For me to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21)

The Church at Philippi sent gifts to Apostle Paul through Epaphroditus (4:18). The Church was the earliest to establish a partnership with Paul and showed eagerness to share in his troubles. In fact, the Church had financially helped Paul twice before (Phil. 4: 14 – 16). The Epistle to the Church at Philippi is primarily a ‘thank-you’ note. However, it is not merely a thank you note and there are precious lessons to learn from this Epistle. In chapter 1, Paul talks about the motto of his life.

What we live for decides what we do

What we live for grasps us and turns all other things into mere shadows. Paul Tillich called it ‘Ultimate concern’. An ‘Ultimate concern’ is “that which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of a meaning for our life”. Here, in this passage, we find Apostle Paul’s ultimate concern. “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). What we live for drives us. What we live for decides what we do. Besides, it shapes our actions and reactions to life.

What we live for controls our actions and reactions

If we carefully read this chapter, we will discover that Paul’s actions and reactions were controlled by what he lived for – JESUS. In v12 – 14, Paul sees his imprisonment, an existential crisis, as serving the advancement of the Gospel. The imprisonment gave Paul access to the Imperial Guards (v13) and opened several opportunities to witness for Christ. Further, the imprisonment also helped the brothers to grow in confidence in the Lord and boldly speak the Word without fear (v14). You can almost hear a celebratory tone when you read these verses.

In v 15 – 18, Paul sees self-ambitious motives around him as far-reaching missionary projects. Many preached Christ out of envy and rivalry (v15) and worse, to inflict serious reputational damage (v17). And yet, Paul was unmoved by these self-serving initiatives. He remained joyful (v18b) because whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed (v18a).

Paul was able to see beyond his existential crises and selfish motives around him. He saw his imprisonment as an opportunity for the advancement of the gospel and ‘for the defense of the Gospel’ (v16). Paul’s actions and reactions were shaped by what he lived for – JESUS.

A life lived for Jesus is a life lived for others

As we read through the chapter, we also read about Paul’s inner struggle- between a desire to depart and be with Christ or to remain in flesh (v24). However, Paul chooses to remain for the benefit of others. He says, “it is necessary on your account” (v24), “for your progress” (v25a) and “for your joy in the faith” (vs25b). Paul’s decision to live is to be in the service of others. A life lived for Christ is truly a life lived for others.

The question for us is: What are we living for? Paul motto was “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Living for Christ demands us to think and act differently. Paul moves beyond mere slogans. Paul’s actions and reactions demonstrate deep roots in his experience of Christ and his passionate resolve to live for Jesus and to serve others.

To Ponder

What are we living for? And how does it control our actions and reactions?

To Pray

God! help me to live with you and for you. May Christ rule in my heart so that my actions and reactions to life will be controlled by His love. I pray for grace to live my life in the service of others. Amen!


Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

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Read Other Articles by Samuel Thambusamy
Run to Take Hold of the Prize (Philippians 3)

Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.