Philippians 1:21
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
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(21) To live is Christ.—This, of course, means “Christ is my life,” yet not in the sense that He is the source and principle of life in us, but that the whole concrete state of life is so lived in Him that it becomes a simple manifestation of His presence. The opposition in the passage is between the states of living and dying (or being dead), not between the principles of life and death. It is, therefore, in some sense distinct from the cognate passages—Colossians 3:3-4, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. . . . Christ is our life;” and Galatians 2:20, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Those passages set forth the cause; this the result. If Christ be the principle of life in us, then whatever we think and say and do, exhibiting visibly that inner life, must be the manifestation of Christ.

To die is gain.—This follows from the other. Death is a new stage in the progress of union with Christ. So we read in 2Corinthians 5:6-7, “Knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord . . . we are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” “To depart” (see Philippians 1:23) is, in a higher sense than can be realised here, “to be with Christ.”



Php 1:21-25.

A preacher may well shrink from such a text. Its elevation of feeling and music of expression make all sermons on it sound feeble and harsh, like some poor shepherd’s pipe after an organ. But, though this be true, it may not be useless to attempt, at least, to point out the course of thought in these grand words. They flow like a great river, which springs at first with a strong jet from some deep cave, then is torn and chafed among dividing rocks, and after a troubled middle course, moves at last with stately and equable current to the sea. The Apostle’s thoughts and feelings have here, as it were, a threefold bent in their flow. First, we have the clear, unhesitating statement of the comparative advantages of life and death to a Christian man, when thought of as affecting himself alone. The one is Christ, the other gain. But we neither live nor die to ourselves; and no man has a right to think of life or death only from the point of view of his own advantage. So the problem is not so simple as it looked. Life here is the condition of fruitful labour here. There are his brethren and his work to think of. These bring him to a stand, and check the rising wish. He knows not which state to prefer. The stream is dammed back between rocks, and it chafes and foams and seems to lose its way among them. Then comes a third bend in the flow of thought and feeling, and he gladly apprehends it as his present duty to remain at his work. If his own joy is thereby less, his brethren’s will be more. If he is not to depart and be with Christ, he will remain and be with Christ’s friends, which is, in some sort, being with Him too. If he may not have the gain of death, he will have the fruit of work in life.

Let us try to fill up, somewhat, this meagre outline of the warm stream that pours through these great words.

I. The simplicity of the comparison between life and death to a Christian thinking of himself alone.

‘To me’ is plainly emphatic. It means more than ‘in my judgment’ or even ‘in my case.’ It is equal to ‘To me personally, if I stood alone, and had no one to consider but myself.’ ‘To live’ refers mainly here to outward practical life of service, and ‘to die’ should, perhaps, rather be ‘to be dead,’ referring, not to the act of dissolution, but to the state after; not to the entrance chamber, but to the palace to which it admits.

So we have here grandly set forth the simplicity and unity of the Christian life. While the words probably refer mainly to outward life, they presuppose an inward, of which that outward is the expression. In every possible phase of the word ‘life,’ Christ is the life of the Christian. To live is Christ, for He is the mystical source from whom all ours flows. ‘With Thee is the fountain of life,’ and all life, both of body and spirit, is from Him, by Him, and in Him. ‘To live is Christ,’ for He is the aim and object, as well as the Lord, of it all, and no other is worth calling life, but that which is for Him by willing consecration, as well as from Him by constant derivation. ‘To live is Christ,’ for He is the model of all our life, and the one all-sufficient law for us is to follow Him.

Life is to be as Christ, for Christ, by , in , and from Christ. So shall there be strength, peace, and freedom in our days. The unity brought into life thereby will issue in calm blessedness, contrasted wondrously with the divided hearts and aims which fritter our days into fragments, and make our lives heaps of broken links instead of chains.

