I don’t do anything on time, it seems. This post was supposed to be released last Sunday, then on Wednesday, then yesterday. I’m finally writing it, though, and that’s what matters, right?
We’re finishing up Philippians 1 today. In these next few verses, we have one of the most well-known and quoted statements regarding the Christian faith: “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” We’ll examine what that means and looks like in the rest of this post. But let’s start with verse 19.
Paul is in prison, and as we saw last time, he sees every situation, even prison, as an opportunity to advance the gospel. He considers himself nothing, only that the gospel goes forth from his life. So he starts in verse 19:
“For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” What does Paul mean by deliverance? Some would argue that he’s talking about being delivered from prison, and others say he’s talking about final deliverance from this life, and into the presence of God. He left some ambiguity here, intentionally, most likely. While Paul clearly wants to be delivered from prison, as he talks about seeing the church again and encouraging them and having “fruitful labor” for Christ. But more than he wants temporary deliverance, he wants eternal deliverance–“My desire is to depart and be with Christ.”
Paul’s desire to be with Christ and depart from this world leads us to verse 20: “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Paul’s goal, whether he lives or dies, is to honor his Lord and Savior. He counts himself as nothing (Acts 20:24), and wants to honor Jesus by the way he lives and by the way he dies.
From his self-denial and exalting of Christ, we get the famous verse 21:
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To live is Christ, to die is gain. Let that sink in for a moment. What does Paul mean by this? The quick, Sunday-school-answer, is to say “We live for Jesus and when we die we get to be with Him.” And that’s absolutely true. But can we honestly say we know what it means to “live for Jesus?” What does that even mean? And are we doing it? Is death truly gain for us? Do we see it as gain?
I remember growing up, and hearing about heaven and Christ returning and what it would be like to see Jesus and be with Jesus, and while I thought that all of that was cool, I remember thinking, “I want Jesus to wait a while. I want to get married, and have kids. I want to travel the world. I want to do this, and that, and that over here, etc.” And I know I wasn’t the only one who thought that way. That’s a heart problem and a sin, whether we recognize it or not. We’ve unconsciously made idols out of this world, and out of “good” things. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be married, and have a family, and wanting to travel. None of those things are bad, but when they begin to take the place of God, our “good” things have become idols. When we want the things of this world, even the good things, more than we want to be with God, more than we want our faith to become sight, there’s a huge problem. We have stored up treasure for ourselves here by forgetting the treasures we have in the gospel, the treasures that are eternal.
For Paul, his life now belongs to Christ. He has given Jesus total control. In fact, Paul says in Galatians 2:20 that he is now “crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” Paul is dead. His will, his ways, his desires, his old life, is now dead. And his will, his ways, his desires, his wants, likes, dislikes and whole way of life now mirrors that of Christ. He has died to himself. So his life is now 100% dedicated to serving Christ and working to see God’s kingdom grow and disciples made through him. He belongs to Christ.
This is the call Jesus has for every man, woman and child that wishes to be his disciple. Lose yourself and your old life, old ways and old desires and live for Christ. Have a completely new way of living. And too often, the “new life” we supposedly have is only shown on Sunday mornings. We’ve traded the promises of a new life for a comfortable, convenient, religious life that’s only a part of our everyday lives. And it’s not okay. Did Jesus really die and rise again and breath life into my bones so that He could be a “significant” part of my life?
I had to fill out a “diversity pie chart” for a PR class this past semester. I can’t remember the specific instructions, but basically, we were to divide our lives into a neat little chart and show which parts of our lives drove us the most. Example: Being a college student made up 50% of my identity. It affected that certain percentage of my life. And being a son affected 25% of my life, and so on and so forth. And I found myself struggling with this. I didn’t feel right saying that my faith in Christ affected a certain percentage of my life. Because it’s not a percentage. Faith isn’t a very important part of my life. No…outside of Christ and my faith in Him, I don’t have life. And now that I’ve been brought to Him in faith, it affects everything I do. At least that’s the goal. I can’t say I’ve arrived yet, but I’m beginning to see how surrendering to Jesus as Lord affects everything, and what it means to lose myself in Him. I’ll have more to say on how His Lordship affects specific areas of our lives in a later series this summer.
Where is our treasure? This is the question that we’re presented with when reading Philippians 1:21. If Christ is our treasure, then to die really is gain, and to live is to live for nothing more and nothing less than the glory of God in Christ being made known through us. Death is gain because we get Jesus. We’re free from sin, temptation, sickness, disease, war and everything else that plagues this world and we’re in the presence of God for eternity. Even things such as marriage and sex, things that are good and given to us by God, are but a shadow of a greater reality yet to come. Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church, and our hope is that one day, the perfect, eternal marriage will take place that will replace all earthly marriages, as Christ returns for His bride. That is good news.
But if our treasure is in this life…we won’t live for Christ. And death won’t be gain. We’ll fear it, because we don’t want to leave our stuff. We don’t want to leave our spouse, our children, our job, our home or our toys. So where are you at? What are you living for?
