To Live is Christ
An old martyr once told his executioners, “You take a life from me that I cannot keep and bestow a life upon me that I cannot lose.” We all know that life goes by quickly. Job said, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6); and James called life “a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14).
A famous evangelist once was asked, “What has been the greatest surprise in your life?”
He replied, “The brevity of life.” He was 99 years old!
Scripture pictures death as an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). People who do not know God cling to what they have in this world; but someday, they must leave it all behind. For them, there is no gain, only loss. They enter a never-ending existence of judgment and damnation, separated from God for eternity (Heb. 9:27). Not so for believers in Jesus.
The apostle Paul knew the meaning of life: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Christ was the center of his life and reason for his existence. He was not pessimistic, cynical, indifferent, or stoical. He merely placed himself in God’s hands, knowing the Lord would choose the time and means of his death; and he viewed death as “gain,” or spiritual profit. Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur wrote,
He trusted, loved, served, witnessed for, and in every way was devoted to and dependent on Him [Christ]. His only hope, his only purpose, his only reason to live was Christ. He traveled for Christ, preached for Christ, and was persecuted and imprisoned for Christ. Ultimately, he would die for Christ. But even death, by God’s marvelous grace, was ultimately for Paul’s eternal gain.1
Paul saw a great advantage in dying and being with Christ. Yet he knew he was still needed on Earth:
If I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you (vv. 22–24).
In Christ’s presence, Paul would be free of suffering, beatings, imprisonments, hunger, and thirst; and he finally would be rid of his thorn in the flesh that tormented him throughout his ministry. He also would be free of the problems he faced overseeing the churches and dealing with false brethren. But above all, he would have a glorified body and experience all the rewards Christ promised him.
Paul knew the joy that awaited him because he already had been “caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). And he desired to be with Christ: “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven” (5:1–2). Paul knew with joyful confidence, “To be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord” (v. 8).
But he also knew he was still needed on Earth and told the Philippian church, “Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:24). Convinced the Lord wanted him to finish his ministry, Paul assured and encouraged the Philippians: “Being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith” (v. 25).
The word confident refers to Paul’s inner conviction that he would not die at this time. The words I know in Greek mean Paul knew innately (possibly by the Holy Spirit) that he would not be convicted and sentenced to death and would be released from prison.
Verse 25 contains three thoughts: (1) Paul planned to come alongside the Philippians and minister to and with them; (2) he would come for their “progress” (Greek, prokope), meaning “furtherance or advancement” in their spiritual lives; and (3) Paul’s presence would produce the “joy of faith,” adding instruction and encouragement that would increase the Philippians’ joy in Christ.
Paul’s visit was for their joy more than his own: “That your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again” (v. 26). In other words, Paul’s presence would gladden and encourage the Philippian Christians, and they would see God had answered their prayers and freed the apostle from prison. His presence would inspire them to share their faith boldly, even though it meant persecution.
Should Paul be delayed in coming to them, he still expected them to live in a manner appropriate to the gospel of Christ:
Only let your conduct [“conversation” in KJV] be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (v. 27).
The word conduct (politeuesthe) is a Greek verb derived from polis, meaning “city,” and implying citizens should live according to the laws of their residence. Philippi was a colony of Rome, and its people possessed Roman citizenship. Paul was telling these Christians to behave like citizens belonging to Christ and to live in a manner worthy of the gospel by doing four things:
1. Standing fast (v. 27). They were to stand firm and hold their ground in their Christian commitment to truth, living upright lives without compromise, no matter what it would cost them personally.
2. Being “in one spirit, with one mind [soul]” (v. 27). The word soul refers to a believer’s inner being: emotions, reason, and will. Christians are to function in genuine unity and harmony of heart and mind. This oneness in Christ is extremely important to win spiritual battles. The early church evidenced such unity, guided by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:42–46; 4:32).
3. “Striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). Believers must contend together against the evil trying to destroy both them and the Christian faith.
4. Being courageous. Paul admonished them, “not in any way terrified by your adversaries” (v. 28). The word terrified means to be frightened, like a horse that is easily spooked by every sound or movement. The Philippians knew Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for their faith, yet remained unafraid. In fact, other prisoners overheard them praying, singing hymns, and praising God (Acts 16:22–25), “which is to them,” Paul said, “a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God” (Phil 1:28).
We are not to be frightened or intimidated by opposition, nor give in to those who oppose Christ. Our bold, united stand is “proof of perdition,” or the ruin and ultimate destruction of unbelievers. But to Christians, it is a divine sign of salvation.
Christians are called to suffer for Christ: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (v. 29). Believing in Christ and suffering for Him are privileges, as well as inseparable experiences: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).
The apostles were beaten and imprisoned; yet when released, they departed, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His [Christ’s] name” (Acts 5:40–41).
Paul wrote this epistle while suffering in prison, “having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me” (Phil. 1:30). The word conflict (Greek, agona) means to struggle or fight to win, as in an athletic or gladiatorial contest. The Philippians saw how Paul was beaten, imprisoned, and severely persecuted in Philippi for preaching the gospel. They understood what he was saying because of what they were going through themselves.
Let us take to heart what Paul meant when he said, “To live is Christ”; and let us stand together for biblical truth and for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- John MacArthur Jr., Philippians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2001), 76, exported from Logos Bible Software.