"We see, in many a land, the proudest dynasties and tyrannies still crushing, with their mountain weight, every free motion of the Consciences and hearts of men. We see, on the other hand, the truest heroism for the right and the greatest devotion to the Truth in hearts that God has touched. We have a work to do, as great as our forefathers and, perhaps, far greater. The enemies of Truth are more numerous and subtle than ever and the needs of the Church are greater than at any preceding time. If we are not debtors to the present, then men were never debtors to their age and their time. Brethren, we are debtors to the hour in which we live. Oh, that we might stamp it with Truth and that God might help us to impress upon its wings some proof that it has not flown by neglected and unheeded." -- C.H. Spurgeon . . . "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:31, 32 . . . . .


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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Four Astounding Words

by A.M. Kisly

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

The last four words in this verse just quoted are, to me, four of the most astounding words in scripture.  "To DIE is GAIN!"  These words can be understood only by a singular group of people - born again, spiritually minded Christians. Unsaved people cannot understand them, nor can carnally minded, worldly Christians understand and appreciate them.

When a loved one dies we refer to that death as a "loss." We say, "We lost our mother," or "We lost our father," or "We lost our child."  But to the Apostle Paul, that spiritual giant who was God's minister to the Church, death was not a loss.  It was definitely payday for him!  Therefore he declared, "To die is Gain."


One thing that makes these words so outstanding is the condition under which Paul wrote them.  He was a prisoner in Rome, subject to the whims of the Roman emperor Nero, and he was undoubtedly well enough acquainted with the temperament and practices of the emperor to know that any Christian imprisoned under his rule was in danger of being put to death.  Yet throughout Paul's epistle to the Philippian believers there is a note of victory, an inner joy which persecutions and trials could not take away.  The knowledge that he might be facing execution could neither frighten nor discourage him, and he could testify, "For to me . . .TO DIE IS GAIN!"

Such confidence comes when we obey the call of CONVERSION.

Saul, devout in Judaism, made havoc of the Church.  When persecution broke out in Jerusalem, the Church went underground, and while the apostles remained, others scattered.  It seems that many religious leaders were satisfied that they drove out the disciples, but Saul was definitely not.  He was going to get every last one of them, in fact he made it his mission to go after them and persecute them.  He hated Jesus Christ and the disciples, and in Acts chapter 8:1-3, we are told that he entered into every house, haling men and women out and committing them to prison.  In chapter 9 it says that Saul breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.”  This was an angry zealous man, who was fiercely committed to destroying Christianity.  

BUT...while on his way to Damascus he had an encounter with Jesus.  He hears a voice, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?"  Not recognizing the voice, he asks, "Who art thou, Lord?" The ignorance of Saul stands out here.  He is a devoutly religious man, yet did not know the Lord Jesus Christ.  “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”  The Lord reveals Himself to Saul and Saul falls prostrate with his face in the dust.  He responds, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"  Wait! What!?!  The voice of the One whose followers he had so zealously persecuted and helped to destroy is now confronting him directly.  This Hebrew of the Hebrews from the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, blameless under the law, raised under and adhering to the strictest sect of the Pharisees immediately falls to the ground saying, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”  The conviction must have been overwhelming.

What a conversion!!!

No stalling.  No doubting.  No excuses.  No prideful resistance. No rebellion....he immediately accepts, and receives Jesus Christ in humble obedience.  Amazing!

Blinded by the light (Jesus, the Light) that he had seen from heaven, the Lord instructs him to rise up and go into the city, and then he will be told what he should do. 

He did not panic.  He did not cry out in despair.  He did not become angry.  He obeys the voice of the Lord.

He spent three days without sight nor eating, or drinking. He didn’t even know what was coming next, but was going to find out.  

Scripture leaves out what Paul was thinking, or what he might have been praying. But one thing is for sure, he now recognized his own exceeding sinfulness.  Years later, writing to  Timothy, he referred to himself as "chief of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15).  The realization of his own sinfulness left an indelible mark of humility on this man who had been so proud of his heritage “an Hebrew of the Hebrew…of the straightest sect of the Pharisees.”  These must have been days of painful perplexity to Saul of Tarsus.  His experience had shaken the very foundations of his life.  He had been educated, trained, and wholly dedicated in the religion of the Jews.  He had zealously persecuted those who followed Jesus of Nazareth, but now he had met that same Jesus in a very real and personal way.

While waiting on the Lord for three days, God is working on the other end.  Remember the disciples are in hiding, and God calls on one of them to go minister to Saul.

We know that Ananias received a vision from the Lord instructing him to find Saul in the house of Judas, and lay hands on him that he might receive his sight and the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:10-12). Knowing Saul’s reputation, Ananias is understandably hesitant, probably seeking assurance that God was actually directing him to call on this one who so recently threatened anyone who followed Jesus.  The Lord explains to Ananias that Saul is a chosen vessel who will bear His name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.  

So Ananias went his way, and obeying the Word of the Lord laid hands on Saul saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” Acts 9:17).  

The scales fell from Saul eyes and he received his sight immediately and was baptized.  He takes a meal and he is strengthened, then continues “certain days with the disciples in Damascus.” I’m sure they had wonderful fellowship in the Lord.  Can you imagine the conversation, the rejoicing and thanksgiving to God for the Great thing He has done.  This enemy of theirs is now their brother. This persecutor, now their friend.

Immediately following this, scripture tells us in verse 20, “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.”

