“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” –Philippians 1:21
Has anyone every read this verse and gave a hearty amen to it? For most Christians, we probably have. We have read this verse and agreed with it saying, “In my life, I am solely focused on Christ and in my death, I long to see Him!” But do we really believe that? Do we understand this concept of “living is Christ, and dying is gain”?
I don’t believe it like he did. I’m not there yet.
The Joy (and Suffering) of a GameBoy
When I was younger, I had received a GameBoy Color for Christmas (one of my dreams at the time was to play the new Pokémon game). With the GameBoy Color, I also had a rechargeable battery pack that went on the back where you could plug it into a wall and never have to worry about the batteries dying. (This was going to save me from those times where you never have AA batteries laying around!)
The first day I received the GameBoy, I started playing for probably a couple of hours and was having a terrific time. Well it came time to take the game from the living room to the bedroom; so unplugged the chord from the wall to move it and it happened…the GameBoy shut off…didn’t save…have to start over now. (Apparently it did not occur to me that you could either play the GameBoy on the batteries or on the wall outlet but could not interchange the two.)
My heart sunk. I was filled with all kinds of emotions ranging from anger to complete sadness. This response to losing a few hours progress in a video game showed that I don’t understand “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.
The World in Checkmate
What Paul was saying in this verse is that his goal in life is to honor Christ and in death, be with Christ (Phil. 1:20). This meant that the “comforts” of this world had no bearing on his happiness. Let’s recap what Paul is going through. He is (at least) imprisoned and under constant surveillance by the Roman guard (Phil. 1:7, 13), being slighted and ridiculed by church members (maybe even friends) (Phil. 1:17), and is constantly facing the threat of death. Yet, Paul doesn’t complain and constantly talk about everything going wrong and how he was dealt a bad hand. Instead he says, “Yes and I will rejoice” (Phil. 1:18) and “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
I don’t understand this mindset, or at least my actions say I don’t. This mindset says, “Throw whatever you want at me world! You can’t take away my joy or purpose because both are found in Christ!” Yet for me, life is coming to an end when the internet goes out! Or plans change, arguments happen, people talk about you behind your back, etc. Our joy and worth being drained so quickly show the world (and ourselves) that we do not understand this verse.
And this is because our goals are in the wrong place. If our goal is to be comfortable then we will get upset when comfort is taken away. If our goal is to have people like us then we will get upset when people don’t like us, for whatever reason it is. Paul had an incredible commitment to honor Christ in his body, whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20). Because of this, when the guard takes away comfort, “That’s fine! I can still honor Christ without it!” When people slander him, “That’s ok! Christ is still exalted!” When they threaten death, “That’s great! I get to see Christ in my death!” Amazing things happen when your goal isn’t to gain anything in this world but to honor Christ in this life and see Him in the next. You, as Ben Stuart states, have the world in checkmate.
What are Your Goals?
Do you constantly find your happiness drained by the circumstances in life? Maybe you don’t fully believe this verse like me. However, in constant prayer, seeking the Holy Spirit, and growing in love through knowledge and discernment (Phil. 1:9), the Gospel of Christ love can become more and more real to us. And the more real that it becomes to us, the more we will seek to be with Christ in eternity.
“For this light momentary affection is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. –2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (Emphasis mine)