Initially published: June 28, 2011.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21
This is one of my favourite verses and it summarizes what matters to me the most and who I am when everything is said and done. You could say that this verse is a declaration of my identity and what you can expect from/of me – be it in my words, thoughts, actions, attitudes, emotions, expressions, motivations, desires – whatever it may be – pertaining to every area of my life.
To be honest, to understand the meaning behind this verse, one need not have a seminary education or a theological degree. However, to apply this verse in your life does require great faith and commitment, that can only come from Christ, executed through the Holy Spirit.
So, what is God trying to teach us Christians today when inspires Paul to declare “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” in Philippians 1:21?
First, we will quickly look at what this verse meant to Paul.
TO LIVE IS CHRIST
The Lord Jesus Christ, whom Paul (Saul at the time) had an encounter with and ended up transforming his life (read Acts 9:1-31), had become EVERYTHING to him. Jesus was Paul’s all in all.
Paul was saturated with love for the Lord Jesus and his only desire was to preach the Gospel, share Jesus with others, see people come to faith in Christ, see their lives transformed by Christ and to guide them in their walk with Christ. Again I say, Paul had no other goal or purpose in life, nothing else mattered, besides loving the Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him (by ministering to others) out of that love. To Paul, living meant loving and serving Jesus Christ.
Paul did not want to start a family, pursue a career, make a name for himself, achieve “something” with his life, enjoy living a “happy” life (not that any of this was wrong in itself) – none of this mattered to Paul. Makes sense right? If all that mattered to him was Jesus and preaching Him to everyone who was willing to hear, that was life for Paul and his all consuming passion, his ONLY desire and purpose. We can clearly see this in all of the writings of Paul in the New Testament.
In Philippians 3:4-14, Paul gives us a little more detail of what it means to live for Christ.
although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Challenge for Christians today: Are you living for Christ or for yourself?
TO DIE IS GAIN
If the Lord Jesus was everything to Paul and his only desire was to share the Gospel with the world, to live and breathe Christ, why does he say that to die is his gain? Why does Paul say that his death would be a good thing for him?
In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul tells us why.
“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
As much as Paul loved the Lord, wanted to serve Him and share the Gospel with others and discharge his apostolic duties (which the Lord Himself had handed down to Paul), Paul just wanted to be with the Lord Jesus, in His presence, forever. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t! Paul was an amazing man of God and was/is being used by the Lord in a mighty way, but he just wanted to be with Jesus. I totally agree with Paul and can see where he is coming from. I can imagine Paul yearning to be with the Lord, thinking along the lines of “Oh to be in the presence of the Lord my God, the One who loves me so much that He died for ME and pardoned all my sins and saved me from eternal death and is using me so much though I am clearly not deserving of it”!
Don’t you get it folks? Is it better to be down here on Earth or up there in Heaven with the Lord Jesus and God the Father? If you have to think for a moment about YOUR answer to this question, then you need to examine yourself/your faith/where your heart is, with the Lord. As Christians, our desire should be for the Lord, to be with Him. BUT, that does not mean that we sit back and do nothing while we are here on Earth, nor am I advocating that we should eagerly wait for our deaths! Like Paul, we are meant to build an intimate relationship with our Lord Jesus and to live out that life outwardly (in words, thoughts, actions, attitude, service – because of our love and appreciation for Jesus), relying on the example of Paul and other believers who have gone before us.
Does it mean that like Paul,we SHOULD NOT raise a family or enjoy a good career or have hobbies or whatever else that Paul denied? No, that’s not what the Scriptures are talking about here. BUT, if those blessings become so important to us that
- we are consumed by them,
- our efforts to pursue them gets in the way of our relationship with the Lord Jesus (loving Him and serving Him out of that love) and
- we long to stay on Earth/live longer to enjoy the pleasures of this world,
THEN it is a BIG PROBLEM that needs to be dealt with!
Challenge for Christians today: Are you longing to be with Christ or loving the pleasures of this world?
If Earthly things begin to make you want to stick around longer and to enjoy what this world has to offer, then you need to rethink who you are and your relationship with Christ/your faith! Why? Because God has a purpose and a plan for you and wants to use you while you are here on Earth! God makes this clear in Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
While we are here on Earth, we can:
- pray for/have a desire to raise a family (be married, have children)
- pray for a good/exciting/challenging job (since we are meant to properly earn a living)
- pray for/have a desire for good friends and relationships, enjoy activities/hobbies
All of that’s OK because these blessings are from God Himself, as long as the Lord Jesus does not become an after thought in your life and pursuing a relationship with Him (reading/studying the Bible, prayer, being an active part of the Church), and serving Him (not just in Church, but on a daily basis) – becomes a burden to you. Watch out! As much as you pray for all those blessings I mentioned earlier, you must pray even more for the Lord to use you to reveal His glory and lead others to Jesus, here on Earth!
So, to live is Christ means that while we are alive and here on Earth, we pursue the Lord with a passion and serve Him because of our relationship with Him, ensuring that every other area of our life (family, work, relationships, hobbies etc..) is directly influenced by that relationship we have with Him. And to die is gain means that even though we have the opportunity to pursue the Lord and enjoy all these wonderful blessings from Him here on Earth, we must not hold on to everything so tight that we wouldn’t want to leave (depart/die) and join the Lord Jesus in Heaven! We must be eager for that day to come so that we can be with Him, because we love Him and He loves us dearly.
Would you want to be separated for too long from the One (God/Jesus) who loves you more than anyone else on this planet (past, present or future)?
I pray that you have a better understanding of this verse now. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to ask me.
God bless you.