Thus Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle, filled with the Holy Spirit and ready for service.  He arose and was baptized, thereby announcing to all that he had embraced Christianity. “And STRAIGHTWAY he preached CHRIST . . . that He is THE SON OF GOD.” Paul’s preaching gave a new and higher character to the proclamation of the Gospel, for he preached Jesus in His proper and divine glory - not only Messiah, but very Christ, very God in flesh.  “Very Christ” means the very Messiah, God in the flesh.  This is the One the prophets prophesied about.  The fact that he preached this message in the synagogues shows how powerfully his life was changed when he answered the call of conversion.  What a conversion indeed!

The scripture teaches that the Lord would show him that the great things he would suffer for His name’s sake, but that did not deter Paul.  He obeyed the call of CONVERSION!.  Paul obeyed the call of service, and also the call of FAITHFULNESS to the WORD OF GOD.

Just a word on service.  There are always plenty of people who are willing to be active in the work of the church if they can serve in a place of prestige and honor.  They’ll flock outside the pastor’s office waiting to be noticed as one worthy of such position. It is not difficult to find those wanting to be spiritual “superintendents” and “bosses.”  That said, there are different offices and responsibilities in the church, and all are important, but God also needs ordinary workers who are willing to do whatever needs to be done.  It takes more grace to be a worker of “small works” which go unproclaimed and unheralded, than the grace needed to occupy an exalted position which receives the notice and praise of men.  Don’t misunderstand me, God needs consecrated spirit filled leaders to work with His undershepherds, but if you are the janitor in your church, determine by the grace of God that you will be the very best janitor Jesus has!  Faithfully discharge your duties in that humble office, and you will receive a full reward (Matthew 25:20-23).

Paul imprisoned in a Roman dungeon awaiting his execution, wrote to Timothy, we might say, was his own epitaph. At the close of his ministry, as he penned his last letter to the young preacher, Timothy, he said, “Preach the WORD; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine….Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the FAITH.  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” (II Timothy 4:2-8 in part).

To the Corinthians he wrote, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed.  We are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (II Corinthians 4:8-10).

Throughout Paul’s ministry and in his writings there is unmistakable courage and no note of defeat.  Even in these last words to Timothy we see no reprieve from the sentence of death Nero had passed upon him.  Therefore he said, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”  But as he looked back over the years of his ministry he could also say, “I have fought a GOOD fight, I have FINISHED my course, I have KEPT THE FAITH.” He had no regrets as he looked back, and then looking forward he exclaimed, “Henceforth there is laid up for me A CROWN of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me…!”

Paul was telling young Timothy that He had been faithful to the Word, faithful to his call and is charging him to do the same.

I wonder what the Apostle Paul would say today if he heard the charge given to some of our liberal ministers when they are ordained?  What would he say if he visited some of our liberal churches on Sunday morning and heard the culture friendly, Bible-denying, “sermons” delivered there?  What would he say about the me focused message of psychology, the flesh filled entertainment called “worship.” What would he say about the virgin birth “mythology”, the creation “mythology” being taught in liberal seminaries attended by theological students who will one day fill our pulpits tomorrow if Jesus tarries?

To the Corinthian believers Paul declared, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him CRUCIFIED.  And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of MAN’S wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of GOD” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

In Paul’s amazing conversion what really stands out to me was his immediate obedience, his undying devotion and faithfulness, his love and zeal for the Lord and the truth of His word.  No compromise! He did not soften, or deviate from the whole truth, and his preaching would eventually cost him his life.  Before Nero sent him to the headsman’s block, he spent a lot of time in jail. I doubt that during the years of his ministry his name would  have been found in society’s “Who’s Who” and he certainly was not listed among the “religious” leaders of that day.  Yet God’s Word declares that Paul died with a testimony that means infinitely more than any place of prominence among men, or any monument that might have been built in his honor.  He testified, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is GAIN!”

As for me, I had rather be able to say those words from the heart when I come to die, than to have the highest accolades of man.  I had rather have those words on my lips in my dying hour than any other.

Dear reader, if you are not saved, please give your heart to Jesus, answer God’s call to conversion, so that you, too, can say “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

If you are saved but have never witnessed, start today.  No delays.  No excuses.  No stalling.  No resistance.  Just Go!  Obey the voice of the Lord.  It will pay abundant dividends, both in this world, and in the world to come.

And if you are witnessing, but your witness is not one hundred percent true to the Word of God.  I beg you to bow on your knees and ask God to forgive you for compromising the Word - and then proclaim the Word faithfully until Jesus calls you home!  Then you too can testify with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is GAIN!”  

The devil is shrewd and cunning.  He is a thief and a liar, and a murderer.  His number-one desire is to damn as many souls as he possibly can and send them to hell.  Even if he loses a soul because someone is born again through the blood of Jesus, he does not give up but immediately sets about to wreck the testimony of that new Christian and spoil the effectiveness of any witnessing the newborn soul may do.  His favorite scheme against pastors is to get them sidetracked from the Word of God.  The devil knows that the only message he cannot handle is the message of the pure Gospel, and if he can get a preacher to water down the message, he has won a great victory.

We may never fully understand, this side of heaven, the importance of the Word of God.  We can never understand the emphasis God places upon His Word until we have the mind of Christ, when we are made like Him (1 John 3:2).  Even Jesus, when He was resisting the devil met every attack of Satan by quoting the Scriptures. If Satan could wreck our Bible he could destroy the entire plan of salvation!  But Hallelujah to God!!! the WORD OF GOD is forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89, and the devil cannot get his hands on it!

As Paul faced death and eternity, his charge to the young preacher Timothy was “Preach the WORD.” That charge still stands today!  Be faithful in your conversion, faithful in your calling and service, and faithful to the Word of God.  In the end, Paul lived for Christ, and in his death he gained his final reward.  

Can we...will we be able to say the same?

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