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For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and be with Christ—which is far better— but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that, because of me, your confidence may grow in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26)
Living is Christ, dying is gain. That’s as concise a life motto as I’ve ever heard. It’s a worldview in one sentence. It was the burning center around which Paul’s galaxy revolved. It’s a sentence we would do well to recall often, meditate on, and model our lives after. We don’t need to memorize it, we already know it. It’s that simple.
Jesus says there’s zero profit in gaining the whole world but losing our soul. (Matt 16, Mark 8) All that people chase after – a collection of possessions, a lasting name, pleasure to finally fill an empty soul, the endless chase to insulate our fragile lives with stuff, as if it will protect us from harm and keep us happy – is all rubbish and useless and pointless. Because for the believer – living is Christ. And dying in Christ is the real gain, the true riches, the final answer we’ve all been looking for.
Let’s look at Paul’s own words later in this letter: But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth (“filth” here is a glossy term that is more accurately translated, in its cultural context and in consideration of the strength of Paul’s rhetoric in Chapter 3, as excrement), so that I may gain Christ (3:7-8).
Did you catch all the “gains” and “losses” in that passage? Here we see that Christ is superior and Christ is supreme, so everything’s a loss – an acceptable, joyful loss when you lose it to have Christ. Paul had stuff before God saved him: a name and fame at the very least. But now in comparison to knowing Christ, those things aren’t even something he’d want to touch or smell or look at.
You’ve got to lose something to gain Christ. First of all, you’ve got to lose your hold on the world and what the world says is gain. Jesus said if you want to find your life, you must lose it. You also have to let go of your pride that whispers, “You can make it . . . you’re good enough for heaven and eternal life . . . “ That’s just not true. We can’t save ourselves, because we’re dead in our sins apart from Christ. His work, and not our inherent worth, is what saves.
What Paul said about knowing Christ is sweetly true: it is surpassingly great. Augustine, somewhere around 400 A.D., said that “Christ is not valued at all unless he is valued above all (italics added).” May we all know how surpassingly great it is to know Christ, and how life becomes true living when we know Him. For truly, living is Christ.