To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain
In as brief a statement as was possible for the apostle Paul, we are given his philosophy of life and death. In a few short verses we discover what it was that made him so effective in life and fearless in the shadow of death. May God help us to adopt this same outlook in our lives.
First we observe Paul’s purpose statement – Now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death (v.20). In a moment we will look at Paul’s quandary, which will make no sense unless we first understand his understanding of the purpose of his being which is to magnify Christ. The word magnify (Grk – megaluntheésetai) means to show great. Paul’s desire in life and death is to make much of Christ. He wants to show others how excellent, wonderful and glorious the Lord really is. Christ is great, but because of our sin and self-absorption we fail to see Him for what He really is. Paul says, “my life is devoted to helping people come closer to seeing Him for what He is.” He also says he wants to have the courage and boldness to face death in such a way as to show others the greatness of Jesus.
There are so many great applications of this. So much for us to learn if we only will. Paul is saying, “I don’t want to waste my life.” He is saying, “I don’t want to waste my imprisonment.” He even says, “I don’t want to waste my death.” For Paul, freedom means going about preaching Jesus as Lord. Prison means influencing the Praetorian guard and household of Caesar for Christ. Death meant showing his executioners that the glorious and loving Christ was standing just beyond the veil of death to catch him when he passed through it. So, Paul is telling us, no matter what our circumstance, don’t waste your life!
From his imprisonment, Paul awaits his trial. What will be the verdict? Will he be put to death, or set free? Which option does Paul prefer and which does he anticipate? Paul describes this quandary as being hard pressed v.23. But he views it not as being hard pressed between two difficult decisions, but between two wonderful possibilities. To depart and be with Christ is far better. To continue in the world would be beneficial to his brethren. He summarizes his feelings about the situation with the well known words, For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain (v.21). To live is to preach and live and labor for Christ. To die is to gain the unsurpassed profit of being in the very presence of Christ. Paul want’s both so bad, that he is hard pressed to choose between them, let’s explore the meaning of each of these a little closer.
To Live Is Christ & To Die Is Gain (v. 21). To live is Christ is expressed elsewhere this way, For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (col 3:3), or like this, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20-21). To die is gain. When we come to see Christ as the source of every earthly blessing, we are willing to say farewell to the blessings, that at last we may enter into full fellowship with the Blesser. This is not a rejection of life or a hatred of creation. It is simply the surpassing desire to be in the embrace of Him from whom all life and creation flows. We should not hate life. Do not want to die so that you won’t have to live here anymore. To live is Christ! But, nurture your relationship with Christ so that your desire to live on in this world, though great, is eclipsed by your desire to go and be with Him.
I want to close by revisiting the quandary Paul faced. Is that the quandary before you? How would you fill in the blanks:
“For me, to live is , and to die is
If you needed encouragement and someone encouraged you, how would you be different? Having been encouraged, what would be the difference between the “before” and “after”?
Unfortunately, most people would say that being “encouraged” mainly means they “feel better” emotionally. In an age of subjective individualism, where human feelings are the ultimate value and highest authority, nothing is more significant than how we feel. So problems like discouragement are defined primarily in terms of feelings. To be discouraged means to feel “down,” while to be encouraged means to feel “up.” And in this cultural milieu, “encouraging preaching” usually amounts to some variation of “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Now, feelings of defeat and depression are certainly unpleasant, and we like to avoid them whenever we can. But these feelings, which often accompany discouragement, should not be confused with the problem itself. The real problem lies deeper and has to do with our will rather than our emotions. What we need is to be jolted into action.
Look at the word “encourage.” You can see the root word “courage.” The basic meaning, then, is “to impart courage to.” And as any soldier can tell you, courage is more than a feeling; it’s an action.
So test yourself. Did you find last Sunday’s sermon “encouraging”? Was it “encouraging” to have that heart-to-heart talk with a friend? Be careful how you answer. If you say yes, but all you mean is that you feel better, I would suggest that you have not been truly (or at least fully) encouraged. In the deepest sense, you will have been encouraged when you do what is right — and you keep on doing it.
There is no more encouraging book in the New Testament than Hebrews. Written to Christians whose faith was wavering, this powerful treatise says one thing: don’t give up. I read the entirety of Hebrews to a church one time as my last “sermon” to them. I wanted to encourage them, and I could think of no better way to do it than to read Hebrews. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus , the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1,2).
So to those of us who teach, preach, and write, let’s be careful in our definition of “encouragement.” If the result of our work is that people simply feel better but they are still too afraid to jump that dangerous chasm in front of them, we have not really “imparted courage” to them. So let’s be truly — and deeply — encouraging. Let’s embolden people to take those scary steps that faith would take, even if their hearts are quaking. Courage, as has been said, is not the absence of fear; it is going ahead and doing the right thing even when our feelings are failing us.
Gary Henry – WordPoints.com
Jesus uses a parable regarding a man entrusting to his servants talents to help us understand some important truths regarding the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus says, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received my own back with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We can learn several important truths from this parable spoken by our Lord. God knows what we are capable of just as this lord knew how much each servant as able to handle (Matthew 25:15). God does not place upon us expectations which are greater than we are able to meet. If God tells us to do something, we know it is within our ability. God does not expect of us service which we are incapable of giving. In addition, not everyone has the same abilities but God does not hold that against a person. Someone may have more ability in one area (e.g. teaching, singing, etc.) than someone else. God expects us to use our abilities but does not require us to be as able as the next person might be. God has entrusted us with opportunities, abilities, and time as the lord entrusted these talents to his servants. We are expected to use the things God has given us in service to him as the servants were expected to use the talents entrusted to them in service to their master. God is not pleased when we fail to use the opportunities He has given to us. God is not pleased with our excuses just as the lord is not pleased with the excuses made by the one talent man (Matthew 25:24-30). People sometimes view God the same way the one talent man viewed his lord. There are people who think of God as a harsh, unrealistic master. As a result, some people fail to try to serve Him as they should. There are people who are afraid and as a result of their fear of failure never do anything in service to God. There are people who think God will be pleased with them doing nothing but God is not pleased with such people. God does not accept our excuses like the lord does not accept the excuses of the one talent man. The lord calls his servant “wicked and lazy.” What will God say of us if we fail to use the opportunities He has given us to serve Him? God will punish the person who fails to act in His service. There is a place of punishment where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for those who fail to actively serve their God. The lord of these servants went away for a long time and it appears did not give them a warning about when he would return. When he returned, he expected to find his servants had been busy serving him. Jesus has left us and will return without any special signs He is about to come. When He comes, He will expect us to be serving Him? Will we be found pleasing like the five and two talent servants or will we incur our Lord’s wrath like the one talent servant?