We live in interesting times but it is nothing like that of Paul and the Philippians. The church in Philippi was founded in suffering (Acts 16:11-34) and continued in suffering (Phil 1:29). In light of Paul’s own imprisonment Paul states, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). What does it mean for the Christian that living is Christ and how is dying gain?
To Live is Christ.
To live is to go about everyday laboring for the sanctification of others, the spread/progress of the gospel, the purification of oneself, to continuing living and within the present body. If to live means Christ, what would Paul do practically, if he were “to live”? Paul means that he practically seeks how to humble Himself, serve others, and even perhaps give up his own life if it means the progress of the gospel and exaltation of Christ. He would serve Christ, become more like Christ. When Paul states “to live is Christ” he means that Christ is the Spiritual Content in Paul’s life, now and will be more perfectly so in the life to come. Christ is the spiritual content of Paul’s life (Gal 2:20; Col 3:4; 2 Cor 13:3; 1 Cor 2:16; et al.). Within the book of Philippians it means to be marked by:
- Christ’s affections – 1:8 – “For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
- Christ’s fruit of righteousness – 1:9-11 – “And I pray this: that your love will keep growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God”
- Christ’s attitude – 2:5 – “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus”
- Christ’s interests – 2:19-22 – “Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you. For I have no else like0minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, no those of Jesus Christ. But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father.”
- Christ’s righteousness – 3:8-9 – “More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ-the righteousness from God based on faith.”
To die is to lose one’s life, Paul means departing this world and being with Christ. Why is to die a “gain”? To die is a gain because death places the believer in the presence of Christ. Paul will be like Christ, completely like Him and satisfied in Him. First, it motives us in the present. Secondly, it means that we can welcome death. Within the book of Philippians death is when:
- God’s good work will be completed – 1:6 – “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
- The saints are seen as pure and blameless – 1:10 – “so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.”
- The saints are seen as pure and blameless – 2:15-16 – “so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. Hold firmly to the message of life. Then I can boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run or labor for nothing.”
- The saints know the power of His resurrection and reach the resurrection from the dead – 3:11-12 – “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from the dead.” [[Compare to the fact that Christ’s death resulted in His exaltation in 2:9-11 “For this reason God highly exalted Him…to the glory of God the Father]]
- The saints are transformed into the likeness of His glorious body – 3:20-21 – “but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.”
Paul sees being with Christ to be “very much better.” To be with Christ is for faith to become sight and prayer to become praise. Our mortality to be clothed with immortality. Our corruption and sinfulness to be clothed with incorruptibility and with perfection. In death, we gain Christ Himself.
Paul’s response to the options – to die or to be characterized by fruitful labor as he goes on living in the present life – is to pursue faithful labor since the choice of life or death is ultimately in God’s hand and so we pursue fruitful labor within the Covenant Community.