To Live is Christ - Philippians 1:21

Introduction

I invite you to take God’s word and turn with me to the book of Philippians, to Philippians chapter 1, and I want to preach tonight on one of the great texts in all of the Bible. This is a text which there are many Christians who claim to be their life verse. It is a text that stands out and is so worthy of our study tonight, and so worthy of it providing direction for our Christian journey. It is one verse, it is Philippians 1 and verse 21, and I trust that we will have time tonight to expound all that we desire to say this evening. This is one of those texts that we could preach the rest of our lives and still never reach the depths nor the height of it. It is a glorious text. I want to begin by simply first reading the verse before we consider what it says and what it requires of us. The apostle Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” 

I want you to come with me back to the year 61 A.D. The apostle Paul is imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. He has been arrested as an insurrectionist against the Empire, and Paul is faced with the real possibility of losing his life for his faith in Jesus Christ. Caesar has the power of death and uses that power without hesitation. He wields the sword against all who would create unrest in the Roman Empire. And he uses it against any threat in order to maintain the stability of the political and social order of the day. As the apostle Paul stands trial, word has reached many of the churches, and the churches are deeply concerned for the welfare of the apostle Paul who has been a spiritual father to them, especially the church in Philippi, which has taken up a collection for the apostle Paul and has sent it to him as he is in house arrest in Rome. The church at Philippi is troubled for him as the one who has first preached the gospel to them and now he is in chains, and now he is in prison, and now his very life and his neck is on the line. And it appears that his life may soon be taken. Their concern is, will Paul survive this imprisonment and live or will he die? As Paul now writes to them in this letter in response to their attempt to reach out to him, to encourage him, to support him, to stand beside him, as he is in this confinement, in actuality, Paul encourages them. Strange, but he who is intended to be comforted by these words that he speaks, he now comforts them and strengthens them in their sorrow for him and may tonight we be so comforted as well.

In the verses that follow, verse 21, which I just read, Paul explains that no matter what happens, whether he lives or whether he dies, either way is gain. Paul sees his Christian life in a win-win situation. If he lives that is a victory, but if his life is taken that too is a victory as well. He writes in the following verses in fact that he cannot decide which he really wants to experience, release from prison and live for Christ here upon the earth, or to die and go immediately into the presence of Christ who has died for him and purchased his salvation. So we read in verse 22, “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.” Paul is saying I am torn in two directions. I cannot decide whether to prefer life or to prefer death. 

Verse 23, Paul says, “But I am hard-pressed” that word “hard-pressed” means I am hemmed in from both sides. “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart” and this word for “depart” is a colloquial expression for death.  It speaks of a boat that has been tied to a dock, and then the anchor is pulled and the rope is untied and that ship is now ready to depart for a harbor far away. Paul sees his life like this, and he understands that God may well be raising the anchor and untying the rope, and he may soon be departing to glory and to heaven and to be with Christ.  He says that after his departure that he will be with Christ, in verse 23, and be with Christ, that is heaven for Paul. It is not streets of gold, it is not gates of pearl, it is not walls of precious metals and jewels. It is Christ.  Christ is everything for Paul, and Paul can face the reality of his possible departure by death with positive, vibrant, triumphant outlook because he knows death will simply be his passage into the immediate presence of Christ.

And he says that at the end of verse 23, “For that is very much better.” Not just better, but much better. Not just much better, but very much better. What an eternal perspective! What a way to live. What a way to approach death. It has been well said, “No one is ready to live until they are ready to die,” and that is where Paul is. He says in verse 24 though, almost in a regretful way, “Yet to remain on in the flesh,” meaning not to now depart to be with the Lord having his life taken by Caesar, “Yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Paul would prefer to be in heaven with Christ, but he is willing to remain in order to minister to the saints of God.