Surely this is the charm which brings rest into the most troubled history, and nobleness into the lowliest duties. There is nothing so grand as the unity breathed into our else distracted days by the all-pervading reference to and presence of Christ. Without that, we are like the mariners of the old world, who crept timidly from headland to headland, making each their aim for a while, and leaving each inevitably behind, never losing sight of shore, nor ever knowing the wonders of the deep and all the majesty of mid-ocean, nor ever touching the happy shores beyond, which they reach who carry in their hearts a compass that ever points to the unseen pole.

Then comes the other great thought, that where life is simply Christ, death will be simply gain.

Paul, no doubt, shrank from the act of death, as we all do. It was not the narrow passage which attracted him, but the broad land beyond. Every other aspect of that was swallowed up in one great thought, which will occupy us more at length presently. But that word ‘gain’ suggests that to Paul’s confident faith death was but an increase and progression in all that was good here. To him it was no loss to lose flesh and sense and all the fleeting joys with which they link us. To him death was no destruction of his being, and not even an interruption of its continuity. Everything that was of any real advantage to him was to be his after as before. The change was clear gain. Everything good was to be just as it had been, only better. Nothing was to be dropped but what it was progress to lose, and whatever was kept was to be heightened.

How strongly does that view express the two thoughts of the continuity and intensifying of the Christian life beyond the grave! And what a contrast does that simple, sublime confidence present to many another thought of death! To how many men its blackness seems to be the sudden swallowing up of the light of their very being! To how many more does it seem to put an end to all their occupations, and to shear their lives in twain, as remorselessly as the fall of the guillotine severs the head from the body. How are the light butterfly wings of the trivialities in which many men and women spend their days to carry them across the awful gulf? What are the people to do on the other side whose lives have all been given to purposes and tasks that stop on this side? Are there shops and mills, or warehouses and drawing-rooms, or studies and lecture-halls, over there? Will the lives which have not struck their roots down through all the surface soil to the rock, bear transplanting? Alas! for the thousands landed in that new country, as unfit for it by the tenor of their past occupations, as some pale artisan, with delicate fingers and feeble muscles, set down as a colonist to clear the forest!

This Paul had a work here which he could carry on hereafter. There would be no reversal of view, no change in the fundamental character of his occupations. True, the special forms of work which he had pursued here would be left behind, but the principle underlying them would continue. It matters very little to the servant whether he is out in the cold and wet ‘ploughing and tending cattle,’ or whether he is waiting on his master at table. It is service all the same, only it is warmer and lighter in the house than in the field, and it is promotion to be made an indoor servant.

So the direction of the life, and the source of the life, and the fundamentals of the life continue unchanged. Everything is as it was, only in the superlative degree. To other men the narrow plain on which their low-lying lives are placed is rimmed by the jagged, forbidding white peaks. It is cold and dreary on these icy summits where no creature can live. Perhaps there is land on the other side; who knows? The pale barrier separates all here from all there; we know not what may be on the other side. Only we feel that the journey is long and chill, that the ice and the barren stone appal, and that we never can carry our household goods, our tools, or our wealth with us up to the black jaws of the pass.

But for this man the Alps were tunnelled. There was no interruption in his progress. He would go, he believed, without ‘break of gauge,’ and would pass through the darkness, scarcely knowing when it came, and certainly unchecked for even a moment, right on to the other side where he would come out, as travellers to Italy do, to fairer plains and bluer skies, to richer harvests and a warmer sun. No jolt, no pause, no momentary suspension of consciousness, no reversal, nor even interruption in his activity, did Paul expect death to bring him, but only continuance and increase of all that was essential to his life.

He has calmness in his confidence. There is nothing hysterical or overwrought or morbid in these brief words, so peaceful in their trust, so moderate and restrained in their rapture. Are our anticipations of the future moulded on such a pattern? Do we think of it as quietly as this man did? Are we as tranquilly sure about it? Is there as little mist of uncertainty about the clearly defined image to our eye as there was to his? Is our confidence so profound that these brief monosyllables are enough to state it? Above all, do we know that to die will be gain, because we can honestly say that to live is Christ? If so, our hope is valid, and will not yield when we lean heavily upon it for support in the ford over the black stream. If our hope is built on anything besides, it will snap then like a rotten pole, and leave us to stumble helpless among the slippery stones and the icy torrent.

