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Philippians 1:21-30

How to Live with Heaven on Your Horizon

  • Samuel Wilson
  • Weekend Messages
  • August 20, 2023

  • Sermon Notes
  • Overview

How to Live with Heaven on Your Horizon

Philippians 1:21-26


Illus. What about her?


We pick up this week where we left off last week, in Philippians chapter one. We ended with Paul giving us the very notable and quotable verse 21 of Philippians.


Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”


Though a famous and often quoted verse, it is one that takes on great meaning when we understand why Paul wrote it and what he was going through. Verse 21 is a conclusion Paul had come to and as the verses go on we realize that Paul was truly torn between living his life on earth and heading to heaven. Paul’s perspective seems to be uncommon. His stated desire was to depart and head to heaven, but if there was more life for him to live, Christ would be his life. It seems to be that most, or many seem to reverse Paul’s verse a bit. Rather than to live is Christ, and to die is gain; the more common theme amongst many seems to be “to live is gain and to die is Christ.”

Many do not think much about Christ, let alone allowing Him a place in their life, until they think about the end of their life.

While Paul gives us the posture of one who is longing for heaven, while living on earth; we know that many are longing for life on earth, knowing life on earth is not the end. I have spoken about the statistics on the matter in the past, what we have seen is that 1 in 1 will die a physical death.


Illus. Who wants to live forever?


Illus. What did you think?


In the next section on Philippians, Paul is going to say what he thinks about life and death, and the conclusion he had come to. This morning we will gain insights from what Paul’s process and purpose that give us three “How to’s” for those of us who are living with heaven on the horizon. Specifically, we will look at living with God’s purpose for today, His promise for tomorrow, and taking to the plans He has for you.


Read: Philippians 1:21-26


  1. Choose Christ and His Purpose Today


  • As Paul wrote from prison, he was not completely sure how it all would work out.


  • He seems to have some level of confidence in some verses, but other verses lead us to believe he was not 100% certain.


  • For example, in verse 19 he wrote that he knew his situation would turn out for his deliverance, which at first glance seems to be telling us that he believes he will get out, but in the very next verse as he continued to speak his circumstances, he wrote that he will exalt Christ whether he lives or dies.


  • Here again Paul expresses his conviction that he will continue with them, and in verse 17 casts some doubt on the subject writing, “I will rejoice even if I lose my life.”


  • This indicates that Paul did not know which way things were going to go. In verse 20, he continued, with a powerful statement however, that whether he was going to live or die, one thing was true for him,


Philippians 1:20-21, I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (NIV)


  • It seems that Paul was more concerned about his testimony than he was his trial.


  • When Paul wrote “eager expectation” it pictures someone straining their neck forward to see what is ahead.


  • As he looked forward, he knew that he would not be ashamed, but rather, that with all boldness, which means “sufficient courage” Christ would be magnified through his life.


  • He then displays his sincere desire for Christ to be exalted, whether by death or by life.


  • Paul was looking forward to how his life, or his death might magnify Christ. It is an admission that he might continue on or might not, he might be released, or he might be martyred, either way, Christ will be magnified through his life.


  • The word exalted is translated elsewhere, “magnified.” When you magnify something, you don’t become bigger, but whatever you are magnifying becomes bigger.


  • Paul’s purpose was to magnify Christ, it is what he was looking forward to, it is the way he chose to live out his day, even in the toughest of times.


  • Paul was writing this letter from prison; he had been imprisoned for nearly four years.


Illus. The backstory.


  • These are just the latest happenings. While out on his third missionary journey, before his arrest in Jerusalem, Paul wrote these words about some of his tough times…


2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent adrift at sea. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.


  • With all Paul’s experiences in mind, he makes it clear again and again that his eager expectation, the focus of his life, was to magnify Jesus Christ.


Philippians 1:22, If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.


  • Paul knew it he lived on in the flesh, his purpose and priority would remain fruitful labor for Christ, at that time, however, he did not know with certain, which way things would go.


  • When Paul wrote, “I do not know” the word in Greek is gnorizo (Know-reed-zo), which means literally, “to make known.” In other words, Paul did not know because God had not yet made it known to him.


  • Paul had already made the statement “to live is Christ…” So his choosing of life he was going to leave up to Christ. “I don’t know what I would choose, that hasn’t been made known to me.”


  • Though it hadn’t been made known, he was determined that if he lives on in the flesh, there was fruitful labor in store for him.


  • This points us back to some of what we looked at last week.


Philippians 1:12, Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.


  • Last we studied the verses that followed that section, where Paul spoke about his imprisonment, and how Roman soldiers were getting saved, people were coming to visit him day after day, learning about Jesus. He wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Not only that, but others were also emboldened to speak about Christ due to the circumstances of his life.


  • Even as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11 about the things he had gone through, the labors of his life, we know that throughout all the tough stuff, there was fruitful progress for the gospel in his life. Paul went throughout the known world, preaching teaching, and planting at least 14 churches.


  • Paul was more concerned about his testimony than his trial, more concerned about kingdom fruit than his present fight.


John 15:4-5, Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.


Illus. Fruit.


  • Regarding his fruitful life in Christ, and the gain of death, Paul reveals his thoughts on the matter.


  • How could this be? It is because he had a present purpose, but also an eternal promise.


  1. Look Forward to His Promises for Tomorrow


Philippians 1:23, I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better. yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes.


  • Paul was hard-pressed, which carries the idea of being preoccupied, or compelled in two different directions.


