LIVING AND DYING
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
“For me to live is Christ . . .” That is quite a statement, although it is an odd statement. More normally, we would say: “For me to live is good,” or “for me to serve Christ is good,” or something like that. For Paul, however, living and being a Christ-follower are inseparable. For him, Christ is the purpose of life. Or to put it another way, the focus of Paul’s life is not Paul but Jesus. He does what he does, not to gain wealth or fame or honor for Paul, but to bring glory to Christ. Apart from his Christian ministry Paul has no life at all – his purpose is Christ’s purpose.
Then he writes, “. . . to die is gain.” What?? How can death be considered a plus? Well let’s think about that a moment. Sure, if death were considered as an isolated event, it would be hard to attach positive value to it. Oh, it may bring an end to pain or it may be the result of a heroic act; but if it simply brings life to its conclusion it generally isn’t considered a positive. To the natural mind, life is always preferable to death. Of course Paul is looking at death in the context of faith. As Christians, we know that physical death is NOT the conclusion of life. God takes His people from life to life; and the second is better than the first.
Several weeks ago I heard a young pastor preach on this text. He pointed out – rather profoundly, I thought – that most Christians have it backward. They expect life to bring them health and wealth and happiness and contentment. In their philosophy of faith, “to live is gain.” And then, when life has run its course, they look forward to spending eternity with Jesus. So, for them, “to die is Christ.” Gain and material pleasures here and now; life with Christ in the “hereafter.” That’s what seems right, but it isn’t the Gospel.
Hmmm . . . “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” You know, Paul may have been on to something great; like living with Christ in the here and now and still look forward to a hereafter that’s even better!
--- Pastor Keith Andrews