There is no higher calling in this world than to live for Christ. When you wake up tomorrow morning, using this verse or others, actively seek to dawn this mentality. Live for Jesus, display Jesus to others, tell others about Jesus, being reminded that this life is a vapor that is here and then vanishes. Make the most of the time God has granted us on earth.
Life and death… are a definition of opposites. They are two spheres we will all traverse, should the Lord tarry. It’s also true that while we will navigate both, we have only experienced one of which at this point in time. Life is present. Death is the future. Since death is the future, shouldn’t it affect life at present?
I imagine that everyone would agree here, that it should. ‘Yes, since death is coming, that should inform how I live at present.’ Sadly, I think at times unbelievers do a better job here (in a negative way) than we do––in living in light of the future. What I mean is this, since death is coming, unbelievers seek to enjoy their fill of the world to the full, indulging in sins and all sorts of evils, throwing caution to the wind with their souls. For the unbeliever, death often motivates unholy living at present, it fuels the fire, so to speak.
If that is the case, how much more so should Christians be sold out to live for the Lord at present, particularly in light of what death brings? If death motivates unholiness for the unbeliever, how much more should it motivate holy living for the believer, out of a love for the Lord? In Phil 1:21, Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That verse is a spiritual thermometer of sorts, it shows how you’re doing. The way you live your life at present testifies to what you believe about what is to come in the future.
I know we are well on our way into 2023. It’s a bit late for new years resolutions. I am generally not one for new years resolutions, given the world’s flippant commitments. However, I am for them in the Jonathan Edward’s sense. Edwards composed 70 resolutions for his life in being a follower of Christ. The first of his resolutions is undergirded with Paul’s words in Phil 1:21. Edwards wrote,
“Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.”
The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards, Jonathan Edwards
That is a grand statement. Our aim and practice as believers should be to live to glorify the God who saves, with all that we are, all the time. As I write that, which I firmly believe, I recognize that I do not live up to that statement perfectly, and I imagine that you do not either. Our God is awesome, in the truest sense of the word, because of what the future holds, we should live fully for Him at present… but we don’t. Despite how great our God is we can forget our purpose and call in life, at least in practice.
Again, Paul writes, clear, unambiguous teaching that summarizes the life of a Christian. He says, “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” At first glance, it might be easy for someone to assume that Paul writes a statement like this one when everything’s going his way in life. That’s not the setting. Paul makes that statement while imprisoned, not from the Ritz. He wrote in verses 7, 13, 14, and 17 of the chains that he wore. But the reality that he was imprisoned did not change or alter his perspective on his purpose in life. In fact, he wrote in Phil 4:11–13,
“Not that I speak from want, for I learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in abundance; in any and all things I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
At which point, we can see that “going Paul’s way in life” wasn’t what mattered most to him.
So here Paul is, this man who is heavenly-minded and therefore of the most earthly good, and he says to the Philippian church that his desire is for Christ to always be magnified in him. He says in verses 18–20,
“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”
This is Paul’s focus in life. When Paul wakes up, his day is about Christ being magnified. When he goes to bed, the same is true. This is what he breathes, eats, drinks, and dreams. His life isn’t like a shotgun with many different pellets in a general direction, but rather like a rifle with a single bullet and precise aim. His focus is clear. He knows his purpose in life.
At this point, Paul has likely been walking with the Lord for around 26 years or so. If anything, he has only become more crystalized in his focus and resolve to live for Christ. Shortly after he was saved by the Lord Jesus, in Acts 9:19b–20 we read, “Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’” Upon being saved, Paul knew he was to proclaim Jesus Christ. He knew that he was to live for Him, and he continued to grow in this knowledge over time.
As we read on in Acts and in learning about Paul through his letters, around 16 years later we see a fuller picture of Paul’s heart for the Lord. We read him say in Gal 2:20, a statement that is so direct concerning the Christian life, that it only amplifies Phil 1:21.