Dying to Live
What do you want out of life? Happiness, security, acceptance, pleasure, comfort? What about meaning and purpose? And if you want those things, what are you doing to get them? Is it even possible to get them? How do you go about getting what you want?
Isn’t it true that most people try to acquire the things I mentioned by pursuing something tangible? In other words, they try to achieve happiness, security, or whatever, through money or possessions. Recently, I heard a pastor say, “A lot of our fulfillment and satisfaction in life comes from what we expect.” So, if I expect that a Lamborghini or a yacht will bring me happiness or acceptance with a certain group of people, I will make it my goal to eventually own one of those.
I don’t want a Lamborghini or a yacht, nor could I afford one, but in the past, there have been things I wanted because I thought they would make me happier. But guess what? It’s an illusion; it doesn’t work out that way. I finally got what I thought I wanted and – meh – it was a letdown. I have a feeling you know what I’m talking about. Why is that?
As I was thinking about these questions, I was reminded that all the major religions of the world call their adherents, their followers, to something outside of the physical world.
Islam calls its followers to jihad, the willingness to lay down one’s physical life for promised eternal benefits in the afterlife. Hinduism and Buddhism call their adherents toward nirvana, “a state in which the mind, enlightened as to the illusory nature of the self, transcends all suffering, and attains peace.” Judaism and Christianity promise eternal rewards for surrender to God’s will and obedience to His commands.
So, one thing that all these religions agree on is, that true fulfillment isn’t found in this earthly life. They all have elements of death and rebirth. And while all of them may contain some elements of truth, it’s obvious that not all of them can be ultimately true. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father [God] except through me,” John 14:6. And He is the only one who showed us how the process of “Dying to Live” works.
That’s our subject for today, “Dying to Live.” Our text is Second Corinthians 4:13 to 18.
Before we get into the text before us, allow me to comment on the title, “Dying to Live.” This concept is critical to our understanding of what it means to be a Christ-follower. Jesus, in speaking about His own death, said, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”
When we put a seed of whatever kind in the ground, we have faith that life will come forth from that seed. But first, that seed must die. We can’t observe what is happening to that seed in the ground, but we confidently expect it to produce a new life. Jesus used this illustration, one His audience understood completely to explain His death, burial, and resurrection. And, as the followers of Jesus, you and I must likewise experience this reality of dying to live.
In this text, Paul lists the ELEMENTS that enable us to grasp the paradox of “Dying to Live.”
The First ELEMENT is,
What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance [or realization] of things hoped for, theevidence [or confidence] of things not seen.”
I introduce this point by reading several verses from Psalm 116. We don’t know who wrote this psalm, but whoever it was, he was in deep trouble. He spoke about the cords of death binding him as a prisoner, and the distress of the grave grabbing hold of him. But listen to his testimony. “For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord In the land of the living. I believed; therefore, I spoke…”
Paul is quoting the psalmist here in verse 13 of our text. Paul says he has the same Spirit of faith as expressed by the psalmist. That faith empowers him to believe and speak in the midst of his troubles. What you see in Psalm 116 and in Paul’s testimony is that both are confident in God’s ability to deliver them.
Paul specifically states that his faith rests in knowing the God who raised up the Lord Jesus from death. How did Paul know that? He wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to His disciples. He never met Jesus on earth. And remember, I said in an earlier message that knowing, as Paul uses it, isn’t simply intellectual, it’s experiential. He knew it was real because it changed his life! And if you’re faith is genuine it has changed your life too.
The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is our assurance that we too shall be raised up with Him. And not only that, but Paul also says that the same God who raised Jesus will present us together. “Present us together, where, how, when? Jude 24 and 25 tell us. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion, and power, both now and forever. Amen.”
Did you catch that? Paul, and all genuine followers of Christ, will be [future tense] presented faultless, in Christ, in the presence of the Heavenly Father. We embrace that future promise in faith. Why? Because both God and Christ have proven themselves worthy of our trust.
Paul’s faith extends to the realization that everything that happens to him is for the benefit of those to whom he’s writing, in this case, the Corinthians. Romans 8:28 is most likely Paul’s most well-known statement on this principle. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Apart from faith, this verse makes no sense. Most times we can’t see the good being produced by trials.
But part of that “working for good” that Paul mentions is grace. Grace is the divine gift of spiritual energy that motivates our labor, our suffering, and our triumph. The sufferings that you and I experience for Christ promote the spiritual life and growth of the Church. In turn, that spiritual life causes others to thank God. That thanksgiving increases and overflows as the number of disciples grow. It is a cyclical process that is self-perpetuating.
