In Philippians 1:21, Paul makes a statement that is worth digging into. He says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” It is brief. It is profound. And I think it is often rushed past without true understanding. What is Paul getting at with these words that are very Christian sounding but a little (or maybe a lot) perplexing on closer inspection. To live is Christ, and to die is gain. It doesn’t take much to understand how death is gain for a Christian. After all, the life that waits for us beyond the here and now is far greater than anything we can think or imagine. But if death is gain for followers of Christ, how is living Christ?
Paul has a choice to make… still not certain how that all shakes out. Some way, Paul sees that he must make a choice between going to heaven and staying on earth. He acknowledges the glory that awaits in life with the Father, but he also acknowledges the importance of the work that he is doing in the Philippian church. Restoration of the relationships among the Christians in Philippi was so important, Paul chooses to stay. He sacrifices heaven, even if it is temporary, for the sake of the Philippian church. Let’s look at a couple of things that may shed some light on Paul’s mindset. There is much for us to learn and implement.
The Christian life is shaped by the cross. Christ and his sacrifice affects every choice we make, every relationship we enter, and every path we take. We are shaped by the cross and the sacrificial love that was displayed on it by our Redeemer, the Son of God. The cross is the answer for every issue that arrives. There is no greater reflection of God than living the cruciformed life. If you look at the writings of Paul, this is the criteria he has for resolving any form of conflict in the church or in the community. When faced with a decision, choose the path that looks like the cross. Choose the path of self-sacrificial love for the benefit of others. Paul chose to delay heaven for the sake of the Philippians. He sacrificed heaven for them. Why? Because that is what Christ would have done. This is what “to live is Christ” means. Paul says death carries the most gain for him. As a Christian, eternal glory is waiting, but there is a greater choice at hand. The work that needs to be done is so important, Paul chooses to make a cruciformed decision for the sake of the people. The Christian life and each decision made within it is shaped by the cross.
Which leads me to the motivation we live with.
Christian motivation reflects the cross. What motivates you to live the Christian life? Is it the fear of hell? Is it the reward of heaven? I don’t believe either is proper motivation for mature disciples of Christ. Right action is important. Right motivation is more crucial. This is the what Jesus hammers home in the sermon on the mount, isn’t it? Isn’t it also the message Paul delivers in 1 Corinthians 13? Right action with the wrong motivation is pointless. Because I have been hidden in Christ, hell has no hold on me. There is no fear there, because my Savior has already taken care of that debt. Heaven is awesome to think about, but it is just icing on the cake. The motivation behind our actions is to bring glory to God and to live a life that reflects the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross of Calvary. Heaven gets thrown in by a loving God that wants to spend the rest of eternity with you and me. We are motivated by the cross.
Joshua Fowler, minister at Goodwood Blvd church of Christ in Baton Rouge, LA.