What is your overall vision of life and its purpose? For the true Christian, it is rooted in a desire for “Christ…[to] be exalted in [your] body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20). Paul was wrapped up in a desire to use every area of his life to exalt, serve, glorify, and make known the matchless, majestic God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice in the context this verse is a statement of sheer coincidence—Paul is assured this magnification of our Lord will take place. But isn’t this a big job? How can a frail, fallen man—one confined to prison, no less—do something like this?
This week’s study focused on the why of Paul’s confident declaration. Paul is consumed with the Lord Jesus. How can He fail to be exalted by Paul when Paul is totally enveloped in Him?
This passage breaks neatly into two points.
A. To Live is Christ
It’s important to begin by recognizing that both the living and dying clauses lack a verb. So literally (and emphatically), they could be rendered, “To live—Christ! And to die—gain!”
“To me” is emphatic in the Greek text, making it not only deeply personal—as if Paul is saying, “Me, not you, only me!”—but also subjective. This is not about an objective standard (though it conforms to that), but Paul’s personal, individual, subjective experience of life and death as the means to Christ being magnified. This is personal. Someone else cannot do it for Paul. In a sense, someone else cannot even fully comprehend or understand Paul’s doing this, just as he cannot fully comprehend theirs. They are not him. He is not them. This must be done individually before God, in the depths of the heart. It flows out to every aspect of thought, affection, will, and attitude, but it starts with the soul standing before God and consecrating itself to the full exaltation of the Lord Jesus—with joy!
“Live” refers to the full, normal course of daily life—all the choices, feelings, encounters, actions, reactions, longings, words, thoughts, and experiences that comprise a day. In all of this, Paul says—all of it! Every nanosecond!—living is Christ.
What does this mean? It means Christ is the purpose for Paul’s life. He is the reason Paul exists, and the reason Paul does what he does the way he does in every detail of life. In this way, it covers both the fact of existence and the reason for it. Under inspiration, Paul tells us that the reason for existence is Christ Himself—to know, love, serve, exalt, represent, and tell others about Him. Think of how Paul describes the Scripture in Colossians 3:16: “the Word of Christ.” One of my favorite preachers describes it this way: “It is Christ’s word about Christ—who He is, what He did, what He is doing, what He will do, and what He wants.” Even the Bible is all about Jesus!
Christian (and non-Christian!)—you exist for Christ. The purpose of your life is Christ. Everything in life is to be done for Him, in His manifest presence, under His authority, out of love for Him, to advance His kingdom and its purposes, for His glory. Think of it—before salvation, this angry Pharisee did all he could to eradicate Christ’s message and His people, because he hated Him. Now, he is in prison for telling the world about Him and the joy of his life is to live for Him!
But what does this look like practically? This sounds like something abstract and mystical. What does it really involve? Pastor Erik gave some suggestions:
- Is Christ your unifying purpose? All you do must be in conformity to His will and for Him
- Is Christ your partnership? Paul lived in daily, decisive, joyful communion with Christ, personally and intimately. You must involve Christ with your day, setting aside special times to read and mediate on His Word and pray to Him, and mediate and pray throughout the day as you do everything else.
- Is Christ your priority? Or is it yourself, your job, marriage, children, hobbies? Christ is the one directing your paths and you must yield to Him in every area.
- Is Christ your passion? You must love Him supremely and with everything you have—not just in action, but in the delights and affections of your heart.
- Is Christ your pattern? You must think, act, speak, live, and love like Christ. He is not only your example—He is first your Savior, Lord, and Treasure—but He is indeed the pattern of life by God’s grace and empowering Spirit to all who are saved. Thank God He has revealed His life to us in the gospels, and the fullness of His mind and heart (and the implications of His person and work) in the epistles!
- Is Christ your persecution? Do you suffer loss for your identification with Him? Are you willing to pay any price for proclaiming Him and living under His authority in a hostile world?
Paul did not have Christ as part of his life. Christ was the sum total of his life. All of it was under His lordship and directed by Him to a glorious end. And that is the only reason why death could be gain.
B. To Die is Gain
What is death? Death is the cessation of life in the physical body, whereupon the soul and body are separated. Death furthermore results in the entrance of the soul either into conscious fellowship with the Lord Jesus in heaven, or conscious torment in hell. Death is a result of the curse and sin, and will only be reversed with the resurrection and the bringing in of the new heaven and new earth. (Even the millennial empire will not erase it entirely.) We do not receive our glorified bodies at death, but rather “at His coming” (1 Cor. 15:23b; cf. vv. 51-52; Phil. 3:11, the “out-from-among-the-dead” resurrection, implying a resurrection only of the saved to leave the rest dead “until the thousand years were completed,” Rev. 20:5). Paul must wait for Christ’s return to enjoy his glorified body upon a renewed earth for the millennium and then for all eternity. Yet death, the release of his soul from his body, is still gain. Why? One reason is because Paul looks at death as the gateway to all Christ will do to reverse it and usher in His Kingdom. He is not afraid to die because with the eyes of faith he sees beyond death to his resurrection and restoration. But the immediate reason for our context is because when he is dead, he goes to heaven, where he will immediately see and be welcomed by Christ personally, the One he has loved and served so faithfully and with such longing.
Christ is the most important thing to Paul. Paul has lived all of his life since his salvation for Him, to honor, serve, exalt, proclaim, and love Him. Yet he has been limited by the remnants of his fallenness (Rom. 7:14-25). The vestiges of his corrupt human nature have hindered his understanding, dulled his affections, distracted his eyes, twisted his longings, and weakened his resolve. It is important to understand, however, that the problem is not with Paul’s human body, his finitude, or his physicality. The problem is the deep effect of sin and the curse on all of these things, The corruption is so great that it has taken God’s good and glorious creation of multifaceted humanness—body, spirit, desires, eyes, thoughts, senses, appetites—and enslaved it to serve self and sin. We long for death wrongly if we think the problem is our physical body and our humanness. Humanness is glorious. The resurrection and kingdom will redeem it. The problem is our sin. Death frees us from that initially (Rom. 6:7), and the resurrection will complete the work as our glorified spirits are joined with a glorified body. Then, we can fully know, love, enjoy, and serve the Lord Jesus as we are meant to—as full, redeemed people!
Because in life, death, and resurrection life, Christ is everything. He is the center, He is the purpose, He is the focus and glorious goal. In life, we live for Him, representing Him and His interests, imaging His beauty and glory by living lives pleasing to Him and centered around His preciousness and authority. In death, we glorify Him by rejoicing at being with Him in an unhindered way, worshiping Him perfectly, forever irrevocably free from the weakness and pull of our fallenness. We will be made perfect in holiness, never to dishonor Him or lose fellowship with Him again, knowing perfect union with Him forever. In resurrection life, we exalt His power to redeem, to restore, to fulfill His promises, to overcome the sinfulness of men and win back a people and an inhabited earth by precious blood. We celebrate the restoration of all things as they ought to be—in their right relationship to His exalted lordship. Jesus is the center and the deepest satisfaction of our redeemed souls in all of it. What a testimony this would be to His matchless worth, glory, purity, righteousness, love, and honor!
O that we could all be like Paul! To be consumed with Christ in life and death. To live enjoying Him and satisfied in Him, and ready to die to experience unhindered fellowship and love with Him. Only if Christ is truly our life can we experience death—perhaps the greatest loss—as gain! May God give us confident joy to proclaim this to all, and may we live believing this is the truth, for the glory of our great God!