I’ve been a follower of Jesus for almost 25 years. From the early days of my salvation, I have loved God’s word. One of the passages that has always alluded me is Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
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. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Philippians 1:21-26 NASB
I made lists of what Paul said about “To Live” and what he said about “To die.”
“To Live” meant:
2) Fruitful Labor
3) was More Necessary for Them
“To Die” meant:
2) to Be with Christ
3) was Very Much Better
Paul had to choose between fruitful labor on earth serving others and rest with Jesus in heaven. I know which I would choose! Revelation 21 describes heaven as a place where God dwells with His people, and there is no more death, mourning, crying or pain. No wonder Paul describes death as “very much better.” Not just better, but very much better!
What did living mean to Paul? It mean fruitful labor. It was more necessary for them. It meant continuing with the Philippians for their progress and joy in the faith.
Living meant laying down his desires to depart and be with Jesus in order to serve the Philippians as their spiritual leader, encourager, and teacher.
This is what “Christ” means in “To live is Christ.” “Christ” means not choosing what you want to do and instead laying down your life on behalf of others.
Isn’t this exactly what Jesus did? In Luke 22 we find Jesus in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was facing a gruesome, painful and humiliating death on a cross. He pleads with God to deliver Him, but He surrenders His life and says “…not My will but yours be done.”
In Philippians 2:5-8 we are told to have the same attitude that Jesus had. Even though Jesus was God and enjoyed all of the benefits of being God, He chose to empty Himself of those privileges and come to earth as a human. As a human, He humbled himself and emptied Himself again as He endured a humiliating death on a cross.
When Paul wrote “To live is Christ” he is saying that to live is not to choose what benefits you, but like Jesus, to surrender your life in order to be broken bread and poured out wine for others.
Jesus says in Luke 9:24 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”
Paul knew that living meant laying down his life for others. I believe that is why he prefaced his statement with “FOR TO ME.” He did not declare as doctrine, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He said it as his own personal belief and creed:
“FOR TO ME, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Serving others in this way is demanding. Draining. Exhausting. I have led the ladies ministry at my church for 3 years. It can be discouraging and sometimes I want to quit. In Philippians 1:25, Paul says that he will continue with them for their progress and joy in the faith. Holy Spirit gently asked me, “Can you live and continue with the Ladies Ministry for their progress and joy in the faith?”
The good news is that we don’t have to serve from our own strength. The first thing that happened in Jesus’ ministry was He was filled with Holy Spirit. Jesus did not minister in His own human strength but He ministered from the power, fruit, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We can ask Holy Spirit to fill us up and to help us to be like Paul, and to choose to remain and continue for others for their progress and joy in the faith.
What about you? Can you, like Paul, also say “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain?”