For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
– PHILIPPIANS 1:21
In yesterday’s reading, Paul talked about his present circumstances. He ended the section by saying he could “rejoice” despite his imprisonment. This was an incredible display of resolve in the midst of a difficult situation. Perhaps even more incredible is the resolve he shows in today’s reading. In this section, Paul shifts his attention to his future circumstances, saying that he “will continue to rejoice” no matter what happened, whether he lived or he died (Philippians 1:18). This begs the question, how was Paul able to continue rejoicing while facing such an uncertain future?
Paul gives us two answers. First, he was able to continue rejoicing because he was confident that whether he lived or died, he would experience “deliverance.” He writes in verse 19, “for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” The word translated here as “deliverance” could have a variety of meanings. On the one hand, it could refer to a simple deliverance from his imprisonment. On the other hand, this word oftentimes refers to our eternal salvation (Romans 1:16; Hebrews 5:9; 1 Peter 1:5). It seems that Paul is drawing on the full range of meanings of this word to imply that whether he would live or die, he would experience some form of deliverance, either from an earthly ruler’s judgment or from God’s final judgment. This was something he could rejoice over.
Another reason Paul continued to rejoice was because he had a clear understanding of his life’s purpose. He writes in verse 21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Here, Paul has taken a popular Greek saying, “life is good” (to z¯en chrestos), and modified it into a similar sounding statement, “to live is Christ” (to z¯en Christos). By doing this, he has indicated that life as he understood it wasn’t about pleasure or experiences. For Paul, life was first and foremost about Jesus. This meant that living or dying was not as significant as seeing Christ exalted.
This should serve as an example for us. We tend to make life about a lot of things: work, money, family, friends, fun. These things are not necessarily bad, but they cannot sustain us when they become the central focus of our lives. Only Jesus can fill that role. When we make our life’s purpose first and foremost about Jesus, we discover that we can always rejoice, even in the midst of an uncertain future.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 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. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.