Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
As I was reading on from verse 12, various things spoke to me, but then when I got to this verse I knew it was what I was to write on. It is a very famous verse, widely used in funerals and otherwise, but I don’t know that we think deeply enough about it. In the first place, what does it mean that “For me to live is Christ?” Paul speaks many times of how we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, and how Christ is in us. We are to live lives so in tune with Him that our presence means He is present, as we speak His words and manifest His character, His heart. The more we look at ourselves the more impossible that seems to be, because we are certainly flawed vessels. That’s good for our humility. However, as Paul famously wrote, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) The more we look to Jesus, the more He is manifested in and through us. (Hebrews 12:2) But then we get to, “to die is gain.” Our flesh screams in rebellion at this, but that’s the point: in death we leave the flesh behind. Just think about it. How would you like to discard everything you don’t like about yourself? That’s what physical death means for the believer. In fact, the prospect is so glorious that sometimes the devil twists it to try to get people to hurry it along, but the timing is always to be left in the hands of the Creator. For the believer, death is not a tragedy. It can certainly be a tragedy for those left behind, and it is the ultimate tragedy if the person is not a believer, but for the person who is in Christ, it is the ultimate graduation, release, and reward. That certainly qualifies as gain!
I’ve had experiences on both sides of this. I have experienced God speaking through me numerous times, but one time when I gave a salvation invitation at the close of a worship service I told people to come forward and take my hand as though they were taking Jesus’ hand, and a visitor thought I was claiming to be Jesus, never came back, and wrote me a strong letter of rebuke! I need to be careful of my terminology! However, I have experienced going into a room and the people there encountering the presence of the Lord from that moment. I am very much a jar of clay, and cracked at that, but Christ can shine through the cracks! As far as my experience of death goes, when my father didn’t wake up after heart surgery at 64 I felt, and still feel, that it was a special blessing to him from the Lord. When my mother had terminal cancer at 72, I wept and asked the Lord to take her home, but after He did, I felt no need of tears. My wife has numerous physical issues, and as much as I would like to keep her with me, when the Lord says it’s time, I know she will be more than delighted to go back to where she once visited 49 years ago this month. For myself, I certainly want to stick around to support my wife, and I do delight to proclaim God’s Word, but I know without question that leaving this physical body behind will be gain indeed.
Father, thank You for this reminder. My current pain from my injury brings it into focus! Help me indeed live as Christ for as long as You want me to be here, speaking Your Word and drawing people into Your kingdom, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!