Monday, December 26, 2016

To live is Christ - Philippians 1:21-26

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again." (Philippians 1:21-26)
This is a curious statement, "to live is Christ." Here, Paul equates a verb with a noun. It would be like saying, "to drive is Henry Ford" or, "to eat a burger is McDonald." According to the conventional rules of grammar, this statement makes no sense. So what does Paul mean by this statement? Speaking of his relationship with Christ, Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20) Paul understood that to live on in the flesh was to accept the calling to die daily to ourselves that Christ might live His life through us. To live requires our dying while to die brings us into eternal life. To live means to let Christ live through us.

Paul contrasts the gain that is to be ours in our death with the gains the world has to offer us in this life. Speaking of those worldly gains, Paul says, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:7-8) Paul realizes that the gains of this world are not to be compared with the gains that are to be ours in the resurrected life. There are those who live for the reward of earthly gains only to forfeit to themselves those gains which are of true value, eternal value, and that are with God in heaven. Jesus said, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:25-26) True riches, true gain, and true life is found when we are willing to lose our life for Christ's sake; when we are willing to set aside our will, plans, and purposes that we might take up Christ's will and purpose; that His life, plan, and purpose might be expressed and worked through us here in this life. Those who are willing to lose their life for Christ's sake will find it in abundance in Christ.

Paul was in prison and he understood that there were two possible outcomes to his imprisonment: one was his release and the other his death. So which would he choose if the choice was up to him? It is interesting that Paul thought it hard to chose between the two possible outcomes. For most people, the clear choice would be to live. However, Paul was not so sure that was the best choice. Only those who have the hope and confidence of eternal life in the presence of God could ever view death as gain. Paul understood the reality of the life that was awaiting him upon his death. For him, living had no real gain beyond what he already had, yet his death would bring the realization of everything he had hoped for and lived for all his life. Therefore, why remain in this life while there awaited him so much gain upon his death? The only reason that Paul could consider life as an advantage was because he was looking towards the gain his continued life would bring to others. It was only by considering the needs of others that his desire to live could outweigh his desire to depart this life. This is the lesson for us today. It is only by seeing the gain our lives can bring to others that our life on this Earth gains meaning and purpose.

Paul understood that the purpose of his life was to serve others. It was this knowledge, that there was so much more for him to do and to accomplish for the faith of others, that Paul was confident of his release and his continued labor in this life. It is interesting that Paul sees his mission as not only encouraging the growth and progress in the faith of believers but also in helping them to grow and continue in joy. Some people see themselves as the policemen of the body. They are always running around telling others what they are not doing right and what they ought to do. Paul, however, was running around encouraging people to continue in the faith and to live with joy. What good is faith if it doesn't also bring joy?

Finally, Paul expected his release so that God might use the example of his life to embolden the faith and confidence of the Galatians. They had been praying for Paul's release. They had been believing for his freedom. Paul's hope was that by his release the faith of the Galatians would be encouraged and their confidence in God established. Paul's hope for his release was not his own, it was for the benefit and encouragement it would bring to those who were praying and believing for his release. Paul's life was a life spent for others. May we too live such a live.

David Robison

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