II. The second movement of thought here, which troubles and complicates this simple decision, as to what is the best for Paul himself, is the hesitation springing from the wish to help his brethren.

As we said, no man has a right to forget others in settling the question whether he would live or die. We see the Apostle here brought to a stand by two conflicting currents of feelings. For himself he would gladly go, for his friends’ sake he is drawn to the opposite choice. He has ‘fallen into a place where two seas meet,’ and for a minute or two his will is buffeted from side to side by the ‘violence of the waves.’ The obscurity of his language, arising from its broken construction, corresponds to the struggle of his feelings. As the Revised Version has it, ‘If to live in the flesh--if this is the fruit of my work, then what I shall choose, I wot not.’ By which fragmentary sentence, rightly representing as it does the roughness of the Greek, we understand him to mean that if living on in this life is the condition of his gaining fruit from his toil, then he has to check the rising wish, and is hindered from decisive preference either way. Both motives act upon him, one drawing him deathward, the other holding him firmly here. He is in a dilemma, pinned in, as it were, between the two opposing pressures. On the one hand he has the desire {not ‘a desire,’ as the English Bible has it, as if it were but one among many} turned towards departing to be with Christ; but on the other, he knows that his remaining here is for the present all but indispensable for the immature faith of the churches which he has founded. So he stands in doubt for a moment, and the picture of his hesitation may well be studied by us.

Such a reason for wishing to die in conflict with such a reason for wishing to live, is as noble as it is rare, and, thank God, as imitable as it is noble.

Notice the aspect which death wore to his faith. He speaks of it as ‘departing,’ a metaphor which does not, like many of the flattering appellations which men give that last enemy, reveal a quaking dread which cannot bear to look him in his ashen, pale face. Paul calls him gentle names, because he fears him not at all. To him all the dreadfulness, the mystery, the pain and the solitude have melted away, and death has become a mere change of place. The word literally means to unloose , and is employed to express pulling up the tent-pegs of a shifting encampment, or drawing up the anchor of a ship. In either case the image is simply that of removal. It is but striking the earthly house of this tent; it is but one more day’s march, of which we have had many already, though this is over Jordan. It is but the last day’s journey, and to-morrow there will be no packing up in the morning and resuming our weary tramp, but we shall be at home, and go no more out. So has the awful thing at the end dwindled, and the brighter and greater the land behind it shines, the smaller does it appear.

The Apostle thinks little of dying because he thinks so much of what comes after. Who is afraid of a brief journey if a meeting with dear friends long lost is at the end of it? The narrow avenue seems short, and its roughness and darkness are nothing, because Jesus Christ stands with outstretched arms at the other end, beckoning us to Himself, as mothers teach their children to walk. Whosoever is sure that he will be with Christ can afford to smile at death, and call it but a shifting of place. And whosoever feels the desire to be with Christ will not shrink from the means by which that desire is fulfilled, with the agony of revulsion that it excites in many an imagination. It will always be solemn, and its physical accompaniments of pain and struggle will always be more or less of a terror, and the parting, even for a time, from our dear ones, will always be loss, but nevertheless if we see Christ across the gulf, and know that one struggle more and we shall clasp Him with ‘inseparable hands with joy and bliss in over measure for ever,’ we shall not dread the leap.

