To live is Christ
Philippians 1:1-26 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, 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 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.
In today’s text Paul there are a few verses, which if we could all truly adopt as our own attitude, would change not only ourselves, but the world around us, for the kingdom of God. Paul says: I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. For Paul, to live is Christ and to die is gain, was not merely a cliché, it was a foundational belief and attitude which affected what he did and what he said. Paul truly believed that death held nothing against him. Departing this life was not something he feared, but rather something he looked forward to. He, like the psalmist who said: The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6) and: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me. (Psalm 23:4) was convinced that death was nothing to fear, that in fact it is something to look forward to. For Paul it was more than something he spoke in faith. The fact that he did not fear death is what allowed him to fully live for Christ, without compromise. In Romans 8:38-39 Paul says: I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. If we too will be convinced of that, it will change how we live.
If to live is Christ, then as Paul says in Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Paul says: If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. It wasn’t for his own sake, for his own pleasure that Paul would live on. It was for the sake of others, for fruitful labor for the Lord, that Paul would and did live. It is not that we are to be unemotional and unfeeling robot like servants going through this life without pleasure or joy. It is that we should have the heart of the psalmist who says: Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday. (Psalm 37:3-6) As we trust in God, as we live in and for His kingdom, as we delight in His presence, as we commit our way, to His way we will have justice, all that we need and want. Paul’s life, like the life of Christ, was focused on fruitful labor for God. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” (John 5:19-20) Our focus too, should be what the Father is doing, fruitful labor and what is necessary for the sake of others. Jesus didn’t come just to live among us, He came to die for us. If our focus is on what is necessary for the sake of others we cannot neglect to tell them why Jesus came. Paul’s life was focused on the gospel, telling everyone he could that Jesus died for their sins.
It wasn’t that Paul led a glorious life. When he wrote these words, like most of what he wrote, he was in prison. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Paul speaks of some of what he endured to live for the sake of the gospel and others: Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Surely most of us will not endure what Paul endured for the sake of the gospel and others. He was called to do great things and was given the grace for those things. We each though are called to greatness too. D. L. Moody, a great 19th century evangelist once said: "The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him." Will we dare to find out? Will we like Paul truly say: To live is Christ and to die is gain?
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit I choose to live in and for Christ. I choose to live in fruitful service and for the sake of others. Grant me Your sufficient grace and Your abundant strength to do what You have called me to do, that like Paul I can say: Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. Amen.