Verse 25, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.” Paul understood that there is a mission for his life that there is a purpose for his being here upon the earth, and it is that purpose by which the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will go forth and that he will be an instrument to be used in the lives of others. The only way anyone can live like this, which may sound a bit unusual, the only way anyone can face death like this, the only way anyone can truly live on such a high plateau is to live exclusively for Jesus Christ, not for church, not for religion, not for spiritual leaders. If you live for that when you die, it is going to be lost. But it is to live exclusively, solely, and completely for Christ. So Paul says, “I do not know whether to choose life or death. Because life means to serve Christ here, death means to actually see Christ there.” So this is precisely how you and I must live, and I trust that what we shall look at tonight from this text will be a template, an overlay for each one of our lives, that each one of us will be able to say what Paul says here in verse 21. This is recorded for our instruction that we might vicariously place ourselves in this text, and what was true of Paul must be true of our lives. This must be our autobiographical statement, if you will, “For me, to live is Christ.”

Before we begin to look at this I want to ask you tonight, are you living for Christ? Can you say, “For me, to live is Christ”? Could your life’s sentence be that simple? Would there be no need for further dangling clauses and subordinate phrases and other additions, or could it be this simple for your life and for my life tonight? Could this be put on our tombstone? Could this be said at our funeral? “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” And may it be so. This message as we look at this verse is but a two-point message. First, I want you to see “to live is Christ,” second I want you to see “to die is gain.” If we live for anything or anyone other than Christ, then to die is loss.


I. To Live is Christ (Phil 1:21a)

So let us begin at the first part of verse 21. The first main heading that I want to set before you is, “To Live is Christ.” Notice how this begins, “for to me,” this is put in what we call the emphatic position in a sentence. In other words, it is to draw attention to this. This is very personal for Paul, “For me,” “For me, to live is Christ.” Paul does not have a secondhand experience of Christ. He does not have a secondhand religion. He does not have religion through his parents or through his spouse. Paul can say, “For me, for to me, in the depths of my soul, in the core of my very being.” 

What Paul is saying is regardless of how anyone else is living, “for me.” Regardless of what my friends are doing, “for to me.” Regardless of those around me, and what they will choose, “for to me.” Regardless of what the world says, “for to me.” Paul says, “For me, this is what is real and authentic and genuine in my life, for to me to live.” Paul is making a distinction here between merely having existence and actually, truly living. When he says, “to live,” he is talking about the very reason and purpose for his life. He is speaking here of that which is supreme in his life. “For me to live, what is dominant in my life. What is overshadowing in my life. What is driving my life. What is imperative in my life. What without, my life would be meaningless and pointless and would be empty. This which controls my life and compels my life.” That is what he is means when he says, “to live.” He is not talking about just going through the empty motions of life. He is not talking about being a mechanical robot and just cranking out a day-to-day existence. He means for him to be fully alive in the Lord Jesus Christ, “for me to live.” 

Now notice how he ends this sentence, “is Christ.” Literally, in the original Greek in which this is written, the verb “is” is not found.  It is applied by our translators just to smooth it out, but literally, this reads as Paul penned it, “For me to live, Christ.” And he leaves the verb out; he purposely omits it for dramatic effect, for emphatic effect, “For me to live, Christ.” This is to say, “my whole life is Christ. The sum and the substance of my life is Christ. There is nothing in my life that is outside of living for Christ. Everything in my life is under the lordship of Christ. Christ is the very essence of my being,” that is what Paul is saying, the deepest reality of his soul. If you could open his heart and look down into the very epicenter, there is Jesus Christ dominant living within Paul, and Paul does not live for anything else. Paul does not live for anyone else, but for Christ and Christ alone. Christ was the goal of his life, the motive of his action, the driving force, the heartbeat of his life, the source of his strength. Paul is saying, “Everything I live for is Christ. Everything I am is Christ.” And when Paul says “Christ” he means the Son of God, the uncreated Son of God, the eternal God, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The Son of God, the Son of Man, Master, Lord, Messiah, fully God, fully man, enthroned at the right hand of God, the One to whom the Father has entrusted all authority in heaven, Jesus. Paul says, “This is for whom I am living.”

