Philippians 1:21-24 Devotional
Philippians 1:21-24. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Reflection. Last week we thought about death as gain and life being Christ’s. Paul demonstrated an understanding we rarely possess: this life is not about myself but the glory of God and the good of others. More than desiring release or changed circumstances, Paul’s hope was that Christ would be exalted, in both his life and death (1:20). Having little control over our death, we should ask what it means to live for Christ. A few answers arise from our text.
Firstly, before aspiring to live for Christ we must recognise that death is gain (1:21). For this does more than set our hopes on eternal, satisfying, and joyous glory, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (1:23). By knowing that death is gain, Paul could die to self; he was able to abandon his aspirations and ambitions for this life, believing he would gain far more in the eternal presence of Christ. How dearly we cling to this life and all that it offers us is far from Paul’s agonised indecision, “Yet what shall I choose? I do not know” (1:22). Our lives are spent in the hungry pursuit of the gain we will only know in death, when we are with Christ. Only by grasping that, can we increasingly live for Christ.
Secondly, “to live is Christ” (1:21) is not some sort of mystical union, discovered through meditating in monastic silence. Rather it is characterised by service. Thus Paul writes, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me” (1:22). We read more about this in 1:25, where Paul says that if he remains it will be for the “progress and joy in the faith” of others. His life’s aspiration is to see others boast in and draw confidence from Christ (1:26).
Is “fruitful labour” a description you could use of your life? It will be once you have understood that to live is Christ. Labouring for the good others, selflessness, genuine concern, support, and encouragement are just a few of the ways Philippians unpacks service. To say we believe life is Christ will be shown in a life of service.
Finally, though he desires to depart and be with Christ, Paul chooses what is necessary for others (1:23-24). Put another way, he surrenders his desires in favour of service. The difficult choice Paul is deliberating over is not between an easy, selfish, comfort laden life and eternal life; it is between the self-giving Christian life and the gain of eternal life. If Paul is to remain then his life will be given to doing what is necessary for others, serving them and not himself, for to live is Christ. The implication of this is very challenging: ‘When last did you choose what is necessary for another over what you desire for yourself?’
The freeness with which we can treat our own desires reveals how far we have come in living for Christ. We are too good and being well acquainted with what we desire but obvious to what others need. In imitating Christ (2:5-11), with the help of his Spirit, we must seek what is necessary for others and be willing to serve them, even if it means giving up what we desire.