If the Apostle Paul had chosen one statement to sum up his life, it would probably be this: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Short, sweet and to the point: no frills, gimmicks or wasted words.
What greater themes could he have chosen than life and death? These words wrap up the totality of our existence in one broad stroke. And they challenge us to consider our own statement of faith.
We might say, for me to live is . . .
to realize my potential
to be happy and content
to have Godly children
to build a business as a legacy
to be worry- and debt-free
to be healthy and fit
to be independently wealthy
And the list could go on.
For Paul, “to live” is wrapped up in one word: Christ. Jesus is the focus, the goal and the final outcome. Nothing more, nothing less, yet nothing greater.
And, when Paul’s life was over, then what? To die is gain.
To Paul, death was not the end, but the entrance into something greater—the fulfillment after all his labor. He would be better off at this final destination; after all, heaven is where Jesus is! He would see his earthly goal face to face once again. He had already met Jesus on the road to Damascus, when he appeared to Paul with a message that changed the course of his life. In death, Paul would meet Christ in all his glory, which was his ultimate gain and his final reward.
The opposite of this single-minded focus is found in the verse in the following chapter where Paul describes faithless believers: “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:21) Again, with a broad stroke he paints a picture of many who profess to follow Christ but whose lives do not back up their claims.
What do I seek? What is most important to me? My list . . . my goals . . . or my God? Above all else, do I seek Christ or my own interests?
One of my teachers and mentors, Martha Moffett, developed ALS in her sixties. She taught in-depth Bible studies for most of her adult life and it defined the totality of who she was—a believer, a follower and a teacher. When confronted with a devastating illness, which eventually took her life, a friend commented, “Martha, I know you are lost without being able to teach!”
Martha’s answer? “Life is not teaching; life is Christ.”
Paul and Martha were vibrant witnesses to what really matters in this world. Both were faithful to the end, and they now experience the focus and joy they so passionately sought in this life—the presence of Jesus.
So what about me? What about you? Would Philippians 1:21 or Philippians 2:21 describe us? Will we be devoted to the person of Jesus or to the purpose of our plan? May it be the first and not the second—“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
After all, nothing is more important.