Monday Reverb – 25September2023

WELCOME and THANKS for joining us.




As we continue in Ordinary Time, a time of focusing on how we can participate in the work Jesus is doing in the world, it is important for believers to acknowledge that we can do nothing apart from Christ himself.

The theme this week is Jesus is life.

The psalmist reminds us to be grateful to God by recounting the ways in which he kept Israel alive in the desert.  Similarly, the Exodus passage tells the story of how God gave miraculous manna and quails to the Israelites for food.  In Philippians, Paul expressed his preference to give up his life if it meant being completely with Christ.  Finally, in Matthew, Jesus told a parable to illustrate how believers should gratefully receive the salvation we have in Christ.






I grew up in apple country.  My grandparents and my parents owned apple orchards, and each year we would hire laborers during harvest time to pick and pack apples.  We paid a fair wage, and we rarely had trouble finding laborers.  Sometimes a worker had to leave early or start late for some unforeseen reason, and I sometimes saw my dad or my grandfather pay them a full day’s wage anyway.  Still, I’m not sure I ever saw them do the practice we read about in the book of Matthew.

In chapter 20, Jesus tells an interesting parable to illuminate the kingdom of God.  He spoke about a landowner who sought to hire workers to labor in his vineyard.  Similar to when I was young, day laborers at that time would gather at a central location and wait to be hired.  The landowner hired his first batch of apple-pickers early in the morning, around 6:00, and agreed to pay them a denarius, which was the typical daily wage for work like this.  He went out and hired workers at 9:00, 12:00, 3:00, and 5:00.  When evening came, the landowner decided to pay all of the workers, starting with the last hired.  Seeing that the landowner paid those hired at 5:00 a denarius, those hired first expected to be paid more.  When they also received a denarius, they began to complain.  Those hired at 5:00 only worked one hour yet were paid the same wage as those who worked for 12 hours in the hot sun.  In Matthew 20, we read the interesting response of the landowner in Jesus’ story:

But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”  
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.  
Matthew 20:13-16

A lot is going on in this story.  The one central lesson is that God, the landowner is good, gracious, and generous to all of his servants.  This is the triune God’s nature, all the time.

The concept of human fairness is brought into question.  How can a laborer who worked just one hour get the same pay as a laborer who worked 12 hours?  The story is not really about labor laws and fair wagesIt is about a personal God who offers grace and salvation to all.

Let me ask a strange question – “Are grace and salvation better for me than they are for you?”  There are no degrees of separation, and Jesus’ teachings always deflate the notion of a competition or contest.

The landowner has space and rewards for all.  As Jesus assured his followers, “In my house are many mansions.”

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life   

  • Why do you think we often compare ourselves to others, even in the church?
      • to feel good about how we’re doing?  to get a feeling of satisfaction?
  • Why do you think it is so tempting to try to earn salvation?
      • because we want to feel we’ve contributed to our salvation in some way

Philippians 1:21-30

When college professor, Morrie Schwartz, was terminally diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), he decided that he would not fade away quietly.  Rather, he decided to use his experience of dying to ponder the meaning of life.  Upon hearing of Schwartz’ diagnosis, former student and author and journalist, Mitch Albom, rushed to see his favorite professor.  What started as a one-time visit turned into a weekly conversation until Schwartz’ passing in 1995.  The fruit of those discussions became a best-selling book titled, Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson. I n the book, Albom recalls a conversation he had with Schwartz:

“The truth is, Mitch,” he said, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

I nodded.

“I’m going to say it again,” he said. “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”  He smiled, and I realized what he was doing.  He was making sure I absorbed this point, without embarrassing me by asking.  It was part of what made him a good teacher.

Did you think much about death before you got sick?  I asked.

“No.” Morrie smiled…

But everyone knows someone who has died,” I said.  “Why is it so hard to think about dying?”

“Because,” Morrie continued, “most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking.  We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.”

And facing death changes all that?

“Oh, yes.  You strip away all the stuff and you focus on the essentials.  When you realize you are going to die, you see everything much differently.”

He sighed. “Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.”[1]

These are wise words.  Death is an uncomfortable topic for most of us.  None of us enjoys contemplating our own mortality.  Conversations about death can painfully remind us of loved ones we have lost.  However, facing the reality that we are finite can give us perspectiveKnowing that we are going to die can give us insight on how we should be living.

Paul seemed to have this in mind when he wrote this section of his letter to the church in Philippi:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know! I  am torn between the two: 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.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.  This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved — and that by God.  For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:21-30 NIV)

Paul was not suicidal.  Perhaps he was a bit world-weary, but another emotion drove his words.  More than anything else he was in awe of the love of Christ and loved Jesus in return.  He desired deeper and deeper communion with Christ and realized he was limited in his relationship with Jesus in this life.  He was hindered by his own natural orientation away from God and longed for the day when he would be freed from his sinful human nature.  Paul reasoned that if dying meant complete and unhindered oneness with Jesus, then it would be better to die.