One thought about the future should fill our minds, as it did Paul’s, that it is to be with Christ. How different that nobly simple expectation, resolving all bliss into the one element, is from the morbid curiosity as to details, which vulgarises and weakens so much of even devout anticipation of the future. To us as to him Heaven should be Christ, and Christ should be Heaven. All the rest is but accident. Golden harps and crowns, and hidden manna and white robes and thrones, and all the other representations, are but symbols of the blessedness of union with Him, or consequences of it. Immortal life and growth in perfection, both of mind and heart, and the cessation of all that disturbs, and our investiture with glory and honour, flung around our poor natures like a royal robe over a naked body, are all but the many-sided brightnesses that pour out from Him, and bathe in their rainbowed light those who are with Him.

To be with Christ is all we need. For the loving heart to be near Him is enough.

‘I shall clasp thee again, O soul of my soul, And with God be the rest.’

Let us not fritter away our imaginations and our hopes on the subordinate and non-essential accompaniments, but concentrate all their energy on the one central thought. Let us not lose this gracious image in a maze of symbols, that, though precious, are secondary. Let us not inquire, with curiosity that will find no answer, about the unrevealed wonders and staggering mysteries of that transcendent thought, life everlasting. Let us not acquire the habit of thinking of the future as the perfecting of our humanity, without connecting all our speculations with Him, whose presence will be all of heaven to us all. But let us keep His serene figure ever clear before our imaginations in all the blaze of the light, and try to feed our hopes and stay our hearts on this aspect of heavenly blessedness as the all-embracing one, that all, each for himself, shall be for ever conscious of Christ’s loving presence, and of the closest union with Him, a union in comparison with which the dearest and sacredest blendings of heart with heart and life with life are cold and distant. For the clearness of our hope the fewer the details the better: for the willingness with which we turn from life and face the inevitable end, it is very important that we should have that one thought disengaged from all others. The one full moon, which dims all the stars, draws the tides after it. These lesser lights may gem the darkness, and dart down white shafts of brilliance in quivering reflections on the waves, but they have no power to move their mass. It is Christ and Christ only who draws us across the gulf to be with Him, and reduces death to a mere shifting of our encampment.

This is a noble and worthy reason for wishing to die; not because Paul is disappointed and sick of life, not because he is weighed down with sorrow, or pain, or loss, or toil, but because he would like to be with his Master. He is no morbid sentimentalist, he is cherishing no unwholesome longing, he is not weary of work, he indulges in no hysterical raptures of desire. What an eloquent simplicity is in that quiet ‘very far better!’ It goes straight to one’s heart, and says more than paragraphs of falsetto yearnings. There is nothing in such a wish to die, based on such a reason, that the most manly and wholesome piety need be ashamed of. It is a pattern for us all.

The attraction of life contends with the attraction of heaven in these verses. That is a conflict which many good men know something of, but which does not take the shape with many of us which it assumed with Paul. Drawn, as he is, by the supreme desire of close union with his Master, for the sake of which he is ready to depart, he is tugged back even more strongly by the thought that, if he stays here, he can go on working and gaining results from his labour. It does not follow that he did not expect service if he were with Christ. We may be very sure that Paul’s heaven was no idle heaven, but one of happy activity and larger service. But he will not be able to help these dear friends at Philippi and elsewhere who need him, as he knows. So love to them drags at his skirts, and ties him here.

One can scarcely miss the remarkable contrast between Paul’s ‘To abide in the flesh is more needful for you,’ and the saying of Paul’s Master to people who assuredly needed His presence more than Philippi needed Paul’s, ‘It is expedient for you that I go away.’ This is not the place to work out the profound significance of the contrast, and the questions which it raises as to whether Christ expected His work to be finished and His helpfulness ended by His death, as Paul did by his. It must suffice to have suggested the comparison.

