“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Philippians 1:21 NASB
This single statement from Paul while in prison is one of the heaviest Paul ever said. It’s so heavy in fact that this single blog post is devoted entirely to just half of it: “…to die is gain”.
Like everything else Paul ever said, the strength of his preaching and his letters of instruction were backed by his life. Many can claim to believe a multitude of ideals, doctrines, etc. But it is only through their life that they reveal what they truly believe. Trials and difficult situations make or break you. And we clearly see that in Paul’s life.
We can turn to places like Acts 21 where Paul says that he is “ready to not only be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Or just one chapter before when Paul declares, “I did not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God”.
Very briefly, the most immediate points of application that come to my mind have to do with missions and persecuted Christians. The reason is obvious as Paul was a missionary and was heavily persecuted.
- The first point is that God is sovereign. God is sovereign and we must maintain a high view of His sovereignty. And in so doing we may respond to the call to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Because a high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to missions. God’s attribute of sovereignty speaks of His control, His kingship. It is our safety net as we go out and do great things for His name, even attempting to preach the gospel in countries where doing so can get you killed. Especially those countries actually. And now that we have our safety net, that segues into the second point.
- And the second is that we must be ready to die for Christ and we can do so because we have the ultimate weapon. What is this ultimate weapon? It is the knowledge that dying is gain. If the worst they can do to you is to kill you and from your point of view the best thing that can happen to you is to die, then you have ultimately thwarted them. Paul armed himself with this idea and so should we. Think back to Paul’s last letter in 2 Timothy when he said “I am ready to be offered”. Read again throughout Acts where Paul shows little regard for his own life in the face of gospel proclamation. And it wasn’t only Paul. Martyrs throughout church history knew that there was great triumph in death. And I don’t mean the worldly idea of leaving a lasting legacy and your name being remembered forever even if you yourself are gone. Look at 1 Peter 4:1: “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…” What does this mean? It means that in dying, we have ceased from sin. Do you get it? If we are armed with the goal of being delivered from sin and that goal is only achieved through our death and the worst anyone can do to me is to kill me, then the worst they can do is to bring about that which is most precious to me. All the threatening has gone out of persecution.
So the question is, do you believe that? And more importantly than just saying you do, have you backed it up with your life?