To Live Is Christ (Philippians 1:19 – 26)

I will continue to rejoice because I know that through your encouragement and prayers and through the help of the Spirit of Jesus the Anointed, I will soon be released from this dark place. I don’t expect that dishonor and shame will plague me in any way, but I do hope that I will continue to be able to speak freely and courageously about Jesus, and that now and forever the Anointed One will be glorified and placed above all else through this body of mine—whether I live or die. For my life is about the Anointed and Him alone. And my death, when that comes, will mean great gain for me. So, if it’s His will that I go on serving here, my work will be fruitful for the message. I honestly wouldn’t know how or what to choose; I would be hard-pressed to decide. I lean toward leaving this world to be with the Anointed One because I can only think that would be much better. To stay in this body of flesh—even with all its pains and weaknesses—would best serve your needs. Now that I think of it, I am sure of this: I would prefer to remain to share in the progress and joy of your growing belief. When I return to you, we will celebrate Jesus the Anointed even more. (Philippians 1: 19-26, The Voice)  

Paul is using a metaphor featuring the commander of a vessel in a foreign port who feels a strong desire to set sail and go home; this desire is balance by his belief that he needs to stay longer in the port in order to fulfill the mission. Paul was not ‘at home’; he wishes to return (to his heavenly home), but he has not received his final orders, so he waits faithfully and productively. The NIV says the same thing with the classic usage we often hear: 

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me." ( 21-26, NIV)

There are two words for "life" in the Greek: bios, from which we get our word ‘biology’ (or "the affairs of everyday life" - 2 Timothy 2:4) and zoe, which is the essence of life. It's the fuel on which our life runs. What gets us up in the morning? What motivates us? What brings us satisfaction and comfort? What inspires us and gives us hope? These ideas are all captured in this concept of life.

“For to me to live is Christ,” said Paul, and it seems to carry the idea that the fullness of life is in knowing Christ and making him known. Considering his audience in Phillipi, this might have been a difficult concept. There were at least five popular ways to finish that sentence:

  • The soldier: "For me to live is glory and fame."
  • The jailer: “For me to live is order and discipline.”
  • The slave girl: "For me to live is freedom from being controlled and abused.”
  • The merchants (such as Lydia): "For me to live is riches and comfort."
  • The Judaizers (which we will see later): “For me to live is obedience to the Law.”

These things had motivated them for so long. Never mind that it left them empty and grasping (because living for these things always does). Never mind that it failed to save, or that it was never enough. It’s what they had been raised to believe living was all about.

It’s as difficult a concept today as it was then. No one leaves that sentence blank. Everyone finishes it with something. For me, to live – for me to really feel like I matter, that I am somebody, that today was a good and meaningful day – is ________________.”

We aren’t Philippians, but what might we say? To live is fun, food, sex, kids, a spouse, entertainment, money, college, career, winning, reputation, health, control (or self-control), or pleasure?

What might we as Christians be tempted to say? To live is not to sin, or to be right, or to let our successful religious works be seen by others, or to never be uncomfortable, or to be free of the hardship and trials of life? In order to clarify your thoughts about this, ask yourself these six questions:

  • What am I most concerned about?
  • Would ruin my life if I failed at it or lost it?
  • What do I pursue to comfort me?
  • What is the focus of my hopes and dreams?
  • What makes me feel worthy? (What is the first thing I want people to know about me?)
  • What unanswered prayer might make me think about turning away from God? (this list is from Justin Buzzard, preachingtoday.com)

We are made to worship – to live for something. We all give more glory, weight and importance to something vs. everything else. The issue isn't if we are going to worship; it's what or who we're going to worship. And if we fill in this blank with anything other than ‘Christ,’ we have substituted an idol - “anything that gets more glory, more weight, more importance in our eyes than God does." (Darrin Patrick’s definition). And as Tim Keller likes to point out, the trouble with idols is that when they shake, you shake. We need something in which to put our hope that does not shake.

“For me, to live is Christ” is both Paul’s testimony and his reminder of where true life is found. It’s why Paul does not fear humiliation, persecution and death. Nothing shook him because his hope did not shake. His external circumstances changed, but not his internal focus.

That’s the good life. Paul’s showing them and encouraging them to, as David wrote, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) Then Paul shows them how to refocus. He spells out specifically (at least in this situation) what he means when he says” to live is Christ.” It’s not going to be a vague “Do better!” or an internal flexing of faith muscle. It’s much more precise – and perhaps harder - than the other options, but certainly better.

“To live is Christ” means serving Jesus through fruitful labor (v.22) for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ (v.25).

If for me to live is Christ - if my only concern is fruitful labor for Christ for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ – what might I expect to follow? How would this influence my view of life? 

  • There is nothing I could lose on this earth that would ruin my life. If I live so that Christ is glorified and others are built up in Christ, my reputation is insignificant. I don’t have to be noticed, appreciated, or applauded. There will always be someone to slander your reputation. If Christ increases, it just won’t matter how much I decrease. I am freed from the need to constantly build myself up impress others. My joy will come from seeing Jesus worshipped.
  • I would always recognize that the comforts of this life are fleeting at best, so I could enjoy them without depending on them (Mark 8:36). If my goal is ‘fruitful labor’ in the Kingdom, how concerned will I be about money and things (except for the purpose of furthering the kingdom of God)? I am freed from the anxiety of provision, or the jealousy of others who have more and better things. My joy will never come from my circumstances, but from my opportunities within those circumstances.
  • My dreams or hopes would always be about more fully loving God or serving others on God’s behalf (1 John 4:7; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:10; Ephesians 4:2). If my specific plans didn’t work out my ultimate plan would always be in place;
  • My self-worth would be grounded in the reality that I bear God’s image (Genesis 1:27); that His love is profound and eternal (John 3), and that in salvation I have been adopted into His family (Galatians 3:26);
  • There would be no unanswered prayer that would set me back because I would trust the unshakable character of God (Malachi 3:6);
  • If live to serve Jesus by serving others, my need for comfort or control become entirely secondary to the comfort and needs of others. My joy will come from being able to participate in the natural service of others even as God does a supernatural work within them.
  • I could stop running myself into the ground trying to be good enough or worthy enough and instead run the race of discipleship in which the joy of the Lord is my strength (Psalm 28:7; Nehemiah 8:10).

To live is Christ. Serve God and serve others. If this is our attitude, everything else falls into place. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, once said, “I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking God to do His work though me.”

That’s the idea. To live is knowing Christ and making him known. It is the only path to Christian maturity, hope and joy.

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[1] http://kevinpierpont.com/to-live-is-christ-philippians-121/