The Reading: Philippians 1:19-26
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v.21) RSV
There is no other way to live the Christian life than by first ‘dying’. Whilst we try as our priority to preserve our life or our reputation, we are going to be compromised in following Jesus Christ. Jesus has clearly said that we have to “lose our life to find it” (Matthew 10:39), and that we must “take up our cross and follow him”, and “he who does not lose his life is not worthy of him” (Matthew 10:38).
How can we do this? Surely we are hardwired for self- preservation? Yes we are, and to pretend otherwise is folly. If we try to act differently from our inborn nature then we are finally doomed to failure. But the gift of salvation is that we can be rewired. God will put a new heart and a new spirit within us (Ezekiel 36:26).
Paul had had just such a ‘transplant’. That is why he was able to say “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). He was freed from the fear of dying, that last great enemy that holds us in bondage.
Paul was free to follow Christ wherever that might lead and whatever the cost might be. He was freed from slavery to himself and had become the “bond slave” of Christ. This slavery was “perfect freedom”. The point and purpose of his life was to live for Jesus Christ. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v.21). This total love of and involvement in Jesus was not a result of endeavour or asceticism; it came solely from the Death and Resurrection of Jesus mediated through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in him.
Because Jesus is his passion, he is only too happy to die and go to be with him forever where he will see him face to face (1 Cor. 13:12 ). But for Christ’s sake and the sake of the churches he is prepared to continue on earth. Despite the cost and buffeting he will continue his mission. But if he dies in the process then it will be his gain: “to depart and be with Christ which is far better” (v.23)!
Lord, your calling is too high for me, yet I know that with you all things are possible. Help me follow you. Amen.
1 How is Timothy to overcome love of money?
2 Which queen was prepared to die for her people?