Learning how to die in order that we might live is impossible without faith. Faith takes us beyond the visible, beyond the tangible, into the realm of the spiritual.
The Next ELEMENT (that enables us to grasp the paradox of dying to live) is,
Notice what Paul says in verse sixteen. Because of the mercy of God (chapter 4, verse 1), and because of the sovereignty of God and His divine purposes (verse 15), we don’t lose heart, we persevere. Why? Because we have learned that the daily dying of our physical bodies is set in contrast to our growth in grace.
As I approach my middle 60s, I understand this concept much better than I did as a 20-something. My physical body shows signs that it’s beginning to wear out. But by God’s grace, I find my inner man, the spiritual part of my being is being renewed. Just as the wearing out of the body is progressive, so is the renewing of the spiritual.
Now, notice what Paul says, “For our momentary lightness of affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Look at the contrasts here: the moment versus the eternal, lightness versus weight, and temporary affliction versus eternal glory. Let’s unpack this a bit.
After all that Paul has suffered physically and emotionally, including his rejection by some in Corinth, he talks about the momentary lightness of his affliction. That’s amazing!
Paul understood that his afflictions or sufferings were temporary, but they were functioning much like a natural law. Take gravity for example; unless another law of physics is applied to overcome it, gravity always functions in the same way. Paul had faith that his perseverance in suffering for Christ would, just like a law of nature, inevitably result in his glorification. In fact, he says the glory that results from patient endurance of suffering would far exceed the temporary pain of that suffering.
And not all suffering comes from outside of us; some of it is self-inflicted. We have our own weaknesses and fleshly desires that cause us pain. We must learn, like Paul did, to obey Christ’s command to take up our cross daily and follow Him. That is often painful for us because of our selfishness and the strength of our desires. But we must persevere, we must not give up even in the face of temporary defeat.
When Paul describes the weight of the glory being produced in us, the original text actually uses the word hyperbole and then repeats it. You recognize that don’t you? We use hyperbole for the effect of exaggeration. The original word literally means “a throwing beyond, excess, or superiority.” One writer put it this way, “this glory is exceedingly unto excess.” So, this glory being produced in us surpasses anything we can imagine.
Why is perseverance important in dying to live? Well, go back to the illustration of the seed being put into the ground. If you interrupt the process prematurely, no fruit is produced. If we fail to persevere in faith through the trials of life, there will be no surpassing glory for us.
The Final ELEMENT (that enables us to grasp the paradox of dying to live) is,
The reason why Paul can refer to his sufferings as light and momentary is found in the final verse of our text. He explains that we can view the trials and reverses in life as momentary “because we are not gazing at or focusing on visible things, but on the invisible.”
Remember, I said at the beginning of my teaching that our tendency is to seek happiness, fulfillment, security, and more by accumulating tangible things, things we can see and touch. But Paul says, “no, the way to fulfillment is to focus on things that are invisible.” But how do you see and focus on things that are invisible?
In Romans 1:20 Paul wrote, “For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead [or deity] …” So, the visible things in the created world point us to the knowledge of God, even though He is invisible. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”
What then is your focus in life? Your answer to this question will determine whether or not you understand the concept of dying to live. Here’s what I understand Paul to be saying. Those who focus (the word is skopeo) on the visible and temporary things of life will miss the invisible and eternal things of God. At the end of life, they will be disappointed because the visible things they focused on will all vanish. Poof, they’ll be gone; incinerated.
Now notice the invisible things are not like that. Paul says they are eternal. It is so important for us to understand that eternity isn’t a mere extension of or greater quantity of time. Eternity is qualitatively different from our current experience. The “things that are eternal” exist as much now as they will ever do. We are as much living in eternity now as we ever shall be. The difference will be that we shall then see Him who is now unseen and realize the things which now are only visible to the eye of faith.
So, if you and I focus on the things that are invisible, if we fix our gaze on them, and make them the goal of our life, those things cannot be taken from us. Hebrews 11:27 illustrates this element of focus in the life of Moses. “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”
Notice with me how concisely this verse contains all the elements that help us grasp the paradox of dying to live. By faith, Moses left Egypt. What did he have to go on? What was the basis of his faith? It was the ability to see the invisible. By faith, he endured or persevered. Forty years on the barren terrain of the wilderness! Accepting the reproach of Christ as being of greater worth than all the riches of Egypt! Why? Because he was focused on Him who is invisible.
I hope and pray that our time in the Word has given you a greater understanding of this paradox of dying to live. What a tremendous encouragement to know Him who is invisible. I close with these words written by the apostle Paul in Romans 8:18. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
So, I encourage you, to exercise your faith, demonstrate your perseverance, and sharpen your focus. As you do these things, you will be dying to live.