Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Review of "To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain", by Matt Chandler



If you hated the gospel, wouldn’t the apostle Paul be the most frustrating human being alive? It did not matter what anyone did to this man, he loved God and continued to show it in every possible way.
We see Paul’s gospel fixation echoed throughout his letter to the Philippians. He is the man who when threatened says, “Well, to die is gain.” In response his captors will say, “We’ll torture you, then.” He says, “I don’t count the present suffering as worthy to even compare to the future glory.” You can’t win with a guy like this. If you want to kill him, he’s cool with that because it means he gets to be with Jesus. If you want to make him suffer, he’s cool with that, so long as it makes him like Jesus. If you want to let him live, he’s fine with that, because to him, “to live is Christ.” Paul is, as Richard Sibbes says of everyone united with Christ, a man who “can never be conquered.”--Matt Chandler- To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain

When I first became a Christian I was a bit unsure how to proceed in my study of Scripture.  I knew it was important to read the Bible, but remained unsure what to study.  I began a Bible reading program where you read some from the OT and some from the NT every day.  I would always get stuck after a little while, give up and then start over.  I visited the Gospel of Matthew and the first half of Genesis over a dozen times in this cycle.

At some point I began working at a Christian bookstore and bought a John Macarthur commentary that was on sale.  I was excited to study something other than Matthew and Genesis, although I did and still do have a special fondness for both of those books.  I began to go with Dr. Macarthur through this commentary and through the book he was commenting on and I began to fall in love.  I began to fall in love with the style and scholarship of Macarthur’s writing, but exponentially more so i began to fall in love with this book he was exegeting.  Over and over again I would find myself getting lost in the words of the apostle Paul.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in meyou may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplicationwith thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.


Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of aservant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


Much in the same manner that John MacArthur played a significant role in my spiritual development as a babe in the Faith, I have benefited greatly from the ministry of Matt Chandler in the last few years. Seeing God work and move through his life, trials, teaching, and writing of Matt Chandler has been an encouragement and a challenge to me.  The Explicit Gospel is one of my favorite books and I was thrilled when I heard that Chandler and Jared Wilson, himself an incredible minister of the Gospel, would be teaming up again for a book based on Paul’s beautiful letter to the church at Philippi.


To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain has the distinct style of Matt Chandler.  His tone is felt throughout the book.  He has an been gifted with an uncanny knack to use humor as a means to an end, rather than an end unto itself.  His use of humor is not to lighten the mood in a tough situation but rather to get to the heart of his audience.  He will slip some sarcasm or irony or absurdity into a statement in order to sneak something serious into the thought and heart of the audience.  Humor is a Trojan Horse of sorts to penetrate the defenses of the hearer.  This has to have been accentuated by the involvement of Jared Wilson on this project.  Wilson and Chandler both seem to have the same sort of way of addressing an audience, the same sort of tone and both are incredibly effective.  This continuity in composition and editing allowed the text to maintain the author’s voice and made it an enjoyable and beneficial read.

In this book the read also gets to see a great expositor of the Bible at work.  Chandler does not start with a point and then flip through his concordance in order to find a text that will help make his point.  He is at his best when he allows Gods Word to speak for itself, and that is what he does throughout the book.

So many teachers, especially those who choose to preach verse by verse through texts, are good at telling the congregation what the Bible says but not necessarily what it says to them.  So many can clearly explain the authors intent, the original language and the historical setting of the text but leave the hearer ill-equipped to be a “doer” of God’s Word.  Chandler is mindful to not just leave the reader informed on the why’s and what’s of Scripture, but he gives us an exposition of Philippians that is immensely practical.

Chandler is not afraid to address his audience with force and authority. His love for the people of God is seen in how he fearlessly addresses issues that easily could offend the carnal aspects of our thoughts and affections.  On the issue of community he writes,

If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that we tend to prefer to do life with people who are similar to us. We live in neighborhoods and associate with people who look like us and act like us. Most of us go to church with people similar to us. This is the natural tendency of all people. But the gospel is not natural. As we see here in the odd beginnings of the Philippian church, the gospel blows the doors off our tidy little hegemonic communes and creates a whole new community that never would have formed without it. Apart from the supernaturally reconciling ministry of grace, rich fashionistas are not doing life with poor demoniacs. It just isn’t happening. But because Paul is willing to put skin in the game, risking his own life to bring the message of life in Christ, what was once divided is now unified in love.

Speaking of community, Chandler devotes significant time to the topic of discipleship.  He makes a point that is as poignant and profound as it is overwhelmingly simple.
Don’t overlook the “average” Christians around you who may be further along in some areas than you are. Maybe some guy you know isn’t the best theologian in the world. But he loves his wife like the Scriptures command. Maybe it’s a good idea to get around that guy. Maybe there’s a guy who just loves his kids like Jesus commanded him to. Being with him may help you want to love your kids like that and learn how to do it. Maybe you didn’t grow up in a healthy home. So maybe you get your theology from some books by dead guys, but you learn how to be a husband and a father at somebody’s house.

This point has stayed at the front of my thinking over the past few days.  It is greatly informing how I understand discipleship.  Who can I disciple?  Who can disciple me?  I do not have to be a perfect, all-together Christian to influence someone’s life for the better and I do not have to find a perfect, all-together Christian to influence my life for the better.  This has been encouraging; in all my relationships but especially in how I understand my marriage and my being a father.  Praise God that I can be a benefit and still a bit of a screw up at the same time!