Returning to our text, such a reason for wishing to die, held in check and overcome by such a reason for wishing to live, is great and noble. There are few of us who would not own to the mightier attraction of life; but how few of us who feel that, for ourselves personally, if we were free to think only of ourselves, we should be glad to go, because we should be closer to Christ, but that we hesitate for the sake of others whom we think we can help! Many of us cling to life with a desperate clutch, like some poor wretch pushed over a precipice and trying to dig his nails into the rock as he falls. Some of us cling to it because we dread what is beyond, and our longing to live is the measure of our dread to die. But Paul did not look forward to a thick darkness of judgment, or to nothingness. He saw in the darkness a great light, the light in the windows of his Father’s house, and yet he turned willingly away to his toil in the field, and was more than content to drudge on as long as he could do anything by his work. Blessed are they who share his desire to depart, and his victorious willingness to stay here and labour! They shall find that such a life in the flesh, too, is being with Christ.

III. Thus the stream of thought passes the rapids and flows on smoothly to its final phase of peaceful acquiescence.

That is expressed very beautifully in the closing verse, ‘Having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all, for your furtherance and joy in faith.’ Self is so entirely overcome that he puts away his own desire to enter into their joy, and rejoices with them. He cannot yet have for himself the blessedness which his spirit seeks. Well, be it so; he will stop here and find a blessedness in seeing them growing in confidence and knowledge of Christ and in the gladness that comes from it. He gives up the hope of that higher companionship with Jesus which drew him so mightily. Well, be it so; he will have companionship with his brethren, and ‘abiding with you all’ may haply find, even before the day of final account, that to ‘visit’ Christ’s little ones is to visit Christ. Therefore he fuses his opposing wishes into one. He is no more in a strait betwixt two, or unwitting what he shall choose. He chooses nothing, but accepts the appointment of a higher wisdom. There is rest for him, as for us, in ceasing from our own wishes, and laying our wills silent and passive at His feet.

The true attitude for us in which to face the unknown future, with its dim possibilities, and especially the supreme alternative of life or death, is neither desire nor reluctance, nor a hesitation compounded of both, but trustful acquiescence. Such a temper is far from indifference, and as far from agitation. In all things, and most of all in regard to these matters, it is best to hold desire in equilibrium till God shall speak. Torture not yourself with hopes or fears. They make us their slaves. Put your hand in God’s hand, and let Him guide you as He will. Wishes are bad steersmen. We are only at peace when desires and dreads are, if not extinct, at all events held tightly in. Rest, and wisdom, and strength come with acquiescence. Let us say with Richard Baxter, in his simple, noble words:

‘Lord, it belongs not to my care Whether I die or live; To love and serve Thee is my share, And that Thy grace must give.’

We may learn, too, that we may be quite sure that we shall be left here as long as we are needed. Paul knew that his stay was needful, so he could say, ‘I know that I shall abide with you.’ We do not, but we may be sure that if our stay is needful we shall abide. We are always tempted to think ourselves indispensable, but, thank God, nobody is necessary. There are no irreparable losses, hard as it is to believe it. We look at our work, at our families, our business, our congregations, our subjects of study, and we say to ourselves, ‘What will become of them when I am gone? Everything would fall to pieces if I were withdrawn.’ Do not be afraid. Depend on it, you will be left here as long as you are wanted. There are no incomplete lives and no premature removals. To the eye of faith the broken column in our cemeteries is a sentimental falsehood. No Christian life is broken short off so, but rises in a symmetrical shaft, and its capital is garlanded with amaranthine flowers in heaven. In one sense all our lives are incomplete, for they and their issues are above, out of our sight here. In another none are, for we are ‘immortal till our work is done.’

The true attitude, then, for us is patient service till He withdraws us from the field. We do not count him a diligent servant who is always wearying for the hour of leaving off to strike. Be it ours to labour where He puts us, patiently waiting till ‘death’s mild curfew’ sets us free from the long day’s work, and sends us home.

Brethren! there are but two theories of life; two corresponding aspects of death. The one says, ‘To me to live is Christ, and to die gain’; the other, ‘To me to live is self, and to die is loss and despair.’ One or other must be your choice. Which?

