“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me…” – Philippians 1:21-22
Swim Against the Tide
When Paul began this passage, he began it with three very profound words: for to me. This was his way of saying, “speaking only for myself.” In fact, the original Greek of this reads emoi, which has an emphatic position. This alone tells of his passionate view of living. He made it clear he was not wavering on his commitment to Christ, no matter the spiritual or moral condition of those around him.
In order for us to live the life devoted to Christ that was meant for us, we must swim against our cultural tide. We need to conduct our lives in a way that does not conform to the world’s standards.
When you live in such a way, be ready for this non-conformity to hit closer to home than the outside world – it may even confront those within our own body of Christ. Remember, Paul was writing this letter to the church at Philippi, not a group of unbelievers.
Give Him Top Priority in Your Life
Next, Paul says, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It’s easy to see that Paul’s very existence was centered around his Lord. No worldly possession or carnal experience could compete with Christ in Paul’s life.
Think about how the world tells us to complete this statement: To live is (FILL IN THE BLANK) and to die is (FILL IN THE BLANK). Here are a few examples of how this might look:
To live is to be popular and to die is to lose my fame.
To live is to be rich and to die is to not be able to take my possessions with me.
To live is to have every single longing fulfilled and to die is to give up my dreams.
None of these things that we live for, apart from Christ, will last. Jesus is everlasting, and He is life itself.
In verse 22, Paul says, “If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” Like Paul, we should realize that walking this earth as a lover of Jesus means that we are to leave a wake of evidence of that love – fruit of our faith.
Notice that Paul used the word “labor.” This means we are to put forth effort, to go out of our way, to produce tangible fruit of our relationship with Christ. This could take many forms, including evangelism, godly speech and behavior, and knowledge of God’s Word.
Paul’s life in Christ was bearing fruit, even in prison. If you visit a few verses prior to this passage (verses 12-14) you can see that he was making his faith in Christ known to the guards. We have no excuses for fruitlessness.
Fruitfulness in our lives not only makes our life in Christ obvious to those around us. Jesus said it brings God glory: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.” – John 15:8
*All Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard Bible.