To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain
Scripture: Philippians 1:21-26
How far would you be willing to go in order to follow Christ? Put another way: What are you not willing to do for Christ? Perhaps there is something that that you hold near and dear to your heart that you know you would have trouble giving up for the sake of Christ. Perhaps there is something that you do that you know that Christ is not pleased with. Perhaps there is a person in your life that you value so highly that it would be difficult to choose Christ over him or her. Perhaps there is another category that I have missed here. Regardless, if you value something so much that it would be difficult for you to give that thing up for the sake of Christ, then it is time for you to step away from that thing in whatever capacity it takes to continue to follow Christ. As an example, if you value your finances so much that you could not imagine giving them to the cause of Christ, then it is probably time to give over a significant amount of your finances to the cause of Christ, lest they become an idol in your life.
Why do I bring these things up? Because they are relevant to the passage in front of us today. We saw in the last passage that Paul's desire was to be unashamed of Christ and to honor Christ, whether in life or in death. Now, Paul expands on these thoughts. Paul issues a statement that has become a favorite verse of Scripture for many. Paul simply begins this section with "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." This is the central point of this section and the previous one, and the point on which Paul expands in the next several verses.
Paul states that to live is Christ. What exactly does Paul mean by this? It seems that, for Paul, to continue living would be to live for Christ. Paul does not appear to have in mind that, should he be found innocent by Caesar's court and set free, he should serve himself in any way. Rather, Paul's main concern, raised in the previous section, was to glorify Christ no matter the cost. For Paul, to live was to live in such a way as to glorify Christ. In Paul's argument, this actually works out in favor of the Church at Philippi, and presumably for the Church as a whole. Paul expected his living to involve labor (v. 22). He also expected this labor to bear fruit. It is extraordinarily likely that Paul was intending to continue the work of ministry after he was released from custody in Rome, and he expected to see the fruit of his labors in the ministry, including the fruit of his labor among the Philippians. Indeed, Paul was already seeing some fruit of his labor in ministry even while he was in prison at Rome. The imperial guard had come to know that it was because of Christ, and not because of wrongdoing, that Paul was imprisoned in Rome at this time (v.13). In addition, Paul's work in ministry, even as it was done in prison, emboldened other believers to speak the word of God without fear (v. 14). Just as Paul saw the fruit of his labor in ministry while he was in prison at Rome, so Paul also expected to see more fruit of his labor when he was released.
Paul also believed that it was necessary for him to live on account of the Philippians. By this, Paul likely meant that the Philippians stood to gain far more from his continuing to live than they would in his death. Paul believed that, because of this, God would allow him to continue living in order to benefit the Church at Philippi. We can reasonably conclude that Paul's first imprisonment at Rome led to his ultimate release. However, it is hard to say with certainty the specific ways in which the Philippian church benefitted from this release. Regardless, Paul's belief was that he could, in some way, benefit the Philippians if he were not executed at Rome.
Paul also believed that it would be gain for him to die. What exactly did Paul mean by this? This seems like a difficult pill for us to swallow, but Paul did not value his life more than he valued Christ. Rather, Paul valued Christ more than all else, including his own life. Paul does not appear to have meant that all people would benefit from his death. This is especially clear in light of Paul's statement that to stay and minister would be more beneficial for the Philippians. However, Paul would benefit personally from his departing to be with Christ. Thus, whether in life or in death, Christ is glorified. This brings me back to my original question: How far are you willing to go to follow Christ? Are you willing to lay down your own life for the sake of the Gospel? Is there something standing in the way of you completely following Christ? Examine your life carefully, and go produce fruitful labor for the sake of Christ.