea of “The American Dream” not to work, but the Bible says that is not God’s purpose for us
God has us here, Paul says, to “labor.” A lot of people are familiar with the commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day,” but they miss the other half of it, where God says: “Six days SHALT THOU LABOR and DO ALL THY WORK”! God commanded us to work! Our goal in life is not to avoid all work and live to play. God’s goal for our lives is to work. “Fruitful labor.” That is what God says He has us here for.
NOW: notice second that it says “FRUITFUL labor.” THIS is an important qualification. It is not just “any” kind of labor God wants us to do with our lives, but “fruitful” labor: that means labor for things that matter; that is bearing fruit for ETERNITY. It means working to see people saved; helping them grow in Christ; leading them to learn to worship God; it means loving and ministering and caring for people. THAT is “fruitful labor.” THAT is what God has left us here for. Jesus said in John 15 that He appointed us to go and bear fruit; and that by bearing fruit, God would be glorified in us. And He wants us to bear fruit that will make a difference for eternity as long as He gives us life here on earth. “Fruitful labor” like that is life with a purpose.
Over twenty years ago, Pastor John Piper stood before a group of young people and he encouraged them, in his words, “Don’t waste your life.” He said so many people are buying into the American Dream of retiring early, and spending it just doing whatever you just “feel” like doing.
He spoke of how just recently, they had gotten word that two 80-year-old ladies from their church, Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, were on a mission trip in Africa, doing medical missions and telling people about Jesus, when the brakes on their car went out, and they crashed to their death. He said someone asked him, “Pastor John, wasn’t that a waste of these 2 ladies’ lives?”
He said, no, that was not a waste. These ladies gave their lives telling people about Jesus, to the very last second they were here on earth. He said, I’ll tell you what is a waste. He held up an article from the Readers Digest (he told the young people there: I know you young people don’t read Readers Digest, but some people do …). The article he held up encouraged people to “retire early and enjoy life.” The article mentioned a couple, Bob & Penny, who took early retirement at 59 and 51, and they moved to Punta Gorda Florida, where they spent their retirement years collecting seashells.
Piper said, now THAT is a tragedy. That in the very last 10, 20, 30 years of life here on earth, they would devote their whole lives to collecting seashells. He said, this couple is about to stand before their Maker, and give an account — and what are they going to show Him that they did with the life He entrusted to them? “Look, Lord, here’s my seashell collection”?! He said, if you want to know what is a waste; THAT is a waste; THAT is a tragedy. And he ended his message by encouraging those young people: “Don’t waste your life.”
That’s a pretty good word for ALL of us: “Don’t waste your life.” God has not left you here on earth to retire and play and do nothing of eternal consequence. He has left you here for a reason; for what Paul calls here: “fruitful labor.” For doing things that will last for eternity.
Now, that doesn’t mean you never retire from your job; it doesn’t mean you never quit going into the office or the plant for 40-50 hours a week; what it means is that you never retire from serving GOD! It means that God always has something for you to do, that will advance His kingdom, and impact eternity, as long as you are alive here on earth.
I’m so grateful for all the men and women in our church who are living this verse out. We have a LOT of folks who have retired from the plant or the office; but they haven’t stopped “fruitful labor” for the Kingdom of God. If I get started naming names I’d never stop, and I’d leave somebody out; but I can tell you, our church RUNS, to a great extent, on people who have retired from what someone might call their “real job,” but they have not quit serving the Lord. They’re teaching Sunday School classes, they’re singing in the choir, they’re leading building projects, they’re keeping up the building and grounds, they’re leading committees, they’re teaching kids and rocking babies, and serving and cleaning and moving and going and doing for the kingdom of God! They’re not just out there wasting their lives collecting seashells (and listen, there’s nothing wrong with collecting seashells as a hobby — as long as your LIFE is not all about that; as long as you make sure that the most important thing in your life is not seashells or anything else — but that the most important thing in your life is “fruitful labor” for the Kingdom of God.
We have SO many people here at First Baptist Angleton who can say with Paul: I am doing “fruitful labor” for the Kingdom of God. The question for YOU is not are all these OTHER people doing that — but are YOU doing that? Ask yourself: “What “fruitful labor” am I now doing for the kingdom of God?”
— Have you just retired and “hung it up” — or are you involved in “fruitful labor” for God in some way?
— And this isn’t just for senior adults, either. As a young person, what are you doing with your life? Are you just living for money, for the bigger house, for climbing the corporate ladder? Maybe you’ve had that “American Dream” in the back of your mind, that you can’t wait to stop working and just play? And God’s showing you today that you need to change your dream. That HIS plan for you is to invest your life in “fruitful labor” for the Kingdom of God as long as He leaves you here.
God may be calling some of us here today to totally change our course, and give the rest of our lives serving Him full time in ministry or missions. If so, you need to respond to that.
But I can tell you, He IS calling ALL of us, whatever our vocation is, to be involved in “fruitful labor” for His kingdom. Even while you are working and supporting your family — which is a godly thing to do, by the way; God commands us to do that! — but He’s calling you even at this point in your life to make sure that you are always doing SOMETHING for Him, something for His church, that is more lasting than “seashells” — that you are always doing something that is “fruitful labor” for eternity.
Until God calls you to that “MUCH, MORE, BETTER” place we’re waiting for, He says, I’m leaving you here to be involved in “fruitful labor.”
II. FOR THE BENEFIT OF OTHERS
:24 he says: “Yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for YOUR sake.”
