“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”
~Philippians 1:21 (NRSV).
Literal or non-literal, perhaps this is meant both ways. Dying to ourselves, with the preparedness for physical death should our lives be required of us, are the goals of the Christian life.
It is an astonishing ricochet that the Apostle Paul bellows these words from the mood of rejoicing. No wonder those who don’t know God are perplexed. Many Christians also may be confused.
Caught in a Middle Ground
It is true that neither reality—here or in heaven—is the best of both worlds. Living has its advantages, no doubt. Death convinces us of this. But heaven is so beyond our comprehension that too captivates thought, besides the pain we put up with ‘in’ the body.
So, in this life we’re conscious of the perfection gap. Never will we have it all. But beyond this Paul is still rejoicing.
What a mind-blowing paradigm it is to advocate dying. This is no suicidal outlook or self-sycophantic wish. It’s staring the reality down that nothing in life can be taken other than to actively reject it... the want of it over our soul’s freedom—already with the Lord in our hearts.
Paul has demonstrated this earlier as he seeks no retribution over those false apostles who preach Christ from “selfish ambition” (Philippians 1:17-18). He rejoices anyway, though he is resisting the hurt that anyone would feel. Without the Lord’s assistance he’d not have a hope.
For the Christian life is about dying. What is an inevitable reality (bodily death) has not much to do with this. Who (or what) captivates our attention other than God and pleasing the Almighty?
That is the prime question of our lives.
Living is Christ
What a magnificent life. In any terms this earthly existence is horrendously wonder-filled.
Add to the things our eyes can see and our ears hear, the fact of Jesus’ holy mission for our salvation, and we fast approach the purpose of life. All else is death in any event.
The gospel is a cosmic reversal: death for life; life for death. Working that out (Philippians 2:12) over our lifetimes is sure to enrich our experience of God—the best gift ever.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.