It was as Paul contemplated which he preferred, living or dying, that he urged the believers in Philippi to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  In other words, Paul was saying, “Since we are alive, we should live for Christ to the fullest extent.”  To the apostle, “life” and “Christ” were synonyms and to follow Christ was to truly live (Colossians 3:4).  I believe Paul would have agreed with Morrie Schwartz’ observation that most people do not fully experience life.  To Paul, if Christ was not the reason behind one’s thoughts and actions, then a person would experience something inferior to true life.  Even Christians, if we are not careful, can find ourselves living a kind of half-life.  So, Paul was allowing the reality of death to teach him how to live, and he passed on this wisdom to the Philippian church and to us.

Before you get concerned, I am not encouraging some kind of morbid fascination with death.  On the contrary, I am advocating for us to do a lot more thinking about how we liveThink for a moment.

  • If you were told a coworker was going to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus in two years, how would you start treating that coworker?
  • Contrast that to being told you only had one full day left to live.  How would you spend the day?  With family and friends?  Doing something you love doing, or always wanted to do?
  • I am sure many of us would spend some time talking to God, thanking him for the gift of life.  Whatever things warranted our attention on our most precious day should be what gets the priority every day.

The most important things should get our attention and we should not give our focus to things that will fade away.

Morrie Schwartz said, “Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.”  When Paul thought about his death all he saw was JesusHe reasoned by the Spirit that if Jesus was his eternity, then Jesus should also be his focus in this life.  In fact, Jesus is life.  Paul argued that the persecution the Philippians suffered should not prevent them from orienting their lives around Christ.

It would have been understandable for the believers in Philippi to try to fade into the crowd.  Their belief in Christ brought them a lot of trouble, so why not just worship Jesus secretly?  Why not just go along with everyone else?  The temptation must have been so strong to hide their relationship with Jesus or maybe even try to forget about it altogether.  This is why Paul encouraged his audience to “stand firm in the one Spirit.”  One way or another, persecution will come to an endBut Jesus is life, and he is forever.

Unlike the believers in Philippi, most of us are not facing persecutionLet’s never forget that many of our brothers and sisters around the world are facing persecutionOur Western culture disrupts our relationship with God in other ways.

  • We live in a fast-moving, distraction-filled society.
    • I can have almost anything delivered to my home within two days.
    • Nearly all accumulated human knowledge is literally at my fingertips.
    • All I need is a computer hooked up to the internet and I can know almost anything instantly.
    • I  have thousands of TV shows and movies I can watch, or I can listen to a podcast on any topic of my choosing.

In our culture, it almost seems shameful to not be overwhelmingly busy and over-informed.

This way of being is at odds with the ways of God.  The Lord invites his followers to slow down and appreciate the small miracles that fill every day.  We are encouraged to sit and ponder the things that Jesus said and did, giving preference to his wisdom over earthly knowledge.  Jesus expects his followers to prioritize people over productivity and make time every day for relationshipsJesus is life and following him will cause us to live differently.

I have to admit that there was a time in my life when I feared living differently.  I did not want to stand out.  When I read this passage in Philippians, it felt extreme.  I did not want to suffer for Christ.  I knew that Christ was my life, but I was content to live a half-life.  I only wanted to resemble Jesus when I was around other Christians.  In time, I realized that I was seeing things in the wrong way.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul teaches that “standing firm” is not something we do individuallyWe do not “conduct [our]selves in a manner worthy of the gospel” by ourselvesIt is the life of the Christian faith community, not any individual Christian, that testifies to our worthinessOf course, our individual conduct mattersHowever, it is by living in a loving Christ-centered community that we best experience life in Jesus.

Jesus is life, and the life he brings is enjoyableFollowing Christ does not mean that we will not have hard timesIn fact, Jesus promises that we will face life challengesHowever, Jesus is enjoyable.

  • We follow Christ by eating in each other’s homes and helping those in need.
  • We follow Christ by using the gifts and talents given to us by the Spirit to make our world better.
  • We follow Christ by singing praises and worshiping God with our very lives.
  • We follow Christ by loving our family and friends and being a good neighbor.
  • We follow Christ by meditating on his life-giving word in times of restful and refreshing silence.
  • We follow Christ by making new friends and sharing the love of God with them.
  • We follow Christ in so many ways; all of them give us things we deeply want and need … things like love, joy, peace, and all the other fruits of the Spirit.
  • This is the life that Paul saw, and he invited his Christian audience to embrace it.

The apostle was not being morbid in his contemplation of death.  Rather, he was calling his audience’s attention to the most important things — the riches that can only be found in Jesus.

Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.  When compared to what our society considers life, our life in Christ is far superior.  We lose nothing by following his way.  Rather, we gain our true purpose and identity in Him.

So, let us do all we can to live for Christ.  Let us set aside the things that distract and dissipate to make more room for Jesus to live in and through us

  • Making room for Christ is not something we only do by ourselves
  • Rather, we make room for God by doing the enjoyable, life-giving, and meaningful practices God asks us to do in a loving community of faith

Jesus is life, and it is a life worth living.

[1] Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Lifes Greatest Lesson. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1997. (pp 82-83)


Small Group Discussion Questions 

From the sermon

  • If you only had one more day to live, what are some things you would do?


