The Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, was sensing that his life was nearing the end, giving him time and cause to contemplate death. He had come to the awareness that he felt not only ready to die but eager, knowing that dying meant a much fuller experience of the presence of God, coupled with an end to his constant trials and sufferings. He had no doubts at all about the nature of eternal life, and his faith was undergirded by a multitude of supernatural demonstrations of God’s kingdom and his power, not the least of which was the visitation of Jesus himself on Paul’s Damascus road conversion.
But would God take him soon? Paul also understood that he still had work to do, telling the Philippians, “but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Phil 1:22). And this convinced him that he would continue to labor in the land of the living for a while longer.
For the Christian, it is pure joy to adopt the same attitude, and we have every reason and right to. To live is Christ. Indeed, Jesus could have taken the whole Church with him into heaven when he ascended (Acts 1:12), but he did not. The reason why comes from his own commission to his disciples (Mt 28:18-20). We have a job to do and we are privileged to do it with Christ, who will be with us “to the very end of the age.” If one is a Christian who does not live with and for Christ, then this life will be much less than it is supposed to be. Live for him, for his mission, for his glory, the eternal life now. When death is near, rejoice at the bliss to come when the sin in your flesh is done away with and you go to “share in your Master’s happiness,” hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:21).
Breaking Down the Key Parts of Philippians 1:21
#1 “For to me,”
Paul knows theology. He knows the conceptual truths about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and cosmic reality. But for Paul, all of it is personal, as it should be for all God’s people. Some aspects of Christianity we speak of in terms of for us. Some we speak of for me. Our faith is both communal and individual.
#2 “to live is Christ…”
If Paul lives, then he lives to serve Christ, abiding in Christ by his Holy Spirit. There is no part of human life that should not be “Christ.”
#3 “…and to die is gain.”
As much as we live the “abundant life”(Jn 10:10) of Christ in this world, it simply pales in comparison to what is to come for the believer upon death, and later at the resurrection of the dead and the judgment. No Christian should ever fear death, but rather should welcome it. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19).
Expert Overview of Philippians