There are several statements in the Bible, I find, that people will often say, “Yes, of course” when they read it. On first glance, they see it and, when read theoretically, it is something that we can agree to, primarily because we realize that we should agree to it.
Let me give you an example. Here is a simple, one-verse, two-sentence parable that Jesus told his disciples:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.Matthew 13:44
So for many years, I read that parable and I thought: Oh, that’s nice… the man found the treasure. Isn’t that just great for him?
But then one day, a year or two ago, I read it and I saw these things in a new way:
The Kingdom is like a treasure.
In this man’s eyes, it is more valuable than everything else in that man’s life. All of his possessions, everything.
In fact, it was worth so much more that the man sold everything just to be able to buy the field and get the treasure. He understood the value of the treasure and it was worth more than all of the rest.
OK, so before, as I read that story, I thought: Great, I’m happy for that man.
But now, the question that I had to put to myself was, and still is: Am I like that man? Have I exchanged everything to have the treasure? Or am I still holding on to my old way of thinking, my old life and its sin, my – my – my… Am I holding on because I see those other things as more valuable than the Kingdom of God?
Do you see the problem? I had been reading Jesus’s parable in theory. Instead of seeing myself as that man, instead of seeing the cost, I just saw the gain. For him. For that other person.
But for me?
To live is Christ
So now let’s fast-forward to our present day where I read another verse that is a little bit like that one. In this one, Paul says:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.Philippians 1:21
So I see this one, again, as a simple statement. But let’s not let the simplicity fool us. This statement is packed with all sorts of implication.
Paul is writing to the Philippian church from Rome where he has been wrongfully imprisoned because of the accusations of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Now, he is waiting to see what is going to happen to him, whether he will continue to live and go on with his work, or if he will be executed for his “crimes”. And he is weighing these potential options and the implications of each.
I think it would be fair to say that each of us, if we were in that same situation, would think that we want to get out of prison and go on with our lives, right? Well, Paul is fine with this. He told the Philippians that it is better for them if he lives so that he can go on teaching and encouraging them.
But Paul is also fine with the possibility that he dies. In fact, for himself personally, he seems to indicate that it would be even better. Why? Because he would be with Christ at that point. What would be better than that?
So what does that mean? What could Paul not risk at that point? He can risk anything because what is the worst that they could do to him? Kill him? I imagine, based on what Paul says here that he might think:
OK, fine. Go ahead. For me to die is gain. I’m not asking to die, but if that is the consequence of what I’ve done, do it. It is my gain.
Whoa… Are we there? Do we live like this? Are we certain that we could say the same things?
To live is Christ.
And to die is gain.
What couldn’t we do for Christ? How would our lives change? What would our priorities be if we actually thought like this? What would we do as a result of those new priorities?
Paul was sold out for Christ, but if we read this “in theory”, we might respond something like, “Well, yes, of course. I agree with that.”
But let’s make sure that we understand what Paul is saying. To die is gain. Are we sure? If so, then most of our lives should radically change. If we actually did this verse, not only understand it theoretically, but actually lived out the meaning of this verse, our lives would turn around 180 degrees and change in an instant. I believe that we would repent immediately. Like the man in Jesus’s parable, we would recognize the value of the treasure that we have and sell it all to obtain it. Completely and fully. Everything gone to have that one thing.
Because to die is gain.