Why Does Paul Say "to Live Is Christ, to Die Is Gain"?

Contributing Writer
Why Does Paul Say "to Live Is Christ, to Die Is Gain"?

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

These are powerful words, spoken by the Apostle Paul choosing to live for Christ’s glory. He explains that is great, and dying in Christ is even better. I know on the surface it may not make sense, but that’s why some things require you to look beneath the surface.

You may have considered the concept of living for Christ, but what about this whole idea of dying for gain? Actually, there is great benefit in both of these and that is what we want to explore a little deeper today.

What is the real meaning and context of Phil. 1:21 “to live is Christ, to die is gain?” Before we get to the answer let’s look at a little background into the book of Philippians.

What Happens in the Book of Philippians?

Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul most likely around 62 AD and most likely while he was a prisoner in Rome. The overall theme of the book is one of joy and encouragement to the church in Philippi.

Paul continually expresses his thankfulness and heartfelt appreciation for this church all throughout the book. Philippians is unique in that Paul is not addressing any real pressing issues or problems in the church except for a disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche – two people who worked with Paul in the spreading of the gospel and helping build the church in Philippi.

What Is the Context of Philippians 1?

In Philippians 1, Paul opens with a standard greeting that he typically used. It included grace and peace and identified who he is and the audience to whom he is writing. In chapter 1, he expresses how he really feels about this church and you can hear his emotion coming forth throughout this chapter. It is this emotion that really helps to understand the meaning and context of Phil. 1:21, to live is Christ, to die is gain. Consider Phil. 1:20:

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

There are two words I want to highlight in this verse: ashamed and exalted. Paul’s concern was that he would live in such a way that would not bring shame to the gospel and the cause of Christ. He wanted to live a life that would exalt Christ in every phase of life, regardless if it meant living or if it meant dying. This leads us into the meaning and context of Phil. 1:21, to live is Christ to die is gain. Let’s look at both parts.

What Does It Mean “to Live Is Christ, to Die Is Gain?”

To live is Christ – This simply means that everything you do in this life should be for Christ. If you go to school, it’s for Christ. If you work, it’s for Christ. If you get married and have a family, it’s for Christ. If you serve in ministry, play on a team, whatever you do, you do it with the mindset that it is for Christ. You want him to be exalted in every aspect of your life. The reason this matters is because by exalting him, you can potentially create an opportunity for the gospel to go forward. When Christ is exalted in your life it can open the door for you to share him with others. This gives you the chance to win them over not just by what you say, but by also how you live.

To die is gain – What could be better than living for Christ, shining light and winning people to the kingdom of God? As crazy as it sounds, death is better. Look how Paul states it in verse 22-24:

“If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

If you can really grasp what Paul is saying here, then you will truly understand the meaning and context of Phil 1:21. For Paul to keep living would be beneficial for the church in Philippi and everyone else he was ministering to. He could keep serving them and be a blessing to the body of Christ. (That’s to live is Christ). 

However, understanding the sufferings of this life (remember Paul was in prison when writing this letter), and all of the challenges he faced, he understood that as great as it is to serve Christ in this life, it was better to die and go be with Christ forever. This does not mean you should want to die, it just means that you understand that death for a Christian is not the ending, but just the beginning. In death, you lay down your struggle. You complete your race and you enter into the presence of God for all eternity. That’s the experience for every believer and truly that is better.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Scyther5

What Do We Gain Through Life?

I want you to consider another thought for a moment. If to live is Christ, how then should you live? How do you in fact actually live for Christ?

I mentioned earlier that everything you do in this life should be for Christ, but in reality, that is a theoretical statement. Let’s make it more practical. I am going to use the four areas I mentioned prior which are school, work, family, and ministry. I am not going to give you answers, I am going to ask you four questions for each section. They should help you think about how you are living and if changes need to be made then let God show you how he wants you to change.

Living for Christ in School

  • Are you achieving at the highest level you possibly can?
  • What are the activities you are engaged in?
  • How do you respond to your teachers and those in authority?
  • How would your friends respond if you told them you were a Christian?

Living for Christ at Work

  • Are you punctual and show up to work on time?
  • Can you be trusted to get the job done or do you have to be constantly reminded what you must do?
  • Are you easy to work with or do co-workers dread working with you?
  • Are you usually the person creating a healthy work environment or are you always stirring the pot?

Living for Christ in Your Family

  • Do you spend time with your wife, kids, etc. (if you have a wife or kids)?
  • Do you prioritize family over career or career over family?
  • Do they see Christ in you on Monday – Saturday, or does he only come out on Sunday morning?
  • Do you embrace family members who don’t know Jesus or reject and shun them because they don’t know Christ?

Living for Christ in Ministry

  • Do you put more emphasis on the work of the ministry over the time spent with your family?
  • Do you run yourself ragged serving, doing the Lord’s work, that you forget to spend time with the Lord?
  • Do you make ministry about the people and not about your personal gain or reputation?
  • Do you talk about the people in the church and the ones you serve more than you pray for them?

Granted this is not an all-inclusive list of questions, but hopefully they will cause you to think. Living for Christ is not something that happens by accident; you must be intentional about doing it. As you are intentional about it you can say like Paul that Christ will be exalted in your body (your living) whether you live or die.

As you can see there is a lot to the meaning of this verse. However, if I were to give you one final thought it would be this – live as great a life for Christ as you can now, don’t delay it. Make every day count and every moment count. When you are done living and the day comes where you breathe your last breath on this earth, know that it was all worth it. However, as good as it has been in this life the best is yet to come. It only gets better from here.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/ipopba

Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com