The following are a few statements made by people who are said to have brilliant minds, but who don’t know the truths of God’s Word. “Man is a sick fly, taking a dizzy ride on a gigantic wheel.” “Man’s life has no more meaning than the humblest insect, crawling from one destruction to another.” “Men are but tiny lumps of carbon and water, who crawl about for a few years until they dissolve again.”
What low estimates! What empty and pitiful comments about the meaning of our existence! How refreshing are these inspired words of the apostle Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.
I. TO LIVE IS CHRIST (1:21a)
In the first half of verse 21, Paul says, “to live is Christ”. “Existence” is the lot of every person. But “life”, real life, belongs only to those who have been joined to Christ through salvation.
What has life meant to you as you’ve grown and matured? This poem gives us something to think about:
“What is life?” asked a little child as he romped on a golden day.
Out of his life the answer came: “Life is play! Life is play!”
“What is life?” asked the sturdy man as he toiled through the sun and rain.
And the woe in his heart cried out aloud “Life is pain! Life is pain!”
“What is life?” asked the old, old man as he gazed on the stars above. And his wise, wise heart sang joyfully, “Life is Christ! Life is love!”
Is your journey here on earth mere existence? Remember, life begins when Jesus comes in! This Scripture verse we’re studying today sums up the Christian’s philosophy of life in just twelve simple one-syllable words. “For to me, to life is Christ, and to die is gain.” When the wife of missionary, Adoniram Judson, told him that a newspaper article compared him to some of the apostles, Judson replied, “I don’t want to be like a Paul . . . or any other man. I want to be like Christ.” May Christ be the object of our love, the joy of our lives, and the one we aspire to be like. May Jesus Christ be our whole purpose for living.
II. TO DIE IS GAIN (verse 21b)
In the second half of verse 21, Paul says, “to die is gain”. The author, Isaac Asimov, tells the story of a rough ocean crossing during which Mr. Jones became terribly seasick. At an especially rough time, a friendly steward patted Mr. Jones on the shoulder and said, “I know, sir, that it seems awful. But remember, no man ever died of seasickness.” Mr. Jones lifted his head to look at the steward’s concerned face and replied, “Man, don’t say that! It’s only the wonderful hope of dying that keeps me alive!”
In these words to the church at Philippi, Paul said that the wonderful hope of dying kept him going. Yet Paul wasn’t merely looking for relief from suffering. Paul’s hope was rooted in Christ who died on the cross for sinners, rose victorious from the grave, is alive and reigning in heaven, and who would one day take Paul into His presence.
But how did the hope of seeing Christ keep the apostle Paul going? It gave meaning to every moment. It gave Paul a reason to live for Christ, and it gave Paul the incentive to focus his attention on others who needed his encouragement. Paul had come to know Jesus Christ as his very life.
There was a radio station that featured an on-the-air obituary column. Its purpose was to inform people in the community of any deaths of its citizens during the previous day. On one of those broadcasts, after an introduction, the announcer said thoughtlessly, “We’re sorry to report that there were no deaths in our county during the past 24 hours”. As soon as these words left his mouth, he knew that what he said was inappropriate. Have we ever written to express our sympathy to someone who has lost a Christian family member through death, and said something like “I was so sorry to hear about the home-going of your loved one”? But something doesn’t sound right, does it? Naturally, we feel sorrow for those who grieve. It hurts when family ties are broken. But should we feel sorry for Christians who have gone to be with their Lord? Never! II Corinthians 5 says, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”. We have reason to rejoice, even in our sorrow.
Philippians 1:21 is a valuable test for each of us to take concerning our lives. “For to me, to live is …………………., and to die is ………………….. Fill in the blanks yourself for your own life. A young man named William Anderson of Dallas, Texas, had been ill with an incurable disease. Although he had rallied and seemed to be somewhat better, he knew in his heart that his time to leave this earth was near. So, calling his mother to come closer to his bed, he whispered, “I want to tell you something. In spite of what the doctors are saying, I’m going to get to heaven before you do.” Then, smiling peacefully, he shut his eyes, and within a few minutes his soul had winged its way to glory. Because William’s faith was fixed on Jesus, fear was gone, and he joyfully anticipated going to be with the Lord.
Fellow believers in Jesus Christ, be assured that your final farewell to this world will bring you into the joys of heaven for eternity. Because our Savior and Lord paid the price for your sins and conquered the grave, your death will be gain. The first stanza of a popular old hymn says it so well you’ll want to be singing it:
When all my labors and trials are o’er
And I am safe on that beautiful shore
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore
Will through the ages be glory for me.
Death for the Christian is not gloom but glory. If we want to make the most of today, let’s keep eternity with Christ on our minds. Then our lives will be filled with joy!