Now HERE is a unique concept: he says it not just all about what’s best for HIM in this situation, but what’s best for OTHERS! He says, just for ME, it’s best for me to go to be with Christ. It is “MUCH, MORE, BETTER”! But, remarkably, he says, it is not just about what is best for me. He says it is better if I remain on “for YOUR sake.”
He goes on to say in :25 “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.”
Again, what was his motivation here? Not for HIMSELF; it was all about “YOUR progress; YOUR joy in the faith.”
He says it will be better for THEM, the Philippians, if he stays here on earth:
— He can continue to witness to them about the Jesus he has seen
— He can continue to disciple and teach them as a young church
— He can continue to model for them how you respond as a Christian in persecution — just like he was doing now from prison.
Yes, it would be “MUCH, MORE, BETTER” for HIM to leave this earth and go — but he said it was better for THEM if he stayed and ministered.
This teaches US something too. What does God have for us to do, “While we are waiting” for “MUCH, MORE, BETTER”? He has us here to do “fruitful labor” — AND to serve and do what is best for OTHER PEOPLE, not just ourselves.
Now this would be a real eye-opener to a lot of folks, because it runs totally contrary to our modern “What’s in it for me?” attitude. That’s the way the world runs, doesn’t it? The world always asks: “What’s in it for me?”
— what’s in this plan for ME?
— what’s in this idea for ME?
— what’s in this stimulus bill for ME?
— what’s in this vacation for ME?
— what’s in this church building for ME?
That is the way of the world: “ME, ME, ME” — “What’s in it for ME?”
But Paul says that “self-centered” kind of outlook is NOT what God has left you here on this earth for. He says He left you here for the sake of “fruitful labor” — and for OTHERS’ sake, not your own!
This is an entirely different way of thinking. I’m sure there are people who would be totally shocked to discover that we are not to consider what is best for US first! That’s just our natural outlook! But he says, that is not the CHRISTIAN outlook. We are to look out for OTHERS, not just ourselves.
Now, these verses are just the introduction to that revolutionary attitude in this book of Philippians. Lord willing we will see it developed even more in chapter 2:3, were God says “let each of you regard one another as more important than yourselves,” and 2:4, where God commands: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
So we will be talking about this concept a lot more later, as we get to that passage. But he introduces this idea to us right here: IT IS NOT ALL ABOUT US! God has not left us here on earth just for our own sakes. He has left us here to minister to and serve OTHERS, not ourselves. Few are those who have truly mastered this attitude, and when you encounter it in someone, it can be very striking:
President George Washington had been in great health most of his life, but one day not long after he had finished his Presidency, he went out riding in the rain, and caught pneumonia. Soon he was dying in bed, constantly gasping for air. His physician, Dr. Lear, kept climbing into the bed to hold Washington up, or to turn him, and try to help him breathe better. The doctor said it was an excruciatingly slow and painful death for Washington. But at one point the former President actually apologized to saying that all this moving and turning the doctor was doing was going to wear him out! He then looked over and and saw one of his servants standing by, and told him he didn’t need to stand; sit down and rest. Ron Chernow, the biographer, said that even in his last hours, Washington was not “self-absorbed,” but was “singularly attuned to other people”… NOT just himself.
That kind of selflessness is the attitude that we are to adopt as followers of Jesus. Most of our lives would be radically different If we would STOP seeing things merely from our OWN perspective of what WE want, or what is best for US — and start thinking about what is best for somebody else, and serve THEM in Jesus’ name. Talk about a revolution that would change your world — and someone else’s world! Stop seeking just what’s best for YOU, and start thinking about what would be best for someone ELSE:
— not just what’s best for ME, but what’s best for my wife?
— not just what’s best for ME, but what’s best for my KIDS?
— not just what’s best for ME on the job, but what’s best for the other employees?
— not just what’s best for ME in political decisions, but what’s best for OTHERS, and for the whole country
— and not just what’s best for ME AT CHURCH — but what’s best for my fellow church members; what’s best for the lost; what’s best for the witness and name of Christ in our community!
See, it’s a whole different ballgame when you stop playing the “what’s in it for me” game, and start looking at what’s best for others.
And Paul says THAT is what we are supposed to be focusing on, as long as God gives us life here on earth:
1) Spend your life in “fruitful labor”
2) and spend it focused on the benefit of OTHERS, not just yourself.
Cheryl & I are leaving this week to go to South Carolina for our son Michael’s graduation from college. He’s had a great 4 years at a wonderful Baptist college there, North Greenville University. He’s been in several plays this semester, and although we hated to miss them, being so far away, we did get to watch them on streaming video, which as we have seen with our church services, is the next best thing. One of the parts he played this semester was Linus in the musical, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” In that show there’s a funny part where Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister, keeps coming up with a “new philosophy” for her life:
— One of her new “philosophies” was saying: “That’s what you think!” Whenever she would meet anyone, whatever they would say to her, she would say to them: “That’s what you think!” She liked that philosophy.
— Then after a while she changed it, and said NOW her new philosophy was, whatever someone would say to her she would say: “Why are you telling me?”
And on and on with her new “philosophies.”
Well, Paul gives us a good “philosophy” for life here in these verses. If you’re looking for a good personal philosophy or motto (maybe something better than “That’s what you think” or “Why are you telling me”!), you might try what the Bible says here: Get involved in “fruitful labor” for God, and serve others and not just yourself. In other words: “Serve God/Serve Others” — that’s not a bad philosophy!
And the Bible says THAT is what you’re supposed to be doing, “While You Are Waiting” (for the MUCH, MORE, BETTER)!