Philippians 1:21 (NIV)
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
We have an interesting statement from Paul this morning. What does it mean “to live is Christ and to die is gain?” Well, let’s look at the entire context and gain some insight. We need to remember, that Paul wrote this letter while in prison … in chains.
Philippians 1:19-26 (NIV)
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted 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 go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 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, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
To live is Christ – This simply means that everything you do in this life should be for Christ. If you go to school, it’s for Christ. If you work, it’s for Christ. If you get married and have a family, it’s for Christ. If you serve in ministry, play on a team, whatever you do, you do it with the mindset that it is for Christ. You want Him to be exalted in every aspect of your life. As Paul taught in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” The reason this should matter is because by exalting Him with your life, you can be intentional and create opportunities for the Gospel to go forward. When Christ is exalted in your life, it can open the door for you to share Him with others.
To die is gain – What could be better than living for Christ, being salt and light to this world, and winning people to the kingdom of God? As crazy as it sounds, Paul asserted death is better. Look how Paul stated it in Verses 22-24: “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.” If you can really grasp what Paul is saying here, then you will truly understand the meaning and context of Verse 21. For Paul to keep living would be beneficial for the Church and everyone else to whom he ministered. He could keep serving them and be a blessing to the Body of Christ. (That’s to live is Christ).
I think we should bring into the context the sufferings Paul endured. Remember Paul was in prison when writing this letter; and with all of the challenges and suffering he faced, Paul probably felt that as great as it is to serve Christ in this life, it was better to die and go be with Christ forever. Yet, I think even this supposition should be balanced with what Paul stated in Verse 20: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Do you see the hesitation? This is not doubt, but there is always an element of fear. It is really a prayer for “sufficient courage” that Christ would be exalted in his body, whether by life or by death. He does not want to be ashamed either way; rather, Paul wants to be bold in either situation that might transpire under the circumstances. So this does not mean you should want to die, it just means that your ultimate desire is for Christ to be exalted in you whether by life or by death. Indeed, we are to die to sin, and we have to understand that physical death for a Christian is not the ending, but the beginning of a new experience to be in the tangible presence of Christ in eternity.
Anyway, these are provocative thoughts; and I encourage you to look further into your own sense of what it means to live for Christ Jesus and to die for Him. My prayer is to align with Paul … to hope that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness (courage), Christ will always be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.