“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”
For the sake of context, the fuller passage reads as follows:
Phil 1:18-24 “I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 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. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour 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.”
What is it that you and I live for? Is it Christ? (v21)
An honest reflection will surely reveal that saying we live totally for Christ is a big statement to make. There are other things that sometimes compete. The old hymn Take my Life and let it be, consecrated Lord for Thee” is often more aspirational than it is a statement of a state we have already achieved!
As we await the Prime Minister’s statement about possible relaxing of the lock-down, how do we feel about that? For some of us who have found this lock-down very difficult, we might be placing a lot of hope in its lifting. And of course, that is right and proper; we rightly want the restrictions on socialising, on community, to be lifted as soon as possible. To be able to meet up with friends and family again, to meet again as a church, etc. etc. But equally it could betray a valuing of the things of this world more highly than we ought. Cafés, restaurants, holidays, tourist attractions, wealth.
Can we continue to rejoice (v18) regardless, because our real joy is in Christ?
What we live for might also be revealed by our reaction to the second half of that phrase “and to die is gain”. Really? Certainly, the Bible does encourage Christians to view death differently from unbelievers: we see death as a defeated enemy; we have a hope that goes beyond death.
1 Thess 4:13 “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.”
We are all mortal, but as believers we do have a hope and an inheritance that starts here and now, but also goes beyond this mortal life. And so, in the face of death, we have hope and can have a greater measure of peace. However, it is still perfectly natural to fear the process of dying, and to some extent, death and the life after still holds some fear of the unknown. And of course we miss loved ones who have died. It would be strange, worrying even, if we did not! But does our fear of death sometimes go beyond that? Do we follow the spirit of this world, in valuing and clinging to what this world has to offer, rather than our hope in God?
So I guess it comes down to asking – What do you live for? (or what would you die for?) Or as Jesus said:
Matt 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What do we most treasure? Where is our treasure, our heart?
And if we truly live for Christ, can we say dying is gain? Do we view going to be with Christ as being far better?
As Christians, let us focus on Christ, and then even in the face of lock-down, or sickness, or even death, we can know love, peace, joy, hope, both for this life and the next.
God bless you