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For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
In the original Greek, the word “is” is not there. They have been added to help our reading. However, we miss some of the importance of what Paul is teaching.
In the first phrase, if we read it as “For to me to live Christ,” we can see that Paul is trying to emphasize what he has been teaching. The purpose of life for a believer is Christ. The emphasis is on our connection and fellowship with Christ. If we can get this right, the rest will follow.
Paul understood that his savior – Jesus Christ – lived in him. Consider what he said to the Galatian believers, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20). Paul looked at this life as a means for the living Christ to live through him. He also spoke of Christ being the source and sustainer of this life to the Colossian believers. “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4). Paul saw life as a vital union with Christ so that one must live in devotion to Christ.
But he goes on to say that this is not the ultimate goal for the believer. If living is Christ, then dying is gain. It is not the act of dying that Paul is referencing here, but by the tense, in the Greek, we understand that he is talking about the state after death – the consequences of dying. Death does not interrupt our fellowship with Christ. Paul had already made such a point with the Corinthian believers. “We are of good courage and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8) One person has stated that gain is always more of the same thing. So, if we have Christ in our living, we have more of him in our existence after death, which means that we are there with him.
Consider the gain we have. We have gains in what we lose by dying. We lose a sinful body, facing temptations, sorrow, sufferings, enemies, and we could list a lot more. We have gains in what we acquire. We have a glorified body, the personal presence of Jesus, joy, reunion with departed loved ones who knew Christ. Paul would have gained being freed from sin, freed from not knowing what is coming, freed from temptation, rescued from all of his enemies, delivered from suffering, and never having to face death again.
We can understand why the persecutions and afflictions that Paul faced did not faze him. You cannot hurt a man who is in fellowship with Christ so much that the concept of living after death is greater than living here now. If we understood as Paul did that there was nothing that man could do to him that would defeat him, we would have his same boldness. The worst they could do to him was to take his physical life, but that would only put him in the presence of Jesus. They might think they won, but Paul would have the victory.
More in-depth Insights
For to me to live is Christ. The apostle Paul’s entire reason for living was to bring glory to Christ with his life. He valued his life only for the sole purpose of using it to bring honor to Christ. After giving his life to Christ and becoming a Christian, Paul did not spend his life seeking honor for himself, studying under the great thinkers, acquiring wealth or pleasure. His life was entirely geared toward bringing glory to Jesus Christ. He pursued this single purpose in life with more fervor, enthusiasm, zeal, and passion than any man who has pursued power and wealth.
Paul wanted to know as much as could be known about Christ. (Vid. 3:10; Eph. 3:19 cf. John 17:3) He wanted to imitate Christ, to live his life as Christ would have lived. The Holy Spirit guided his life. Similarly, Satan sought the life of Paul as he had Jesus, and it seemed that they would share a similar ending as well. Paul also sought to make the good news of the kingdom known to the best of his ability and carry out the command of the great commission. This was where Paul had the skills already in place when Jesus came to him. Paul gave every ounce of his life and talents to proclaim, teach, and make disciples. Paul also loved and appreciated Christ, for he brought him great joy in times of distress and in good times. In his close relationship with Jesus Christ, he found comfort and happiness. There was not one moment when Paul felt sad or disappointed over his life, never feeling a loss or missed opportunity for something other than Christ. Many Christians on their death beds may have no regrets that they had given their lives for Christ, but some may regret that it had not been as whole-souled as it could have been.
And to die is gain. (cf. Rev. 14:13) The Greek word (κέρδος kerdos) rendered gain, here, means profit, a gain (Php 1:21; 3:7; Tit 1:11). It is an advantage or benefit that is received or acquired, whether material or immaterial. Thus, Paul meant that there would be an advantage in dying even more than in living. He would gain many personal benefits, as was mentioned above if he died, but the reason for desiring to live is that he might benefit others. (cf. 1:24-25) So, like Paul, no Christian should dread the moment that death is upon them, for eternal life awaits them, removing all the sorrows of this satanic age.
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