READ: Philippians 1
THINK: Sara Winchester’s husband had acquired a fortune by manufacturing and selling rifles. After he died of influenza in 1918, she moved to San Jose, California. Because of her grief and her long time interest in spiritism, Sarah sought out a medium to contact her dead husband. The medium told her, “As long as you keep building your home, you will never face death.” Sarah believed the spiritist, so she bought an unfinished 17-room mansion and started to expand it. The project continued until she died at the age of 85. It cost 5 million dollars at a time when workers earned 50 cents a day. The mansion had 150 rooms, 13 bathrooms, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, and 10,000 windows. And Mrs. Winchester left enough materials so that they could have continued building for another 80 years. Today that house stands as more than a tourist attraction. It is a silent witness to the dread of death that holds billions of people in bondage.
Paul had a different approach. He said, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That is one of the most incredible statements in the entire Bible. Paul knew that his life on earth was temporary. He didn’t know how long it was going to last but he knew that one day it would come to an end so he made the conscious choice to make the most of every moment. He said: To live is Christ and to die is gain. What exactly did he mean by that?
Well, he meant that Jesus Christ was the source and the purpose of his life. He was saying, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus was the singular cause he had found that was worth living for and giving his life to and that Jesus was the only place where real, true life could possibly be found. He was saying that his life was all about knowing Jesus and being like Jesus and finding joy in Jesus and sharing Jesus with others! He was saying that knew that his time was limited and he didn’t want to waste one single moment so he committed all of his moments to the only thing in the world that matters for eternity: The Eternal One.
And that was just as counter-cultural when Paul wrote it in the first century as it is today. Philippi was a wealthy Macedonian trading port. If you could go back a few thousand years and watch as Paul landed upon the shores of the city, there by the riverside you’d see many ships and merchants. You’d find a merchant with his leger, overlooking his cargo as he put his hand on his money bag and said, “For me to live is gold.” And you’d also see a hired worker, loading ships, overhearing that statement and muttering, “For me to live is working hard enough to afford enough food for my family.” And standing there too would be a philosopher, one with a studious face and a sense of self-importance. He’d look condescendingly upon both of them and say, “for me to live is knowledge.” And still another, clothed in his shield, helmet, breastplate, and sword, would scoff at all of them and declare, “For me, to live is glory!” Then there’s Paul, the humble Jewish tentmaker and missionary, who says to them all, “For me, to live is Christ!” All of them would have looked at him like he was crazy! Christ? The one who was crucified? Worth living for? But Paul knew what they did not – he understood the gospel and he knew what mattered. Paul was completely possessed with the idea that life was all about Jesus.
The response would likely be similar today. We live in a culture where so many people believe that to live is money, success, fame, beauty, sex, pleasure, the list goes on. But not one of those things satisfies in the long term. Not one of them matters for eternity. Not one of them can, in any way, prevent death or give us peace regarding it. Instead, they simply become the empty things that the world chases not to overcome death or have peace about it but to just temporarily try to forget that it is a reality. Paul tells us that there is only one thing that is worthy of giving our lives to – Jesus. That if we want to make our lives count, if we want to take seriously the fact that life is fleeting, if we want to live with joy and peace and courage, if we want to live like we’re dying then to live is Christ! Real, true, fulfilling life is found in our relationship with Jesus and in sharing him with the world around us.
And when our lives are defined by Christ we have the unshakable confidence that to die is gain. This statement is probably even more shocking and counter-cultural than the first one. I mean, people might think you’re weird for pursuing Jesus over money or sex or fame, but to be excited about death…that’s crazy right? Not if you know what death holds! And not if you know that you lived your life for what really mattered instead of wasting it on useless, temporary, unimportant things.
One of the first European settlers in America, John Owen, was on his deathbed and a servant was writing a letter for him to a friend. At the end of the letter, just before signing Owen’s name, the servant wrote something to let the friend know that Owen was still alive: he wrote, “still in the land of the living, John.” But Owen, hearing this, asked him to cross it out. He said, “Stop. Change that to say that I am still in the land of the dying, but I hope soon to be in the land of the living.”
Death, for those who have put their faith in Jesus and what he accomplished on the cross, is gain because it is movement from the land of the dying to the land of the living. It is leaving the pain and the hurt and the brokenness of this sin-stained world and living for eternity in the presence of God! It isn’t something to fear, it is something to look forward to because we know how much better eternity will be than the broken world we’re living in right now. To live is Christ and to die is gain!
PRAY: Thank God for the incredible hope we have in death, and commit to living your life for him instead of wasting it on things that don’t matter.