Living is ___________.
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – Phil. 1:21
I believe that this sentence from Paul is one of the most important sentences in the Bible. You should memorize it. You should build your life on it. Through the power of the gospel in these 12 words, Jesus gives us true joy.
Because of our fallen condition as human beings we are all prone to “exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man…” (Rom. 1:23). Every day we fight the battle of exchanging the truth of God for a lie and worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (v. 25).
We exchange the eternal joy of God for the unsatisfying, temporary joy of created things. God gives us Philippians 1:21 to redeem our sinful nature, which is always running to 1,000 other things for joy and happiness. We run to Money and Power. Relationships and Pleasure. Kids and Spouse. Ice cream and Netflix. Facebook and Instagram. Summer vacation and Retirement. Music and Movies.
We believe a lie when we think that happiness is found in these things instead of in Christ alone.
Philippians 1:21 is our medicine for this. This verse is gospel gain! This gospel gain is what Christ is to us through the gospel. It is only through seeing Christ as truly better than everything else, through the power of the gospel, that we are able to truly have joy.
This verse was spoken to us from a man in a prison. One pastor writes, “The happiest man in Rome was in a jail cell!” How was it possible for Paul to say something like this in the midst of his circumstances?
He is able to say it because the gospel had so radically transformed his life, and he knew a true happiness that could never be taken away from him. He went from being an enemy of God to a child of God (Rom. 5:8-11). He went from being a slave of sin to a co-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:15-17). No jail cell could take this away from him.
If to die and be with Christ is actually gain, then that means that the greatest thing on this earth - that thing which makes us truly happy - is in reality just a cheap imitation of the real joy that Christ can give us. If to be with him is better than having everything on earth I could ever want, then that means that Jesus makes me seriously happy.
Pastor Tony Merida in Raleigh asks a sobering question: How would you fill in the following blank?
For me, living is _________. And dying is ____________.
Maybe, if you were honest, you would put living is: having good health, financial peace, popularity, no stress, video games, healthy relationships, my marriage, power, my career, personal freedom to do what I want, being in control.
And in the same honesty you would put dying is: scary, losing it all, feeling powerless, having no friends, something I want to avoid, broken relationships.
Can we honestly say with Paul, to live is Christ! To die is GAIN?!
We see in verses 24-26 that when Paul says to live is Christ, he is thinking about living every moment for the sake of the gospel in order to help God’s people see progress and joy in their faith. He lived so that other people would grow to know Christ more! This was what kept him going. This is true joy.
Verse 23 says that he would rather “depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
Dr. Danny Akin calls Phil. 1:21 the win-win scenario for the Christian. If I am going to live, then I will live totally sold out for the sake of the gospel. I will live to see others become more like Christ. And if I die, it will be far better than being on this earth, for I will finally be able to enjoy being with Jesus forever, face-to-face. This is what I want more than anything else.
We are able to live with this mindset when we set our eyes on the true joy that is given to us in Christ through the gospel. It is then that we will be able to see Jesus as better than everything else!
I pray that Jesus fills you with his unshakable joy today that comes through resting in the wonder of the gospel.
“You make known to me the paths of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11