For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
These words of Paul in Philippians 1:21 are well known. Being just four words in greek, they sum up Paul’s singular pursuit of Christ. Gordon Fee writes:
“Christ”–crucified, exalted Lord, present by the Spirit, coming king; “Christ,” the one who as God “emptied himself” and as man “humbled himself”–to death on the cross–whom God has now given the name above all names (Phil. 2:6-11); “Christ,” the one for whom Paul has gladly “suffered the loss of all things” in order to “gain” him and “know” him, both is resurrection power and participation in his sufferings (3:7-11); “Christ,” the name that sums up for Paul the whole range of his new relationship with God: personal devotion, commitment, service, the gospel, ministry, communion, inspiration, everything.
For Paul, to live is in pursuit of Christ, but to die is to finally gain what he has been living for. Paul does not have a death wish, but being in prison, he understands that his life in the flesh is uncertain. He could die at the hands of the Romans. But Paul would be okay with this because he understands that death is “profit.” For Paul, “death is a glorious possession of Christ” (see Kent Hughes book on Philippians).
But death is only a gain when Christ is what we treasure. Otherwise death is a great loss. Hughes writes that according to the tabloids and celebrity magazines, “for to me to live is” to fornicate, to accumulate, to dine well. Or on a more prosaic level, “for to me to live is” to golf, to work, to garden, to travel, to watch TV, to ski–to shop ’til I drop. Of course if this be our life, then death is the loss of everything.
When Christ is our pursuit in life, then the end of our life does not disappoint. Death is not a loss, but the gaining of Christ. Remember, Jesus plus nothing equals everything! On the other hand, everything minus Jesus equals nothing.
To die is gain only when for us, to live is Christ!