Colossians 3:4, Paul will say, “Christ is our life.” In Galatians 2:20, Paul writes, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Christ lives in everyone who has put their faith and trust in Him. There was a time in Paul’s life when he did not live for Christ, just as there was a time in your life when you did not live for Christ. At that time before his conversion, Paul lived for himself. Paul lived for his own dead religion. Paul was religious. Paul was religious up to his eyeballs. Paul had more religion than anyone else, and Paul was lost and perishing. Paul lived for his own reputation. Paul lived for his own cause. Paul lived for his own religiosity, and at that time, Paul lived against Christ. Paul lived without Christ. Paul lived independent of Christ. Paul lived for Paul.

But then there came that time on the Damascus road in Acts chapter 9, and Paul with letters in hand was en route to apprehend the Christians in Damascus and to bring them back to stand trial in Jerusalem and to be put to death. Never was anyone more determined against Christ than was Paul and with all of his energy, and with all of his might, and with all of his strength, Paul’s intent was to snuff out the name of Christ from the earth, and he did it as one who was religiously blind thinking he was serving God, little realizing he was at total cross purposes with God. Then on that Damascus road, Jesus Christ intervened in his life, and there was a bright light that appeared out of heaven and literally knocked Paul off his horse, and in that moment sovereign grace apprehended the Saul of Tarsus and laid hold of him, and Saul looked up and said, “What would you have me to do, Lord?” In that movement, Paul came under the authority of the sovereign lordship and the absolute deity of Jesus Christ. In that conversion experience Paul undertook, by the Spirit of God, a 180-degree change of direction. Paul had been on the broad road headed for destruction, and suddenly he was transferred to the narrow path that leads to life. His entire life was dramatically changed and radically re-altered.

Paul will talk about this dramatic change in chapter 3, and in verse 7. I would turn you two chapters back to Philippians 3:7, as Paul is giving his own testimony, his own account of his own conversion, and this account really begins in verse 2. He says, “Beware of the dogs,” and this refers to the false teachers. Those who bring a false gospel, who deny the absolute deity of Jesus Christ, and Paul refers to them as “scavenous dogs, unclean.” “Beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision,” which refers to the false religion that they foster.

He says in verse 3, “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” In other words, he is saying we are not those who are trusting in our own religiosity, in our own good works, and in our own religious efforts in order to commend ourselves to a holy God. He says, “we put no confidence in the flesh,” and then he says in verse 4, “although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh,” and by that what he means is if anyone could have trusted in their own religion to get them to heaven it was Paul before his conversion, but by his own testimony that he will give us, even Paul as the most religious man upon the earth, even his efforts could not save himself. He says at the end of verse 4, “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more,” meaning, “Whoever would try to get to heaven by their own religion they are going to have to stand in line behind me where I once stood.” He says “circumcised the eight day.” That was the perfect day, the precise day that one was to be brought into the covenant community, and be circumcised as an infant.  “Of the nation of Israel,” God’s chosen people, God’s chosen nation.  “Of the tribe of Benjamin.” That was the elite tribe. “A Hebrew of Hebrews,” you cannot be any more religious than being a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Jew of Jews.  “As to the Law, a Pharisee.” A Pharisee was one of the select number within Israel, within the nation. There were some 3000 to 6000 Pharisees in Israel, who gave their entire life with much zeal to try to, by their own religion, commend themselves to God.

He says in verse 6, “as to zeal a persecutor of the church.” And as Paul was a persecutor of the church, he thought he was serving God, but in reality he was attacking the very thing that God was building. “As to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” That is an outward, external blamelessness. By this he means, “I honored my parents, I did not steal, I did not tell lies,” but of course that does not reflect the truth of the heart.

But notice what he says in verse 7, “But whatever things were gain to me,” and those things refer to his empty, dead religion, his own efforts to pull himself up by his own bootstraps, his own efforts to try to keep the Law. He says “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” What Paul sees himself is like a financial spread statement where there is assets on one side and debits on the other. And as Paul saw his own life under the “asset” column, he had everything that we see in verses 5 and 6. Everything that Paul once saw as something that would give him value to God and acceptance with God, circumcision, nation of Israel, tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews, Law, Pharisee, zeal, persecutor of the church, outward righteousness. Everything that was on the asset column, the moment he met Christ, everything on the asset side was instantly and immediately transferred to the debit side, and he said all of those things I now count as loss. And he will go on to say, “I count them as rubbish.” And it is a Greek word that is used for excrement. “All of my religion that I once clung to, once I saw Christ, I realized religion will not save me.” And he transferred it all to the “loss” side and said, “It is all loss, it is vain, it is empty, it is nothing. It is a rope of sand to a drowning man.”