  • The two directions were what he would gain in death, but also fruitful labor if he lived on in the flesh.


  • Jesus had been magnified through Paul’s life, and he now tells the church that Christ could be magnified through his death if it came to that.


  • To him, life is Christ, death is gain.


  • It was gain in a couple of ways: first, his martyrdom would be glory to God. His faithful and fearless death would bring glory to God.


  • Secondly, he would head to heaven, and be face to face with Jesus.


  • He had heaven on his horizon, and when heaven is on your horizon, you live in a similar situation. Perhaps the matter does not seem quite as pressing as it was for him, but, with the same two realities.


  • You think about what is now, and also what is next.


Philippians 3:20-21, For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our lowly condition into conformity with His glorious body, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.


  • Our citizenship is in heaven, we are headed there. We are also citizens here; we live here now. And our citizenship in heaven should inform how we live in the present.


  • We are hard-pressed in both directions, pressed with the things of the present, but knowing we are closer to heaven now than we were yesterday.


Psalm 90:10, As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.


Psalm 90:12, Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (NIV)


Job 14:1, Man who is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.


Psalm 39:5, Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. (NASB 95’)


James 4:13-15, Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are just a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”


  • Paul did not know what his life would be like tomorrow, nor do we. But when he thought about tomorrow, he knew he was headed to glory.

C.S. Lewis, It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.


  • Paul was aiming for heaven, it was on his horizon.


  • He knew Romans 10:13, he wrote it, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And He had called on the Lord’s name.


  • It wasn’t always that way. Paul had previously lived another way. He was headed a different way.


  • Not only was Paul not a Christian, he did not want anyone to be a Christian. But then the Lord met him, called him, compelled him, and showed him that he had a hope and a future.


  • He knew heaven was on his horizon, he knew it, so as he lived with purpose throughout is “today’s”, he could also look forward to God’s promises for tomorrow.


Illus. Insights on heaven.


John 14:1-3, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (NKJV)


  • From 1 Corinthians 15 we know that those who have given their lives to Christ will reside there.


  • From Matthew 5:12 and 6:19-20, we know that there are joys, rewards, and treasures there…


  • From Revelation 21, we know there are streets of gold, and it is decorated with precious stones.


Revelation 21:4, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”


  • Revelation 22:5, tells us that heaven is filled with the light of Christ.


  • Revelation 21:3, informs us that God dwells there and will dwell with us there.


1 Corinthians 2:9, Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the human heart, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.


John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?


  • As Paul continues to write to the church at Philippi, he looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises. He had given his life to Christ, he knew that by believing in Him, he would never die, but rather, he would head to paradise.


2 Corinthians 5:8, We are of good courage and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.


  • Verse 23(b)… “having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.”


  • The word Paul used for “depart” is “” It is a word that means to break up, unloose, undo, or depart from.


  • It is a word that was commonly used in a couple instances.


  • It was used by sailors who would pull up their anchor and set sail.


  • It was also used by soldiers who would set up camp during a battle or for a period of time and then break camp when they were ready to go.


  • John Stott suggests that it may very well be a camping metaphor from Paul who was a tent maker. He wrote, “In this case, death for Christians is the end of what is at best, a transitory thing, a camp life, in which they traveled without permanent resting place. This is to be exchanged for the ‘house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’ (2 Corinthians 5:1).”


  • 1 Peter 2 tells us that we are strangers, foreigners, pilgrims, travelers as we walk through this life.


  • Hebrews 13:14, Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.


  • In other places, (2 Corinthians 5), Paul wrote out the earthly tent we live in, and here is says in effect, I am ready to pack it up. Why, because he was ready to be with Christ.


  • So, how are we to live with heaven on the horizon? Know that this world, this tent, is not where it’s at.


Illus. Tent break down.


  • Paul wrote, I am ready to pack up, because what is on the horizon is heaven, and that is very much better.


  • Literally Paul is saying, that is my desire because it is by far the best.


Philippians 1:25-26, Yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your pride in Christ Jesus may be abundant because of me by my coming to you again.


  • As you live, if you have given your life to Christ, you have the same future in front of you. But right here and right now is where God has placed you.


III.  Take to the Plans He Has for You


  • That is my final encouragement this morning. For you to take to the plans God has for you.


  • This means setting down your own plans, your own ways, and take to what God has planned for your days.


  • Perhaps you are in a tough season, or difficult situation this morning. Perhaps you are ready to pack up the tent or mail it in.


  • I want to encourage you to the fact that God knows what is most needful for you, and you, though heaven is on your horizon, are living in the here and now and God has plans for you, but those plans may not be about you.


  • Notice that Paul says, for him to remain was necessary for their sakes. So that he could continue with them for their joy and faith, and so that their boasting in Christ would abound on account of him.


  • Perhaps you are in a bad chapter, well, I want to point you to a good verse…


Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.


  • Jeremiah 29:11 is a great verse in a bad chapter. The Israelites were in captivity, there were false prophets telling them that they would be out of there, they were encouraging them to have dreams about their departure…But the Lord had something different to say.


  • Jeremiah 29:4-7, The Lord said, build houses and settle down, plant gardens and eat what they produce, have children, increase in number, seek the peace and prosperity of the city, pray to the Lord for it, if it prospers, you will prosper.


  • Verse 10, when seventy years were completed, they would be brought back to the promised land.


 Illus. Make it count.




Philippians 1:21-26
21For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes. 25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that your pride in Christ Jesus may be abundant because of me by my coming to you again. 

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