A Matter for Life and Death (Philippians 1:21)
[For] to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. –Philippians 1:21
Our oldest child just started his career as a cardiac nurse working at a local heart hospital. While he can’t share identifying patient information, he comes home after his shifts with stories. The most intense ones involve “code blue” resuscitations. He also observes family members wrestling through tough health decisions; listens to patients recount successes and regrets; and prays, when given permission, at bedsides. His desire is to minister to believers and share his hope in Christ with unbelievers, whether they live or die under his care.
Hearing stories about life and death is sobering. Life seems short and time is fleeting. Yet there is comfort and security in knowing that, for those of us who are in Christ, to depart from this life means to be present with Christ in eternity. It reminds me of the familiar catechism:
Question: “What is our only hope in life and death?“
Answer: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ. (New City Catechism, pp. 16-17)
The Apostle Paul speaks often of this glorious reality. His strong statement in this week’s verse shows us the center of his attention—Christ—as his only hope in life and death. We also see the expression of this reality as he rejoices in his present circumstances and looks ahead to his future eternal joy.
To Live is Christ
Paul is not dying from heart failure in a hospital, but he is writing from prison while facing affliction and the threat of death. This is no small suffering. Yet he is able to look beyond his circumstances to the advance of the gospel among the Roman guards (v. 13). He is anticipating the “progress and joy in the faith” (v. 25) that would come to the church at Philippi. He understands that his life is not his own, and that living means “fruitful labor” (v. 22). His motivation is the work that Christ is doing through him. Christ is his joy in life and his reason for living.
To Die is Gain
Paul’s assessment of life and death brings him to the stunning conclusion: it’s really hard to choose between joyfully living and serving Christ and departing to be with Him. But if he has to choose, he decides that it is “far better” (v. 23) to die. For him, nothing on earth compares to eternity in the presence of Christ, so dying is gain. Paul sees remaining in the flesh—staying alive in this life—as necessary for the sake of Christ and the Philippians. But he knows that, ultimately, death gives way to everlasting joy in Christ’s presence. There is no comparison.
I praise God for our son’s work opportunity and the conversations it’s sparked around our family dinner table. We’ve all been on the edge of our seats, amazed at how a patient who was physically dead with no heartbeat is revived and alive again through the skill of gifted doctors and nurses. More importantly, I am encouraged to reflect on and pursue Paul’s greatest desire—to honor Christ, whether through living or dying (v. 20). May we find our satisfaction, supreme joy, and greatest treasure in this life in our Savior and, after death, with Him forever.
Is it hard for you to rejoice in the midst of trials and suffering, to believe that "to live is Christ"?
Ask God to grow your faith that living for Christ and being a means of His work in the world is reason to rejoice in every circumstance.
Do you fear death? Ask God to convince your heart that in Christ, to die will in fact be gain.
Sherri Moran is Executive Assistant to David Michael. She joined the Truth78 team after many years of teaching her children and other students in a homeschool setting, as well as serving on staff at her church. Memorizing Scripture throughout her life has been a great benefit, and she loves the way the Holy Spirit brings those verses to mind to fight the good fight of faith. Sherri and her husband Ryan live in central Indiana and have one son and three daughters.