He says in verse 8, this is Paul’s own testimony of how he began to live for Christ. Verse 8, “More than that, I count all things,” now there is nothing outside of all things.  All things is all things. “I count all things,” all things that Paul was once trusting in, counting on, looking to, hoping in that involved his own efforts to commend himself to God, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul now had a new financial statement. Everything that had been an asset and was of value and gain that he was trusting in, little realizing that it would damn his own soul when he came to encounter Christ on the Damascus road, it was all transferred over to the debit side. It was all loss. It was all nothing. It was rubbish. It was dung. It was excrement. And on the asset side, there is one entry and one entry only that gives him acceptance with God that gives him salvation from the wrath of God to come, and that one journal entry is, please note verse 8, “Christ Jesus my Lord.”

If you have Christ, you have everything. If you do not have Christ, you have dung, you have nothing, you are a fool. Christ is the name that speaks of that Christ is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the long expected one, promised in Old Testament Scripture. There are some one hundred prophecies in the Old Testament of the coming of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. His path had been marked out for thousands of years in pages of Scripture. Jesus is his saving name that He is Savior. The word “Jesus” means “Jehovah saves.” It is a claim for deity for Christ that He takes the name Jehovah to himself. “My Lord,” “Lord” is another name for the deity of Christ. Lord, kyrios in the Greek, the name that speaks of deity and divine authority. He says, “I count all things,” all my dead, empty, vain, blind religion, though I was full of zeal, I was sincere, but I was sincerely wrong.” “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.” There is “all things” again, and the “all things” refer to all his self-righteousness, all his self efforts, all his own strivings to commend himself to God. At the end of verse 8 he says, “I count them but rubbish.” There is the word skubala in the Greek, which speaks of the dung that was taken out of the city to the trash heap where the fires were burning and would consume the human excrement and rubbish. Paul says that is now what I consider to be all my vain religion now that I have Christ. I count that rubbish, skubala, so that I may gain Christ. You see it is Christ and Christ alone. It is not Christ and anything else. It is not Christ and the church. It is not Christ and the religious leaders of the church. It is not Christ and the traditions of the church. It is Christ and Christ alone.

He says in verse 9, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law.” Paul understood that any attempts that he would have to try to keep religious rules would never provide a perfect righteousness by which God would receive him into heaven.  In Isaiah 64, God says to the people that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags in his sight. That word for “rags” is the word that is used for a woman’s rag that would be used during her menstrual cycle and be considered unclean. All of our efforts to try to commend ourselves to God and add our own human efforts to what Christ has done for us at the cross, it is all rags, filthy rags, unclean rags. It is all excrement; it is all dung.

Notice in verse 9, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ.” Please note, it is faith alone in Christ alone, not faith plus anything else. That is a false gospel that damns the souls of men. It is through faith in Christ alone, and when one does that, note the end of verse 9, “the righteousness which comes from God.” It is not a reward for the righteous, it is a gift for the guilty. That is what grace is, and it is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ given to those who by faith believe in Christ. This is Paul’s own testimony written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. Is this your testimony? This is the only testimony there is that leads into the kingdom of heaven. There are many paths to hell, but there is only one road to heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” There are many roads that lead to hell, and they are roads by which men and women trust in their own flesh and trust in their own religion, but religion has never saved anyone.

Well, this is all by way of introduction. So I want to set before you, I want to break this out some more. What does it mean to live for Christ? We just saw Paul’s conversion, and it must be our conversion. Every one of us must have a Damascus road encounter with the living Christ who has been raised from the dead, and in that moment everything that we once we clung to, everything that was once on the asset side that we trusted in that would give us acceptance and entrance to God into heaven, in that moment of looking to Christ and by faith trusting in Christ, it is all dashed away, and it is all loss that I might have Christ. By the way, you cannot have both. It is a fork in the road. One must decide either they will trust in themselves, or they will trust in Christ.

