Craig Worley CELEBRATION OF LIFE SERVICE SERMON:
Philippians 1:18b-23 “To Be with Christ is FAR Better”
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Intro: I find it an incredible honor and privilege to preach at Craig’s Celebration of Life Service. Craig was a dear friend to me, a brother in Christ, and someone who helped lead our church. We spent many precious moments together praying and talking and planning and telling others about Jesus.
In Craig, I saw a love for Christ that impacted all he did. It was visible in his marriage with Michelle, in the way he parented 4 daughters, in his affection for his grandchildren, and how treated everyone else. I’m so grateful for the time I had with Craig and the mark he left on my life will always remain.
So, I mean it when I saw it is a GREAT HONOR to preach this afternoon. And, having known Craig for about 4 years, I know that he would want me to use this opportunity to point you all not to himself, but to the one whom Craig loved above all: Jesus Christ. And that is what I hope to do that this afternoon, as we look at a passage from the Bible together.
Today we consider just one part of a verse from Philippians 1:18-23. You just heard the passage read and you can find it in your program if you would like to give it a look. We will be looking at the very last sentence of our passage, where we hear the Apostle Paul share his heart. He says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” In making this statement, Paul shows us an approach to reality that is centered on the hope of knowing and being with Christ. Paul knew that when he would die, he would be with his savior Jesus Christ, and for Paul, this was something FAR BETTER than even being alive, or anything else we could experience on this earth.
This is what our brother Craig is experiencing right now: eternal life in presence of Jesus Christ. Craig is with Jesus and that is FAR BETTER than anything else, even being alive today. This is a Christian’s approach to reality: true life, the best life we could ever experience, is the life of knowing, loving, and being with Christ.
LET’S PRAY and CONSIDER THIS PASSAGE A BIT MORE TOGETHER
In God’s Word we hear Paul tell us that “TO BE WITH CHRIST, IS FAR BETTER,” But what does this mean? And how will we respond? What can we do with this truth? This is what we’ll consider today.
1. What Does it mean to say, ‘To Be with Christ is FAR Better’?
If we want to know what this passage means, we have to first look at its context. The Apostle Paul is writing a letter to the Philippian Christians from jail. He wants to encourage them as they seek to follow Jesus. At this point in his letter he dealing with the question of his own death and what that means for him.
Surely some of you today are considering your own death. I think it always happens at memorial services. When will I die? Will it be soon, or many years away? Our dear friend Craig was only 55 year old. Some of you are many years older than Craig and others many years younger. NONE of us know for sure when we’ll die, but do this: one day it will happen to us.
The Apostle Paul said that his “desire was to depart and be with Christ, for that was far better.” We learn that as the said this, he felt a tension in his heart. On the one hand, Paul knew that if he remained alive, this would mean what he describes as “fruitful labor” for him. Fruitful labor means more time spent seeing lives transformed by the truth and good news of the gospel. Paul knew that if he lived many more years, then he could spend that time seeing many more people come to faith in Christ and grow in their faith in Christ. This was an incredible joy for Paul. It was also a joy for Craig. He loved helping others grow in walk with Christ, and he cared deeply for those who had yet to come to know Jesus.
On the other hand, the Apostle Paul knew that if were to die, he would then experience something FAR BETTER: he would get to be with Jesus, and be finally free from sin, sickness, and death. This is the promise given to all who place their trust in Jesus: upon death, your soul will be in the gracious and wonderful presence of God. You will not rot in the ground, or cease to exist, or have to spend years in purgatory; when you die you will be in amazing presence of Christ! And one day when Jesus returns in glory, you will return with him and be give a physical body that will live forever on the new earth with God’s people.
The Apostle Paul knew that if the choice were really up to him, departing this world and being with Christ would be “FAR BETTER.” Ultimately, he knew that God is the one who determines when we die, but in this passage we see Paul’s heart which has come to behold the absolute greatness of Christ and unsurpassable joy of being with him. That is what heaven really is like and it is the best part of heaven.
The Bible teaches that you and I were created to know and love God, who has truthfully revealed himself in the Scriptures. This is God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is a God of love, light, grace, and truth. He the source of all goodness. He is the Creator and sustainer of the universe and all of it exists for His good glory. We made to know this God. Jesus summarized the essence of eternal life in this way, in John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the one true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Craig knew this and he experienced this. For him, life was knowing Christ. And Craig’s life was shaped by this.
I had the privilege of spending some time with Craig in the final days of his life. I’ll one you thing: Craig had NO FEAR of death. He knew Christ was his Savior and he was confident that whenever God took him home that he would get to be with Jesus. Craig was far more worried about other people than he was about himself. He wondered how others would be without him. Craig had a heart like Jesus, one that was compassionate and sacrificial in love and service.
Now Craig has, to use the biblical imagery, ‘finished his course, completed the race, and kept the faith.’ He is now in the presence of his lord and savior and experiencing something FAR BETTER than we could even imagine. And for this, we rejoice, even as we grieve his loss.
As you all are in this room hearing this, I’m sure that Craig would want me to ask you with how you would respond this truth. Perhaps he would have me ask you these questions…
2. What about you? Do you know Christ in this way? Is Christ precious to you?
When you step back and look at your heart and life, what would you say is of the greatest importance to you? What is your heart’s supreme desire? What most thrills your soul and gives you hope? It is God? Is it knowing and loving the one true God who is there?
The great theologian Augustine once said that what is wrong with humanity is a disordering of our loves. We all have things and people that we prioritize or love above others. It is impossible for us to love everyone and everything equally, there are some things we love more, and we ought to love more. We have a way that we ORDER our loves. Some thing or person is at the top of our loves, and it is this love that shapes us most. For Augustine, our problem was that we put the wrong thing in the number 1 love slot; our loves are disordered.
