For me to LIVE is CHRIST!

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain!”

The above words, written in around 60-62 AD, are some of the words the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in Philippi. Paul was a (deeply) religious man—a man who well understood  the depravity (fallenness) of the human condition. Paul’s life was transformed when he was confronted with the person of Christ. But it was not just his experience that convinced him of the ‘person of Christ (‘..first who he is, then what he did..’).Paul was a very learned man, who enquired as to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed he went up to Jerusalem on at least two occasions (firstly within three years of the resurrection and again after fourteen years) in order to get further detail of the life and work of Christ. Paul was a pretty convinced man—he was a man who had previously persecuted Jesus’ early followers.

          What can he mean by ‘to die is gain’?. He was most definitely not suggesting that there was simply something better on ‘the other side of death’ so that we can all be comforted by a false hope of a ‘life of bliss postmortem’—no not at all. Paul was not concerned with opposition (he was beheaded—obviously sometime after writing to the Philippian Christians.  Paul’s life was about telling others that Jesus was, indeed ‘the way the truth and the life’; he was convinced that ‘not one person’ came to God except through Christ—that’s how he was convinced that ‘to die was gain’—it was far better than ‘the now of life’—however bad or ‘good’. So, when Paul  says that ‘to die is gain’ he is not making a sweeping generalisation—he is talking about the destiny of true followers of Christ. Listen to what he says:

“As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice!”

What can he mean? Well, he most certainly isn’t referring to the formation of any kind of charitable organisation etc.—not that he had no concern for the deprived or disadvantaged. His main concern was,however, to make the Gospel of Christ known to a dying world. Paul was obviously attracted to the ‘heavenly’ option (he’d some experience of what that would be like—‘I know a man…’)

          Paul was a man who ‘rejoiced—always’ [in] Christ’. He knew in whom he had believed in—and who was able to bring about the best of possible results. His life was both a life of commitment to the cause of his redeemer and a life of celebration:

“And I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out. Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. I can hardly wait to continue on my course. I don’t expect to be embarrassed in the least. On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit (J )! Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here.”

          I have a strong recollection of my time in the spinal injury ward in Southampton General in late 1975 (recently persuaded of the Gospel of Christ—seriously unwell) when a precious friend (the person who had led me to Christ) came to visit; he chose to read some words from the letter to the church in Philippi:

 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!” Philippians 4:4-5 (Message)

Dear professor of the Christian faith—believer/follower of Christ: We have much to rejoice about—even amidst the most difficult of situations. May our ‘rejoicing in The Lord’ overflow into our professing of Christ to others: Who he is and what he has done and continues to do. “For me to live is CHRIST—to die is gain.”

Derek White (April 3rd 2020) Soli Deo Gloria

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