  • Do you find your life with Christ enjoyable?  Why or why not?


  • What are some things you can do to make more room for God in your life?





What do you believe about THE INTERMEDIATE STATE?


Philippians 1:19-30 (NKJV)

To Live Is Christ

19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I [d]cannot tell. 23 [e] For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.

Striving and Suffering for Christ

27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but [f]to you of salvation, and that from God. 29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.


    1. Philippians 1:1 Lit. overseers
    2. Philippians 1:13 Or Praetorium
    3. Philippians 1:16 NU reverses vv. 16 and 17.
    4. Philippians 1:22 do not know
    5. Philippians 1:23 NU, M But
    6. Philippians 1:28 NU of your salvation


Philippians 1:21-24    For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I [d]cannot tell.  23 [e]For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christwhich is far better.  24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 

Was Paul saying that when he died he’d be going directly to be with Christ?

Is Paul in Heaven right now looking down (or wherever)?

What about our loved ones?  Are they looking down … or are they looking up?

What really happens to people when they die?

Those questions have given rise to much, much debate over the years.  It’s a debate about what theologians and Bible scholars refer to as THE INTERMEDIATE STATE.

What does GCI have to say on the subject?  We can get an idea by noting what is written in the following article, entitled “What About The Intermediate State?”, by Paul Kroll, as found on the GCI website.  (You may view the original article by clicking here.)  According to the article … 

  • The intermediate state is the condition of the dead until the resurrection of the bodyChristians hold various viewpoints on the nature of the intermediate state based on their interpretation of relevant biblical passages.  Some passages suggest a conscious intermediate state, and others an unconscious state.  Both views should be respected.
  • (Isaiah 14:9-10; Ezekiel 32:21; Luke 16:19-31; 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Philippians 1:21-24; Revelation 6:9-11; Psalms 6:5; 88:10-12; 115:17; Ecclesiastes 3:19-21; 9:5, 10; Isaiah 38:18; John 11:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

Throughout Christian history, the majority view has been that after death, people are consciously present with God or consciously experiencing punishment.  The minority view is often called “soul sleep”; it says that people are unconscious, awaiting the resurrection and judgment.

The New Testament offers no sustained reflection on the intermediate state.  There are a few verses that seem to indicate that humans are unconscious after death as well as a few verses that seem to indicate that humans are conscious after death.

Several verses describe death in terms of sleep, such as those in Ecclesiastes and Psalms. When you look at a dead body, it appears that the body is asleep.  In such passages, sleep is a metaphor for death, referring to the appearance of the body. When we read verses such as Matthew 27:52, John 11:11, and Acts 13:36, it appears that death is equated with “sleep” — even though the writers knew that there was a significant difference between death and sleep.

We should also take note of verses that seem to indicate consciousness after death.  In 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 Paul seems to refer to the intermediate state as being “unclothed” in verse 4 (2 Cor.5:4), and as being “at home with the Lord” in verse 8 (2 Cor.5:8).  In Philippians 1:21-23 Paul says that to die is “gain” because believers depart “to be with Christ.”  This does not sound like unconsciousness.  This is also seen in Luke 23:43 when Jesus tells the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

God has not chosen to describe the intermediate state explicitly and dogmatically in the Bible.  Perhaps it is beyond human capacity to grasp.  This doctrine is not an issue over which Christians should fight and divide.

As the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states, “Speculation on the intermediate state should never diminish the certainty that flows from the cross or the hope in the new creation.”  If we are conscious with God after death, who will complain about this, saying, “I’m supposed to sleep until Jesus returns — why am I conscious?” And if we are unconscious, we won’t be able to complain.  Either way, at death, our next conscious moment is with God.


What the Bible says (Some passages) …

Ecclesiastes 12:1-2 (NKJV) Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the [a]difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”: While the sun and the light, The moon and the stars, Are not darkened, And the clouds do not return after the rain … 6 Remember your Creator before the silver cord is [b]loosed, Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, Or the wheel broken at the well.  7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it.  

      • Genesis 3:19 (NKJV) In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the groundFor out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”

The body returns to the ground (dust) … the spirit returns to God.   

The question is not about where the spirit goes … the question is whether the spirit is conscious.

Again, we need to note what the Bible says …

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 (NKJV)  For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten.

Why is it that the dead know nothing?

Psalm 146:3-4 (NKJV)  Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in [a]a son of man, in whom there is  no [b]help.  His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;  In that very day his plans perish.   

Psalm 146:3-4 (KJVPut not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.  His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

the dead in Christ will rise at His return …

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NKJV)  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

  • Why?  Why would dead people need to rise … IF they are already with Christ in Heaven?
  • Answer: Because they are not already in Heaven with Christ …
  • John 3:13 (NKJV)  No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man [a]who is in heaven.  

No man had ascended to Heaven when Jesus was on earth.

So, how should we understand Philippians 1:23?

  • When Paul died, his body was buried and it decayed (returned to dust), BUT his spirit returned to God who gave it.  His next conscious thought will be in the presence of God.  It will seem as if he never died.




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