Php 1:21-23. For to me to live is Christ — As my life, both natural and spiritual, is from Christ, so to serve and enjoy him is the supreme end of my life, and I value it only as it is capable of being employed in glorifying him, to know, love, and follow whom, is my glory and my joy. But if I live in the flesh, &c. — Here he begins to treat of the former clause of the preceding verse: of the latter he treats Php 2:17. This is the fruit of my labour — This is the fruit of my living longer, that I can labour more. Glorious labour, desirable fruit! In this view long life is indeed a blessing. Yet what I shall choose I know not — That is, if it were left to my own choice. For I am in a strait betwixt two — The two things mentioned immediately. The original expression, συνεχομαι εκ των δυο, is translated by Doddridge, I am borne two different ways, it being, he thinks, an allusion to a ship stationed at a particular place, and riding at anchor, and at the same time likely to be forced to sea by the violence of the winds; presenting us with a lively representation of the apostle’s attachment to his situation in the Christian Church, and the vehemence of his desire to be unbound, as αναλυσαι may be rendered, that is, to weigh anchor, and set sail for the heavenly country. Having a desire Επιθυμιαν, a coveting, or strong desire, as Macknight renders the word; see on 2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Corinthians 5:8 : to depart — To have my soul separated from my body, and to escape from bonds, the flesh, and the world; and to be with Christ — In paradise, Luke 23:43; admitted to the immediate, full, and constant enjoyment of him, in comparison whereof the nearest access to him, and fullest enjoyment of him in this world, are but absence. Which is far better — Greek, πολλω μαλλον κρεισσον, by much far better. Or, as Dr. Doddridge renders the clause, is better beyond all expression. Indeed, as the doctor observes, the apostle seems to labour for expression, using the highest superlative which it is perhaps possible to form in any language. It is justly observed by the last-mentioned writer, that this text plainly proves the separate spirits of good men are with Christ immediately after the death of their bodies, in such a manner that their state is far better than while they continue in this world; which certainly a state of insensibility, or the sleep of the soul, which some maintain, cannot possibly be. Some indeed think the apostle might speak thus though the soul sinks into insenbility at death; because, say they, in that case, the time between death and judgment must be reckoned as nothing. But, as Dr. Whitby justly observes, “could St. Paul think a state of insensibility much better than a life tending so much as his did to the glory of God, to the propagation of the gospel, and the furtherance of the joy of Christians? Could he call such an insensate state a being with Christ, and a walking by sight, in opposition to the life of faith?” 2 Corinthians 5:7-8. Certainly it is at least evident from what the apostle here says, if there be any such middle state of insensibility between death and the resurrection, he had no knowledge or expectation of it; for if he had known of any such state, he undoubtedly would have thought it a thousand times better to live, and promote the cause of Christ and religion on earth, than by dying to fall into it. Besides, how could he say that he had a desire to be with Christ, if he knew he was not to be with him till after the resurrection? This, however, will not at all disprove the doctrine which maintains that pious men will receive a large accession of happiness after the resurrection: a truth declared in many other passages of Scripture. “The use of philosophy, it hath been said, is to teach men to die. But, as Fielding has observed, one page of the gospel is more effectual for that purpose than volumes of philosophy. The assurance which the gospel gives us of another life is, to a good mind, a support much stronger than the stoical consolation drawn from the necessity of nature, the order of things, the emptiness of our enjoyments, the satiety which they occasion, and many other such topics, which, though they may arm the mind with stubborn patience in bearing the thought of death, can never raise it to a fixed contempt thereof, much less can they make us consider it as a real good, and inspire us with the desire of dying, such as the apostle on this occasion strongly expressed.” — Macknight.