Now come back to Philippians 1:21, and Paul writes, “for to me.” This is as personal as it gets. “You can live how you want to live, but as for me to live is Christ.” Let me extrapolate this. Let me layer this out. What does it mean to live for Christ? Well obviously, this begins where it began with Paul, with the conversion experience where one turns away from their own efforts and turns to Christ and Christ alone. But coming out of that, let me give you several thoughts. We will see how many of these we can take in tonight.

Number one, to live for Christ means the purpose of one’s life is Christ. Paul had no side issues. Paul had no competing loyalties. Paul had no other agenda. The entire reason for his life, the entire reason for his existence on this earth, the entire reason for which Paul lived, the entire reason for which Paul preached, the entire reason for which Paul travelled, the entire reason for which Paul was willing to be persecuted and to be imprisoned can be reduced to this one word, “for me, to live is Christ.” Christ was the driving, overriding, overarching, master purpose of his life. And everything in his life must come into alignment with Christ. This is to say that Christ is the controlling factor of his life. It determines how he spends his time. Christ determines how he spends his money. Christ determines how he invests his life. Everything must be in sync with this purpose to live for Christ. My life must count for Christ.

Second, it means that the priority of his life is Christ. In other words, Jesus Christ must be Lord over our lives. He must be number one. He has the right to control the shots. We live where he directs us to live. We do what he directs us to do. We are to do whatever Christ commands. Nothing supersedes Christ in Paul’s life. Everything in his life as well as in ours must yield to Christ. Christ must have first place in our families. He must have first place in our marriages. He must have first place in our professions and careers. He must have first place in our mission and ministry. He must have first place in our intellect, in our time, in our love, in our conversations, in our pleasures, in our eating, in our play, in our athletics. Christ must have first place in what we watch and what we listen to. He must have first place in art, first place in music, first place in worship. Christ must have first place in everything in every believer’s life. The purpose of his life was Christ. The priority of his life was Christ.

Third, the passion of his life is Christ. Nothing thrilled Paul’s heart more than Christ. His whole life was enraptured with Christ, to behold the glory of Christ, the beauty of Christ. What Paul does, he does because Christ leads him, and he is enthusiastically, wholeheartedly for Christ. He is fired up for Christ. He is excited for Christ. In fact, to be a follower of Christ, you cannot love anything or anyone more than Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 10:37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” We must love Christ more than anyone or anything in this world. That is what it means to live for Christ.

Fourth, the pattern of his life is Christ, which is to say everything in Paul’s life must be an imitation of Christ, an emulation of Christ. Paul understood that the goal of his Christian life was to be conformed into the image of Christ. He must think like Christ. He must talk like Christ. He must walk like Christ. He must be in submission to the Father like Christ. He must act like Christ. He must react like Christ. Everything in his life must be patterned after Christ. In 1 Peter 2:21 Peter writes, “Christ has left you an example for you to follow.” If you are following anyone or anything else, you are following the wrong thing. We must follow Christ. The most repeated statement that Jesus issued in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are these words, “Follow me.” In 1 John 2:6, the apostle John writes, “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” In other words, you can tell who is following Christ because they are the ones who are walking according to the pattern of Christ.

Number five, to live for Christ means that the partnership of his life is Christ. In other words, Paul lived in close fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is because Christ lived within him. The living Christ, by his Spirit, lived in Paul and Paul longed to know Christ more and more each day. He told us in Philippians 3:8, “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Not knowing about him just merely intellectually as a historical figure, but when Paul says “to know Christ,” he means to have an intimate personal relationship with Christ.  And by the way, you can only have a personal relationship with someone who is alive, and Christ rose from the dead. We now know Christ. Paul had close communion with Christ. He had tight fellowship with Christ. In Philippians 3:10, Paul said, “that I may know him.” Again, not merely that he may know about Christ intellectually as a historical figure, but that he may actually know him intimately and experientially by personal involvement and relationship with Christ.

