18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, September 17, and Sunday, September 18, 2005
Place tent in front of the church
Don’t worry. I’ll explain the tent in a moment.
Today we begin a four week series of sermons on Philippians. Pastor Miller and I will both be preaching on Paul’s letter to the Christians in the city of Philippi. Often during this time of year, the appointed readings from the Epistles, the letters in the New Testament, will be what’s called continuous readings. Each week takes another section from the same letter, going in order. While not covering all of the verses of a book, a continuous reading helps us to get a sense of that New Testament letter over a number of weeks.
So Pastor Miller and I have chosen to use these four weeks to look at Paul’s very personal letter to the church in Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia (modern day Greece), where Paul had preached and helped the church begin. Now Paul was writing to encourage the church, because there were people opposing the church.
From today’s reading in chapter one, I want to focus in on verses 23-24 where Paul says: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Paul is in prison as he writes this letter. He’s truly debating about what would be better—to keep living and suffering but doing the work of Christ or to die and be with Christ. Death would bring an end to his suffering, but living would mean he could continue to do the work of Christ.
From verses 23-24, I want you to learn two Greek words. The first one is analuo>. Say it with me: analuo. When Paul says, “I desire to depart,” the word for “to depart” is analuo. The other word is epimeno. Try it: epimeno. That’s the word Paul uses when he says, “I remain in the body.” So Paul is debating between analuo and epimeno.
The reason I want you to know the Greek words is because there’s a great word-picture here. Analuo is the word used when taking down a tent, hence the tent. Epimeno means to reside, abide, to continue to live. So when we say that Paul is debating between analuo and epimeno, it’s like he’s debating between taking down his tent or staying in his tent.
On the one hand, he wants to analuo, to depart. He’s suffered a lot for the sake of the Gospel, and there’s a strong desire in him to simply be done, praying that God would take him away from these troubles. Paul knew that it was a very real possibility that he’d be put to death, and part of him was just fine with that. If they killed him, he’d be with Christ.
On the other hand, he also knows that if he epimenos, if he continues to live, Christ will be with him. God will use Paul to encourage the Philippians and others, telling them about the love of Christ.
That’s the debate that Paul is having there in prison. It’s not so surprising to think that someone in prison would be having that kind of debate. It’s not that Paul’s thinking about committing suicide or not. It’s more that as he’s chained up, locked in that prison, he’s wondering why God wouldn’t just allow him to die instead of continuing to suffer. He’s comforting himself with the realization that it’d be a wonderful thing to die. He’d be with Christ. That’s not defeat; that’s victory and peace.
Think of it the debate this way. A climbing team is up at Base Camp III on Mount Everest. This is where the team rests a little while before making a final push to the summit. Now if the weather turns bad, the snows come in, the winds pick up, the temperature drops, the visibility is gone, then the team has to debate between taking down their tents, analuo, or staying, epimeno, hoping that the weather will clear up in time for them to go to the top of the mountain. There’s usually very little room for waiting because of oxygen, food, and water supplies, not to mention the extreme cold. Yet, when we’re talking about a climbing team, the debate between analuo and epimeno is a debate between not going up the mountain but getting out of the bad weather or staying and trying to get to the top of the mountain, their goal for the whole trip. If the team chooses to analuo, to take down their tents, they will not get to the summit. If the team chooses to epimeno, they endure and remain and will get to the summit.
That picture helps us to understand the words analuo and epimeno, but it actually doesn’t accurately show us the kind of debate Paul was having. He wasn’t debating between not getting to the summit or not. No, Paul’s saying, “To live is Christ, and to die is to be with Christ.” Either way, Paul is saying that he will be with Christ. It’s like either way the climbing team will get to the top of the mountain, whether they analuo or epimeno.,
Imagine that climbing team again, high up on Mount Everest, with the wind and snow and cold threatening to rip them right off the mountain. Normally if the team chooses to analuo, take down their tents, and depart, they won’t get to their goal of reaching the top. However, the way Paul’s talking about being with Christ whether he departs or remains, that’s like the climbing team knowing that they could epimeno, remain, and climb to the top, or they could analuo, depart, and still get to the top. If the team goes up the mountain, they’ll get to the summit. If the team goes down the mountain, they’ll get to the summit.
I know that’s not the way it works on Mount Everest. If you analuo, the expedition is over. You will not achieve your goal. But if you can imagine for a moment what a strange place it would be if you get to the summit whether you go up or down the mountain, if you can imagine that, then you’ve got some sense of the unique situation that Paul was in, that we’re all in as Christians. Whether we live or die, whether we analuo or epimeno, we will be with Christ. There’s victory either way. Either way this expedition reaches its goal.
That’s a unique position to be in, because without Christ, we wouldn’t have that same hope. For instance, if Paul didn’t believe in Christ, he might have wished for death while in prison because death would bring an end to the trouble and suffering. But that death would mean the end of life. Without Christ, there wouldn’t be any hope of getting to the summit if he takes down his tent and departs. You’d get out of the blizzard, but the expedition is over with nothing accomplished.
Again, if Paul didn’t believe in Christ, he might have wished to live, avoid death, while in prison, but life would continue troubles and hardships. There wouldn’t be any hope that life would bring a hopeful conclusion. Without Christ, you might remain on the mountain, trying to get to the top, but you’re going to continue to suffer in that blizzard with no guarantee that you’ll make it to the top.