I want to be like Paul. I want to treasure Christ and embrace Him in faith, in full assurance of my salvation in Him, and I want to hold on to nothing in this world and joyfully shout that Christ is my treasure, Christ is my reward! And I want that to drive the way I live. Because while we wait for our treasure to take us home, He has works prepared for us to do here (Eph. 2:10). So Paul continues in verse 22 in saying that if he remains here, it is “fruitful labor for me.”
Because Paul died to himself and now lives for Christ and looks to Him as his treasure, it allows Paul to be remarkably others-centered. He says that he remains on account of the church, for their “progress and joy in the faith.” So Paul’s life isn’t focused on what he can get, or building his resume, or anything like that, but about the kingdom of God. He constantly disciples other believers, encouraging them in the faith, sharing life with them and worshiping with them. He cares nothing for himself, but pours himself out for the church, as Christ did. He’ll talk more about that in Philippians 2.
He does this for the glory of God, and for the church’s progress and joy in the faith. Paul’s aim is that God is glorified and His children grow in their faith in Christ and their progress and love and joy for Him. In other words, Paul is concerned supremely with God’s glory and the church’s sanctification. That raises questions for us:
Do we take joy in growing in Him? Do we sincerely enjoy knowing Jesus more, through His Word, knowing His character, seeing ourselves grow more Christlike, having our faith strengthened and confirmed? Or are we content with where we are?
And do we take joy in seeing others grow because of us? Do we even care whether or not our fellow believers are being encouraged and strengthened as a direct result of our relationship with them? We saw last week that before we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ to have material blessings or good health, we should pray for their love for Christ to grow, and pray for their sanctification. Now, Paul says, we play a role in that. We see in Acts that the church isn’t a gossip club or a place to talk about football. Not that every conversation has to be this forced talk about “God things,” since sharing life means we’ll talk about things like jobs, football, and our children, but you get the sense that conversations about Christ come frequently and naturally for the believer.
Paul sets an example. And it’s in Scripture so we can follow it. Paul even tells us that in 1 Corinthians 11:1–“Be imitators of me as I imitate Christ.” We are all responsible for helping our brothers and sisters in Christ grow in their faith and Christlikeness, and this should be our joy. If we treasure Christ, and count our lives as nothing for the sake of knowing and treasuring Him, we will be wonderfully selfless and take joy in seeing others grow because of us, and our vain pursuits and concerns will fade away. I pray this happens in my life, and in yours.
Wrapping up (since this post is already really long…my bad), let’s look at verses 27-30. Paul tells the church that they have an impact on his joy. He’ll echo this again in chapter two. He tells them to let their “manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And he wants this to happen, whether he’s there physically or not. He wants to see them “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” What does this mean? Understanding that Paul spent much of his time combating false gospels and false teachers in churches, it, on some level, means contending for the faith. It means that the church is united in believing, embracing and preaching the true gospel. It means they’re growing in their faith in Christ. They become more and more convinced of the truth of the gospel, and they love Jesus more, and they trust Him more, with everything. And they’re becoming more like Him. And even though their opponents are many, they embrace suffering because their joy is in Jesus. We can embrace suffering because we have Jesus. And we know that this is a sign of the enemy’s destruction, and a sign of our salvation.
When Jesus is our treasure, then these things become our joy. If Christ is not our treasure, these things may still bring us joy, but they will not be the focal point of our lives, and thus, we rob ourselves of true joy. There is a supreme joy in trusting and loving Jesus with our heart, mind, soul and strength. There is a supreme joy in dying to self and saying “all I have is Christ” and living for His glory and His church. This was Paul’s mission. This was Paul’s life.
So how do we get here? While Paul’s a pretty important dude, he’s a sinner, like all of us. He wasn’t a “super-Christian.” He’s a normal (whatever that means) guy that God chose to use to display His glory. And while we certainly won’t write Scripture and we may not plant most of the early churches, we can be men, women and children who think nothing of ourselves, trust only in Christ, live only for Christ and joyfully embrace death on our way to be with our King.
We “get there” by receiving the gospel. By remembering the gospel. By having faith. True faith in the gospel always leads to a love for Jesus and a denial of self to live for Christ as Lord. I’d argue that if I, if we, truly understood all that we have in Jesus, we would willingly and joyfully lay down everything we have, count it all as “rubbish” with Paul, and be completely His and His alone. We won’t be perfect. We’ll sin, we’ll make mistakes, and we’ll have idols that come up and threaten to ruin us. But by living a life of repentance and faith and by the grace of God, we’ll overcome, we’ll grow, and we’ll bring glory to God. And we’ll see Him face to face one day. For those who have put their faith only in Jesus for salvation, for forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God, and who now want to follow Him as Lord, this is what you have, before you take a step toward following Jesus:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to the purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”–Ephesians 1:3-14
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him to the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”–Ephesians 2:4-7
Lord Jesus, may we treasure you above all else. May we remember all we have in you–grace, forgiveness, adoption, eternal life, and much, much more. May we trust in you alone, even as we continue to fight and battle sin and temptation. May we rest in your amazing, saving grace, despite our sin. May we joyfully exalt you because of your love for us. May we embrace suffering and death as we treasure you. May we live only for you. May we die to ourselves and know you more. May you be everything to us, Lord. May your joys be our joys. Make us yours.