Chandler’s Scripture-saturated speculation (is that accurate? It is an alliteration, so accurate or not it holds some credence simply based on that fact, right?) of what we might expect  in eternity made  me long for that day in a manner I had never experienced. 

Writing to a church that needs to constantly guard agaisnt seeing their affections stolen by something lesser, Chandler encourages us to be on guard.
If you pay attention to that which stirs your affections for Jesus and His gospel, you will also be able to identify that which robs your affections for Him. For most of us who’ve been saved for a little while, it’s not the so-called “big things” that get us anymore. We don’t find a lot of temptation in major stuff. For instance, if I’m on my way out to my car in the parking lot and a guy walks up to me and says, “Hey, you, uh, you want a little black tar heroin?”—that’s not something that’s going to tempt me very much. I’m not drawing up a list of pros and cons on doing heroin.No, in fact, the morally neutral temptations are far more apt to rob me of my affections for Jesus Christ, because God’s grown me to the place where those “big sins” aren’t things that appeal to me anymore. But I can easily justify sinfully indulging in things that are non-sins because they are little things, or what the Song of Solomon might call the “little foxes” that get into the vineyard of my worship of God

On the issue of anxiety Chandler writes,

The larger context of Philippians asks the rhetorical question, “What would you have to be anxious about?” There is not a square inch of creation in which God isn’t present and sovereign. If we could get out of our heads the idea that the future is something God simply knows and get into our heads the idea that the future is a place where God already is, that He doesn’t just know about the past and see the present and know about the future, but that He stands outside of time and reigns over all of it sovereignly, what would we have to be anxious about?

And he continues,

How does the mature believer handle anxiety? Paul has already told us to remember that “the Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5). That’s the first and most important step. God is right there, right beside you. You are united with Christ in faith, so you enjoy mystical union with Him. The Holy Spirit has indwelled in you, so you enjoy constant communion with Him. The Father is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27), and we know that He’s especially near to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18). Therefore, the omnipresence of God in unfailing love is a tremendous encouragement and ample ammunition against bouts of anxiety.

Chandler even addresses Philippians 4:13 as one of the most abused texts in all of Scripture.
Do you see now how Philippians 4:13 is not about chasing your dreams, following your passion, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, accomplishing anything you want with God’s help? It is instead the testimony of those who have Christ and have found Him supremely valuable, joyous, and satisfying. In a life constantly marked by these extreme highs and lows, Paul has found the great constant security, the great centering hope: Jesus Christ Himself. Is there a more misquoted verse in the Bible than Philippians 4:13? I don’t think there is. I think people want to apply that to everything. A Christian businessman might say, “I’m going to be a CEO. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”      
Well, that’s kind of a swing and a miss. That’s really out of context.

Point after point that Chandler made resonated with me, deeply. Again and again I felt him speaking directly to me. I felt unusually encouraged and challenged and built up and rebuked. I read many books but I was struck by how much this book kept ministering to me. Then, about halfway through chapter 9 I became keenly aware of one thing. As he recounted a story of sitting at a traffic light, not knowing if his child was dying and where the ambulance had taken him but ss an example of an "always"  time the Christian should rejoice,  I remembered a time when me and my wife pulled over and sat in a car and wept after enduring bad news and hearing a  song on the radio.  I was reminded that, while the song was beautiful, it was not the song that ministered to me and my wife then. It was the very words of God, lifted directly from Scripture, that ministered to us so greatly. God, through His word met us and ministered to us in that situation.

That is why this book has resonated so deeply with me. It is a series of simple, profound, clear, accessible expositions of Gods holy Word. It is the letter to the Philippians, put  on display by a teacher gifted by God. It is a gift to the Church and one that will  lead to a greater desire to know God and to know  his word.

At first I felt the tone was almost a bit too conversational.  It was not translating into text very well for me.  As I continued reading it began to feel more natural and I enjoyed how the book read.  This leads me to my main/only issue with the book-the beginning.  It is not that the beginning is bad, but there is almost no introduction.  The book feels like we, the readers, are dropped into the deep end of the pool.  This may be an issue of preference, but I have become very accustomed to wading in through a significant foreword and introduction.  This may be more than just a preference or style issue because a good introduction helps the reader when beginning a book. It allows the reader to acclimate to the authors tone and get his/her bearings as to where the book will lead and how the author plans on getting there.  I feel that To Live is Christ might have benefited from a more significant introductory chapter.

That all being said,  my suggestion would be to go and read The Explicit Gospel, either for the first time or read it again. If you do not have the time to invest, maybe read a couple of sermon transcripts or listen to a couple of sermons from The Village and familiarize yourself a bit with how Chandler communicates and enjoy what God will teach you through those sermons.  Then, grab this book and  read it. 


To Live is Christ is a book I will return to and enjoy again and again.  I am was challenged, encouraged and led in worship through the reading of this book.  I would encourage everyone to read it.  I have pre-ordered a copy of this book as a gift for my Momma…I am not sure there is a stronger endorsement that can be given!!   

I received this book from the publisher through Netgalley.com for review purposes.