Christ, The End of Paul’s Life
“21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Philippians 1:21-24 NASB)
Failing to live for the ultimate purpose for which we were created and chasing lesser ends is a wasted life. Many of us have spent a greater portion of our lives chasing lesser ends. Perhaps before we were saved, we spent many of our years wondering what the meaning of life was. Undoubtedly, even as believers, we grapple between staying on the narrow road and pursuing temporal vanities. The end of our lives is the reason for our living. When I say end, I am not referring to the cessation of life, but rather the intent of life. What are we purposely intending to live for?
Remember Paul is writing to the Philippians while imprisoned in Rome and the first half of verse 21 describes the Apostle Paul’s clarion confession of the end or the intention of his life, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” To live is Christ carries great weight. To capture the weight of what Paul is declaring, we must understand how he truly wrote it. The literal meaning of to live is to continually live. But to dig a bit deeper, we need to understand one of the great “mysteries” of our salvation. That mystery is our union with Christ. Paul gives us a glimpse of this in Colossians 1:27. Upon justification, we were immediately indwelt with and sealed by the Holy Spirit. This put us into a right relationship with God. More specifically it put us in Christ and Christ in us. It is because of this union that Paul says For me to live is Christ. Christ was his life, as it is ours. The outworking of this union was living his life in such a way that sought to always glorify Christ. As Christ revealed the Father, Paul lived to reveal Christ. His goal was not financial gain, fame, societal prestige, or any luxury. Christ was his treasure. His desire was to know Christ and make Him known. Consider the verbal assaults, the beatings, the attempted murders, sickness, long ship voyages, imprisonment, unfair trials, and desertion by some ministry allies. In all of this, his perspective was to live is Christ.
The second half “…to die is gain” also communicates Paul’s perspective on death. Why does Paul say to die is gain? In our culture we tend to think death as loss, but for the believer it is to his advantage or profit. The profits of death for the believer are: (1) freedom from sin (2) freedom from temptation (3) freedom from pain and suffering (4) freedom from spiritual warfare (5) a glorified body and (6) unhindered fellowship with Christ. What joy Paul must have had as he pondered the riches of God’s grace accessible by faith in the accomplished work of Jesus Christ, specifically His resurrection. It is only because of the resurrection of Christ that believers can have such hope in the face of death. (1 Peter 1:3)
Verses 22-24 gives us further insight to Paul’s conflict and resolution. Paul was resolute in his mind that if he were to continue to live, it would mean more ministry, consisting of joys and toils, and more fruit. In no way was Paul discouraged by current circumstances. Instead, because of his union with Christ, he would abide in Christ, which is the necessary condition for fruit bearing. Jesus reminds us of this in John 15:8. However, he was under the very possibility of dying during this imprisonment. Paul is very candid that if he were to die, that would be very much better for him because he longed to be with Christ. We must not think that Paul was tired of spending his life for the Philippians. We know of his love for the Philippians as Philippians 1:3-8 tells us. Comparatively, his love for Jesus was greater and he knew that dying would be the sweetest joy, but he was hard pressed. Literally he was pressed from both sides. Go to Christ or remain for the sake of the Philippian believers.
Verse 24 tells us of Paul’s resolution. Paul was content with postponing his eternal joy for the sake of others. What selflessness! It was truly joyful for Paul to serve others for their maturity and joy in Christ. In this attitude, Paul was exemplifying For me, to live is Christ.
Prayer Lord, may we be as narrowly focused as Paul was for your glory. Forgive us for wasting our lives on lesser ends. Fix our eyes and hearts on you, Lord, that we may be spent for Your sake and others.