The Joy of the Ultimate

“For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”  This is a familiar verse for many of us. We marvel that Paul made this bold statement from a prison cell in Rome, awaiting probable execution because of his testimony. But honestly, sometimes it takes a stripping away of everything for us to truly see what matters.  In other passages of Scripture, Paul expressed the loss, persistent persecution, trauma and difficulties he had faced and how desperate he had felt, even to survive. And now, here he is, sitting in  custody, with a deep, confident joy. Because he has found the one thing that really matters. Paul is talking to the Philippians Christians exhorting them to live joyfully. He makes this bold statement right after explaining how some people are actually preaching the gospel out of spite, hoping to add to Paul’s misery! (Which was a lot less likely than they expected since he wasn’t miserable to begin with. How do you add to what’s not there?)  About their efforts, Paul says, ‘It doesn’t really matter. It’s like a win-win for me. If the gospel is being preached, I’m good.”  Then he goes on to express his absolute certainty that God will work out his deliverance and that he will not be put to shame, whether through living or dying. Again he comes to the conclusion, “It’s a win-win.”

Finally he boils it down to “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” I am struck by the connection of these two statements; the first makes the second possible. Mark Buchanan suggests, “Imagine if Paul had said, ‘For me to live is nightclubs. To live is stocks and bonds. To live is golf.’ Then to die is always loss.” Wow! That puts the whole idea of in stark perspective. What we live for determines whether we view death as loss or gain!

That made me stop and think, what do I live for? What is it that I’m pouring my life, energy and time into? Because if it isn’t Christ and His kingdom, then dying is a great loss.

On the other hand I’m also compelled to ask myself, How do I view dying? Is it a gain? Or a loss? Or just an inevitable reality looming out there somewhere? Because if dying isn’t gain, then my life is far too short-sighted, and my efforts are temporal—certainly not Christ and his kingdom.

Two things stick out to me:

1. Living for Christ results in seeing death as gain,
2. because death is the gateway to the eternal. It is not the end; it is the beginning.

Paul lived for the glory of Christ. For him to go on living, meant more opportunities to express the truth of the gospel. And to die, meant meeting his Savior face to face, hearing him say, “Great job! I’m so glad you are home!” Paul could write about joy because he was living out the joy of looking beyond death into eternity.

The writer of Hebrews tells us the same thing about Jesus, “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross…” Jesus endured, because he had the expectation of eternal joy, not just for himself but for each of us. Jesus looked at the mutual joy of all of us throughout eternity and said, “to die is gain.”

Sometimes in the daily grind, I find that I’m living for something temporal—a moment to sit down a read my book in quiet, an answer to Joel’s pain, a break from the constant running, a good meal that I didn’t cook, or something equally enjoyable. Good things, even needful things. But if I’m living for them, they become nooses, wrapping around my neck, cutting off my air, and dragging me to a place of loss. Because there’s more to live. There’s more. So much more.

To live is Christ! It has to be Christ. Living any other way sucks the life right out of me!

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