1:21-26 Death is a great loss to a carnal, worldly man, for he loses all his earthly comforts and all his hopes; but to a true believer it is gain, for it is the end of all his weakness and misery. It delivers him from all the evils of life, and brings him to possess the chief good. The apostle's difficulty was not between living in this world and living in heaven; between these two there is no comparison; but between serving Christ in this world and enjoying him in another. Not between two evil things, but between two good things; living to Christ and being with him. See the power of faith and of Divine grace; it can make us willing to die. In this world we are compassed with sin; but when with Christ, we shall escape sin and temptation, sorrow and death, for ever. But those who have most reason to desire to depart, should be willing to remain in the world as long as God has any work for them to do. And the more unexpected mercies are before they come, the more of God will be seen in them.For to me to live is Christ - My sole aim in living is to glorify Christ. He is the supreme End of my life, and I value it only as being devoted to his honor - Doddridge. His aim was not honor, learning, gold, pleasure; it was, to glorify the Lord Jesus. This was the single purpose of his soul - a purpose to which he devoted himself with as much singleness and ardor as ever did a miser to the pursuit of gold, or a devotee of pleasure to amusement, or an aspirant for fame to ambition. This implied the following things:

(1) a purpose to know as much of Christ as it was possible to know - to become as fully acquainted as he could with his rank, his character, his plans, with the relations which he sustained to the Father, and with the claims and influences of his religion; see Philippians 3:10; Ephesians 3:19; compare John 17:3.

(2) a purpose to imitate Christ - to make him the model of his life. It was a design that his Spirit should reign in his heart, that the same temper should actuate him, and that the same great end should be constantly had in view.

(3) a purpose to make his religion known, as far as possible, among mankind. To this, Paul seriously gave his life, and devoted his great talents. His aim was to see on bow many minds he could impress the sentiments of the Christian religion; to see to how many of the human family he could make Christ known, to whom he was unknown before. Never was there a man who gave himself with more ardor to any enterprise, than Paul did to this; and never was one more successful, in any undertaking, than he was in this.

(4) it was a purpose to enjoy Christ. He drew his comforts from him. His happiness he found in communion with him. It was not in the works of art; not in the pursuits of elegant literature; not in the frivolous and fashionable world; but it was in communion with the Saviour, and in endeavoring to please him.

Remarks On Philippians 1:21

(1) Paul never had occasion to regret this course. It produced no sadness when he looked over his life. He never felt that he had had an unworthy aim of living; he did not wish that his purpose had been different when he came to die.

(2) if it was Paul's duty thus to live, it is no less that of every Christian. What was there in his case that made it his duty to "live unto Christ," which does not exist in the case of every sincere Christian on earth? No believer, when he comes to die, will regret that he has lived unto Christ; but how many, alas, regret that this has not been the aim and purpose of their souls!

And to die is gain - Compare Revelation 14:13. A sentiment similar to this occurs frequently in the Greek and Latin classic writers. See Wetstein, in loc., who has collected numerous such passages. With them, the sentiment had its origin in the belief that they would be freed from suffering, and admitted to some happy world beyond the grave. To them, however, all this was conjecture and uncertainty. The word "gain," here, means profit, advantage; and the meaning is, there would be an advantage in dying above that of living. Important benefits would result to him personally, should he die; and the only reason why he should wish at all to live was, that he might be the means of benefiting others; Philippians 1:24-25. But how would it be gain to die? What advantage would there be in Paul's circumstances? What in ours? It may be answered, that it will be gain for a Christian to die in the following respects:

(1) He will be then freed from sin. Here it is the source of perpetual humiliation and sorrow; in heaven be will sin no more.

(2) he will be freed from doubts about his condition. Here the best are liable to doubts about their personal piety, and often experience many an anxious hour in reference to this point; in heaven, doubt will be known no more.

(3) he will be freed from temptation. Here, no one knows when he may be tempted, nor how powerful the temptation may be; in heaven, there will be no allurement to lead him astray; no artful, cunning, and skillful votaries of pleasure to place inducements before him to sin; and no heart to yield to them, if there were.

