To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain

Joshua West

“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice Yes, and I will rejoice,  for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:18-21 (ESV) 

“The only people that are of any worldly good in this life are those that are so radically heavenly minded that they are free of this world and free from stuff...stuff is killing us.” -John Piper  

What does it mean when Paul says “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain in Philippians 1:21? First, we must realize that magnifying and glorifying Christ was the great joy of Paul’s life. And one of the main ways this joy was manifest was in the lives of other believers that he helped to build up and encourage. To live in Christ and for Christ doing his work is the joy that drove him. But on the other hand, Paul also knew that the reward that awaited him in death far outweighed in joy or reward what he would experience in this life.
“If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,  so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” Philippians 1:22-26 (ESV) 

Paul truly understood that his death would do nothing but hasten his reward which freed him to be very effective and fruitful in this life. A Christian that doesn’t understand this will not be fruitful. The fear of failure, the fear of man, the fear of death will limit what you will be able to accomplish, just like the love of money, the love of your life, selfish ambition and a lack of faith. Paul wanted to be with Christ, but not until his usefulness for him here on earth had run its course. 

A Life Different Than the World
If you truly believe Paul’s statement in Philippians, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” your life will look conspicuously different than the world around you. The reason we live is to forward the gospel of Christ and to glorify God, because, for us death means to have our eternal reward.

Those who truly have Christ will consider it pure joy when they face trials of many kinds because they know it is perfecting their faith and producing perseverance in them. If you are seeking your reward and treasure in this life, it is an indicator that maybe your treasure is in the here and now and not in the life to come and not in Christ. 

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:24 (ESV)  
The passage doesn’t say ask Jesus into your heart or let him be a part of your life, it says “whoever loses their life for me will save it.” To have the honor to lose your life in Christ is the greatest privilege of the Christian life! Being a Christian is like joining an elite army you will never discharge from. It is like becoming a lifelong bond servant to a master and King of the universe. The life of a Christian is radically and fully devoted to the service of Christ.

The true Christian should be able to say about themself, to live is Christ; the person observing your life from the outside should be able to say that as well. To truly know Christ is life transforming and all consuming. The causal nature of most people's associations with Christ looks nothing like losing their life. True Christianity isn’t causal, it can’t be. Nothing that involves eternity, heaven and hell, a bloody death on a cross and resurrection from the dead could be. It’s either everything or it's nothing, but it's definitely not causal. 

Proclaiming the Gospel
Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while sitting in a jail cell. He was there because of preaching the gospel and his missionary endeavors. It immediately becomes clear just a few lines into his letter that his main concern was for the churches that he helped plant and the people that made up those churches. But his main focus was the proclamation of the gospel and representing Jesus well in whatever state he found himself in. Paul was content because His strength and joy were in Christ and he knew that death would be his greatest reward. 

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,  so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” Philippians 1:12-13 (ESV) 

Serving to advance the gospel was the point and mission of Paul’s entire life. Can we say the same? Will you happily suffer for the cause of Christ? This is a very important question because it says a lot about the true state of your soul. 

Faith and Suffering
Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of the ministry Voice of the Martyrs, spent fourteen years in a Romanian prison because he stood up for Christ against the communist regime. He was tortured and mistreated severely and could have been freed several times over the years if he simply would have been willing to deny Christ and endorse the communist party. He never did. 

Years later a reporter asked Wurmbrand how it was that this experience didn’t break his faith in God? And this was his response: “A faith that can be destroyed by suffering is not faith.”

Today in American church culture most professing Christians have a hard time talking about the realities of hell or the exclusive nature of the gospel when sharing their faith (that's in the rare cases they actually do share their faith). 

We are much too concerned with being perceived as judgmental or being misunderstood to boldly speak the truth. We are far too worried about our own comfort and personal rights to live for Christ in a way that might draw attention to us in a negative light, because we believe unless the world receives us well that we won’t be able to win it over. But sadly the opposite is true. Your supposed convictions have been weighed by your life and actions and found wanting and maybe it is you who still needs to be won over.

In Christ,
Pastor Joshua 

Joshua West is a pastor, evangelist, and author. He is also director of the World Challenge Pastors Network.