Without Christ, that’s the kind of situation our family and friends face. Without Christ, the people around us are on a mountain, debating between taking down their tent or remaining, but there’s no guarantee of hope or victory no matter what happens. Without Christ, people who face death do not have the hope of victory in death. Without Christ, people who continue to live will suffer without any guarantee that there’s anyone waiting for them at the top of that mountain.
So Paul wanted the Philippains to know, and I want you to know that with Christ, you have victory whether you analuo or epimeno, whether you die or live. You will be with Christ no matter what. We do not need to fear death, because death will mean we are with Christ. If our tents get taken down, we’re still going to the top. On the other hand, we do not have to face suffering alone in this life, because Christ will be with us. If we remain in the tent on the mountain in the blizzard, we’re still going to the top. There’s this unique guarantee that you have through faith in Christ—whether you live or die, you will be with Him.
But now when facing all of that suffering in prison, how could Paul choose to epimeno? He says, “It is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” If death would bring an end to his suffering and he’d get to be with Christ, why would Paul be OK with continuing to live, suffering?
It’s like being on Mount Everest in that blizzard. If I knew that I could take down my tent, go down the mountain out of the blizzard, but still get to the summit, I’d choose to analuo, pack it in, and get out of the cold. But Paul stays up there. . .why?
Well, to stretch the Mount Everest metaphor just a little bit more, imagine that if you go down the mountain to get to the summit, that you’re the only one who can go. You came up the mountain as a team, but choosing to analuo, well, that’s only about you getting to the summit. The only way to help your whole team get to the summit is to remain, to epimeno, to continue through the blizzard and make a push for the top.
That’s kind of like the conclusion Paul comes to. Death would certainly mean the end of his suffering and the beginning of eternal life with Christ, but that’s only about Paul himself getting to the summit. Paul realizes that the only way that God can use him to help others get to the summit is if we stays, remains, epimenos on that mountain.
Paul’s debate isn’t just about Paul. Paul wants to epimeno for others—for the Philippians, for the other churches, for the people he hadn’t met yet, for all of the people that might hear about Christ through him if he continued to live, for us who hear God’s Word in his letter nearly 2000 years later.
There’s going to be plenty of times in our lives where it would seem far better if we could analuo, if we could take down our tent, if we could die, rather than continuing to suffer. Death is still hopeful for us because we know Christ will bring us to live with Him forever. Yet, God didn’t put us here just for ourselves. We’re not on this mountain expedition alone. If we remain, if leave our tents up, if we epimeno, God will use us to tell others about Christ, help others reach that summit.
Paul may have felt like departing to be with Christ, but the fact that he epimeno-ed, he remained, he endured, already meant incredible things for the Gospel by the time he wrote this letter to the Philippians. Listen to verses 12-14 of chapter 1:
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”
Because Paul continued in life even while suffering in prison, it meant that the palace guard, the Roman soldiers knew that Paul was in that prison because of Jesus. The soldiers were learning about Christ, learning how they too could have the hope of reaching the summit, having eternal life through believing in Jesus.
Because Paul epimeno-ed, other Christians were speaking about Jesus even more boldly. They saw how Paul had the hope of being with Jesus no matter whether he lived or died, and so they had the courage to go out and speak God’s Word.
From in prison, Paul would’ve had trouble at times seeing what good could come out of his suffering, but he trusted that God would use him.
And that brings us to the last picture I want you to take away from having this tent here. It’s the tough part of trying to choose to epimeno in the face of trouble, trying to remain in the tent on the mountain with the blizzard blowing down on you. (get inside tent until end of sermon) You see, when you’re in a tent, especially one designed for the extreme conditions on top of the world’s tallest mountain, you’re not spending much time looking out the screen door or sitting around a campfire. Instead, you’re sealed up in your tent with very little chance to see out. It’s dark outside, or it’s a complete whiteout. To peek out the door means letting in snow and wind.
So you’re sealed up in your tent, listening to the wind slam against the tent walls. You do not know how much snow is building up against the tent. You can’t hear anything but wind, so if someone else’s tent has been blown down, you probably won’t hear their shouts. You are ready to epimeno, to remain, to help the whole team reach the summit, but from inside that tent, there’s no way to see whether you’ll actually ever get to the summit.
In that same way, Paul couldn’t see what would happen to him while staying there in prison. We can’t see what will happen to us as we epimeno, as we remain on this mountain trying to tell others about Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that no matter what we will be with Christ, but we can’t see that. We can’t see down the trails. We can’t see the future.
Instead, we have faith, and faith is believing in things that we cannot see. We can’t see outside the walls of this tent, but we trust that we’re going to be able to climb to the summit. We can’t see beyond what we’re living through right now, but we trust God will be with us, that He will use us to tell others about His forgiveness and love.
You can’t see Jesus, just like you can’t see me right now. But Jesus is here with you. As you struggle in life, as you go through hardships, as people get offended by your faith and tell you to shut your mouth about that Jesus of yours, Jesus is with you. He will use you to help the rest of the team get to the summit, help others to know about eternal life with Christ. As you epimeno, as you remain, as you continue to live, Jesus will epimeno, remain, continue to live with you.