Sixth, for Paul to live for Christ means that the power of his life is Christ. As Paul patterns his life after Christ, he knows that he can follow Christ only in the strength that Christ provides. That is what Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I have told you before that when I was in college and feeling stretched in every direction as I never had before, I posted right over my bed in my dorm room this very verse such that every morning when I would get up and look at it, every night when I would come in from practice or from study hall or from meeting with tutors and walk in, it would be staring me in the face, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Of course, there is a qualifier on that – all things that are within the will of God, all things that God desires us to do, all things that are involved in following Christ. In Colossians 1:29, Paul says, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” For you to live for Christ is to know Christ and follow Christ and to do so in the power that Christ provides.

Seventh, to live for Christ means that the persecution of his life is Christ. This is to say Paul so lived for Christ that he stood up for Christ, he spoke out for Christ, and he willingly suffered for Christ if need be. Paul was willing to pay whatever price was necessary in order to be identified as a follower of Christ. Just a few verses on this, in Ephesians 4:1, Paul identifies himself as the “prisoner of the Lord.” As he is in Roman imprisonment, he does not say, “I am a prisoner of Rome,” or “a prisoner of Caesar.” He says, “I am a prisoner of the Lord. I am here by providence. I am here by divine appointment. It is the Lord and His will, as I have preached His gospel that has led me into this prison cell; therefore, I am a prisoner of the Lord.” In Ephesians 6:19, he says, “I am an ambassador in chains.” He is an ambassador for Christ. An ambassador is one who represents a king in the court of another, and he understood that he was Christ’s representative here upon the earth. And even if that involved being in chains, nevertheless, Paul was willing to suffer for the name of Christ. In Philippians 3:10, he speaks of the fellowship of his sufferings. In other words, if we are to know Christ, it involves a fellowship of his sufferings. 

Colossians 1:24 makes it even more clear when Paul writes, “I do my share in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” There is the finished work of Christ upon Calvary’s cross where he paid in full the entirety of our sin debt, and there is nothing that can be added to the finished atonement of Christ upon the cross. And yet, Paul says, “I fill up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction.” What does he mean? He means that this world is not yet finished with persecuting Christ, and they will now persecute those who represent him. Paul is saying, “Jesus suffered for me, and I am willing to suffer for Him.” “Jesus died for me,” and Paul is saying, “if need be, I am willing to die for Him.” The persecution of his life is Christ. 

When we pull all this together, we clearly see that Christ was not a mere segment of Paul’s life. Christ was not simply a part of the whole, but that Christ himself is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega of Paul’s life and everything in between. Christ was not merely Paul’s life on Sunday, but was his life on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Paul had no other life, but to live for Christ. Everything in his life must be brought under the lordship of Christ. Everything in his life must be brought into alignment with the chief cornerstone, Christ. Everything had to square with Christ. Everything must be in sync with Christ. This is how we are to live our lives, beloved. Christ is everything.

“For me to live is…” how would you fill in the rest of that sentence? If we were to take a pop quiz tonight and we were to pass out blank pieces of paper and a little number three pencil, and you were to write in, “For me to live is…,” what would you put? Would you put “family”? Then to die is loss.  Would you put “church”? Then to die is loss. Would you put “morality and good works”? Then for you to die is loss, and so it would be for me were I could finish that sentence that way. The only way dying is gain is to live solely and exclusively for the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ must be our purpose, or we do not live at all. Christ must be our priority and our passion, or we have mere empty existence. Christ must be our pattern and our partner, or we live apart from Christ. Christ must be our tower in our persecution, and there are so many other things that we could add. He is our peace, he is our everything. Anything and everything else that would be related to salvation, it is in Christ and Christ alone. 