We can all easily identify some ways this happens. If money is our first love, then we become greedy. If a possession is our first love, then we overlook others at its expense. If success is our first love, we’ll destroy others to do what it takes to get it. If another person is our first love, then can easily place a burden or weight upon them they were never meant to bear.
Augustine argues that there is really one person who should be the first love of our lives, and all other loves OUGHT to come after that. God OUGHT to be the first love of our life. He is meant to be first and everything else is meant to come after Him. When this happens, we are living the way we were designed, and we actually end up loving others better. When we put other loves before God, then we go against God’s design for our life and we end up with all kinds of discord and ruin in our soul. Even more, when God is not our first love, we are on the path of spiritual ruin and devastation. Only God can carry the weight of the human heart’s worship and supreme love, and only God deserves to be our first love.
Another way of speaking about disordered loves is what the Bible calls SIN. Craig loved learning truth from the Scripture and one way he sought to do this was learning the New City Catechism. The New City Catechism summarizes what the Bible teaches about sin in this way: Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world He created, rebelling against him by living without reference to Him, not being or doing what he requires in His law, resulting our death and the disintegration of all creation. For many of us it means putting things of the world before God. It is a form of faithlessness to the God who created us and loves us; it is a form of spiritual adultery.
The Bible teaches all of us have gone astray in our hearts and chosen the path of sin. We see this in Romans 3:23: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is our biggest problem, it is a problem worse than being sick or unhealthy or left out or rejected by others, it is worse than losing our job or our house, it worse than even physically dying. SIN is so terrible because it cuts us off from God and leads to spiritual death. Romans 6:23 states that “the wages of sin is death.” This refers to being cut off from God’s life, now and into eternity in a real and terrible place called hell.
For my own experience, I grew up intellectually believing God, but he was not the first love of my heart or life. I did not really know what life could be like if God was first; I never really thought God matters in my day to day life. My loves were disordered. I lived for myself and the pleasures of this life. I lived for being in love, playing music and having good friends. God was an afterthought, He was irrelevant and certainly not viewed as my Lord or king.
But, God mercifully drew me to Himself at the age of 18 when I went to college. He showed me the evil and faithlessness of putting other people and things before God. He drew me to Himself and showed me that I was a sinner in need of His grace. He opened my eyes to the truth that He is God and deserves to be first in my life.
A question for us all this morning is what we will do with our disordered loves and sin against God? It will do no good to ignore the problem. It will still remain, and left unchecked will only lead to further ruin. This is because our sin makes us guilty before God who is holy and just and good. One day we’ll give an account for our lives and we will have do something with the facts of our sin.
Another option we may try is to attempt to clean ourselves up. Maybe we work hard at “being good,”, or we attend church more, or we try to stopping sinning. But this doesn’t work either. We can’t fix ourselves, our hearts are addicted to what is not right. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “I do what I don’t want to do” (Rom 7:20). What we really need is heart and new ordering of our loves. We need God to be first in our lives, but we can’t seem to change ourselves.
So what can we do? Craig would agree with me there is really only one solution.
3. The only REAL solution for our disordered loves and sin is JESUS.
Only Jesus can save us from the mess of our disordered loves and the ruin of sin. The Bible, in 1 Tim 2:5, speaks of Jesus as the “mediator between God and humanity.” He is the one who brings us back to God and in all of reality, there is no one else who can do this. Only Jesus can, because only he is truly God and truly human. Only he lived a sinless life and can rescue us from our sins.
We read in 1 Tim 1:15 that “Christ came into the world in order to save sinners.” This was his mission and reason why he came. He knew we were in trouble and came to do something about it. In Luke 19:10, Jesus tells us that he “came to seek and save the lost.”
What a loving Savior! What a tender heart! He knew our lost state, he knew we didn’t care about God and were lost in our sin, but came to rescue us. He knew it would be costly to save us, but came anyway.
The way Jesus brought about our salvation from sin is expressed in the good news of the gospel. Jesus, the sinless one, came and lived a perfect life and then died in our place on the cross. Even while we dead in our sins, Jesus in love came to give his life for us. Romans 5:8 read, “God demonstrates his love toward in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” As Jesus died, he paid the penalty for our sin—so God’s justice would be fully satisfied and his mercy displayed.
But Jesus did not remain dead. On the third day he rose again from the grave. This proves that Jesus really is the Son of God and that his death really is sufficient to provide us with a deliverance from our sin.
The Bible teaches that we can get in on this deliverance from our sin through faith in Jesus. Salvation is not something we can earn or pretend we don’t need, it comes to us through the grace of God as a gift to be received by faith. We experience this salvation as we place our faith in Jesus and trust him as the one who died for our sins. John 3:16 reads, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.”
If you believe in Jesus you will have eternal life. It is that simple. It is the act of placing your trust in Jesus and turning away from your sin and the disordering of your loves. It involves declare to Jesus in your heart, “I believe in you. Please forgive me for my sins and my running away from God. Forgive me for my rebellion and unbelief. Give me a new heart and make me yours forever. I trust in your finished work on the cross as the one thing that can save me from my sins.”
Craig would want me to urge you to come to faith in Jesus. To be with Christ is really FAR BETTER than anything else. And there is no more important question than what you will do with God.
Friends, as we grieve and remember Craig, let us remember that he is now with Jesus, experiencing something far better than the greatest pleasures of this life. Let us enjoy God and enjoy the truth that Craig is now with Christ, even as we grieve and say goodbye.
PRAY AND CLOSE.