II. To Die Is Gain (Phil. 1:21b)

Notice how he concludes the verse. He says, “and to die is gain.” Please note the inseparable connection in verse 21, “to live is Christ,” then and therefore, “to die is gain.” This is the second main heading, and I will only introduce it, and I will save it for next time to open this up more fully. How could he say, “to die is gain”? How could he say that when our own human nature and tendency is to protect our own life, is to shield our life from danger and from harm? How could he say to die is gain? The only way he could say that is that he would understand that because of his conversion to Christ, because of his faith in Jesus Christ, then to die would mean he would immediately pass into heaven and there stand before the throne of the Lord Jesus Christ and to be received into his presence. There is no greater gain than this. The things of the world are mere trinkets that are perishing and passing away compared with the beatific vision. The greatest, most glorious experience that any human soul will ever undertake, it is to behold Christ. It is to see and savor Christ. It is to be in His immediate presence and with glorified eyes and with glorified body to stand faultless before the throne, clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and to behold the beauty of His glory, the beauty of His majesty. That is the greatest pleasure, that is the greatest satisfaction. That is the greatest euphoric high. That is the purpose for which we have been created to stand in his presence and to behold him who is King of kings and who is Lord of lords. To be personally converted to Jesus Christ, to be born again by the Spirit of God from above, to be justified by faith is the sole and exclusive passage and way into the immediate presence of Christ.

Have you been converted to Christ? Do you realize that when you were born into this world, you were born lost and separated from Christ? You were born on a broad road headed for destruction. There must come a time, there must come a place, there must come a moment when we encounter the living Christ by the power of His Spirit and by the power of His word, where we turn away from our own dead religion and our own efforts to find acceptance with God, and when we turn to Christ and we trust in Him alone. Most of you here tonight already know the Lord Jesus Christ. And you love to hear this told again and again. This morning after the service, a precious lady came up to me after the service and in tears of a true believer in Jesus Christ and just was filled to overflowing with rapturous joy just to hear again the glory of Christ being presented in power and in truth and to hear the gospel call yet again, to call those who are without the one true, living Christ come to faith in Him. 

If you are a believer tonight in Jesus Christ, surely in the depths of your soul this very moment there is a swelling adoration that you have for Christ, that you glory in His name and His gospel and His truth being proclaimed. And if you find yourself here tonight and you have never believed upon the one true living Christ, I call you to turn away from your dead idols. I call you to turn away from your own efforts to try to save yourself. No, you need a savior, and the savior will save only those who pull full confidence and full trust in him. If you have never believed upon Christ, I urge you tonight to do so and to enter into this glorious life of living for Christ.

Next time, I want us to look more carefully at why it is “to die is gain.” Let us pray.

Our Father in heaven, now we thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ, that in eternity past You purposed the plan of salvation. The gospel is Your gospel. It is Your remedy for man’s sin, and we thank You that You appointed Your Son from within the Trinity, within the Godhead. You commissioned Him to come into this world, and He who was fully God took upon Himself human flesh, became perfect humanity, being born of a virgin. We praise you for this. We thank You for His perfect obedience to the Law and providing for us now a righteousness, not of ourselves but a righteousness that only He could obtain for us. We praise You for His substitutionary death upon the cross, and we praise You that as he was lifted up to die upon that cross, You took our sins and transferred them to Him, and Him who knew no sin you made to be sin for us, and He bore our sins in his body upon that tree. 

Father, we praise You for this, that He became our scapegoat and took our sins far, far away, and through His death He has reconciled us to you, and that He has appeased your righteous anger towards us, and there is now therefore no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus. Father, I pray that you would set our feet upon this narrow path even more solidly, that we like Paul, that we would live for Christ, and in the midst of the complexities of this life and this world I pray that You would not allow us to be distracted, to be turned to the left nor to the right, but that we would follow Christ every step of the way, and that it would truly be said of us that “for me to live is Christ.” Father, make that true of each one of us here tonight for we pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Dr. Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. Dr. Lawson hosts The Institute for Expository Preaching in cities around the world. Dr. Lawson is also a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries, where he serves on its board. Moreover, he is Professor of Preaching and oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at The Master’s Seminary, where he also serves on its board. Dr. Lawson is also Professor in Residence for Truth Remains, a work designed to promote and proclaim God’s written Word. Further, Dr. Lawson serves as the Executive Editor for Expositor Magazine published by OnePassion Ministries.