(4) he will be delivered from all his enemies - from the slanderer, the calumniator, the persecutor. Here the Christian is constantly liable to have his motives called in question, or to be met with detraction and slander; there, there will be none to do him injustice; all will rejoice in the belief that he is pure,

(5) He will be delivered from suffering. Here he is constantly liable to it. His health fails, his friends die, his mind is sad. There, there shall be no separation of friends, no sickness, and no tears.


21. For—in either event (Php 1:20) I must be the gainer, "For to me," &c.

to live is Christ—whatever life, time, and strength, I have, is Christ's; Christ is the sole object for which I live (Ga 2:20).

to die is gain—not the act of dying, but as the Greek ("to have died") expresses, the state after death. Besides the glorification of Christ by my death, which is my primary object (Php 1:20), the change of state caused by death, so far from being a matter of shame (Php 1:20) or loss, as my enemies suppose, will be a positive "gain" to me.

Some read it: For Christ is my gain in life and in death; or: For Christ is to me both in life and in death advantage. Both acknowledge it to be brought in as a reason of Paul’s hope in life and death; and of his indifferency, in submission to God’s pleasure, in life and death, intimating it was all one to him, so Christ was magnified in his body, whether it were by life or by death. They who follow our translation, do expound the proposition disjunctively; the former referring to the honour of Christ, and the latter to the salvation of Paul, which is understood by the name of gain. Some understand the former branch efficiently, q.d. I derive myself from Christ, unto whom I am united, he being the principle of it, as Galatians 2:20; but others rather objectively and finally, q.d. As I have hitherto made it the business of life to serve Christ in preaching his gospel, so, if he continues my life, I purpose that in my living body, by preaching his gospel, and suffering for his name, as he requireth, he shall be glorified. Then, for the latter branch, if I die, in bearing testimony to Christ, it will be gain to myself, in that I shall be with Christ, which is better for me, Philippians 1:23, being present with the Lord, 2 Corinthians 5:8, in whom my life is hid, Colossians 3:3. So that death would not impoverish, but enrich him. They who choose the latter reading, take the proposition conjunctively, to the sense that he accounted gain to him, to have the honour of Christ magnified in his body, whether it happened to him to live or die, since he faithfully served him living or dying, and owned himself to be his both ways, Romans 14:8. He was not (as he saith elsewhere, Acts 20:24) moved with accidentals; neither counted he his life dear to him to testify the gospel of the grace of God; reckoning he had no life, but from Christ, whom he made it his business to serve and enjoy; so that if he continued in the body, Christ would gain, in that he designed to spend his life for the edification of his church; and if he died in that cause, Christ would gain by his death, in that his truth would, by the blood of him, who was a martyr, be further sealed, and his interest promoted, and his glory advanced; and he himself would gain, since upon his departure he should be advanced to be with Christ, Philippians 1:23, who alone makes his faithful servants happy in life and death.

For to me to live is Christ,.... Christ was his life "efficiently", the efficient cause and author of his spiritual life; he spoke it into him, produced it in him, and disciplined him with it: and he was his life, objectively, the matter and object of his life, that on which he lived; yea, it was not so much he that lived, as Christ that lived in him; he lived by faith on Christ, and his spiritual life was maintained and supported by feeding on him as the bread of life: and he was his life, "finally", the end of his life; what he aimed at throughout the whole course of his life was the glory of Christ, the good of his church and people, the spread of his Gospel, the honour of his name, and the increase of his interest; and this last seems to be the true sense of the phrase here,

and to die is gain; to himself, for death is gain to believers: it is not easy to say what a believer gains by dying; he is released thereby, and delivered from all the troubles and distresses of this life, arising from diseases of body, losses and disappointments in worldly things; from the oppressions and persecutions of wicked men; from indwelling sin, unbelief, doubts, and fears, and the temptations of Satan; he as soon as dies enters into the presence of God, where is fulness of joy, and is immediately with Christ, which is far better than being here, beholding his glory and enjoying communion with him; he is at once in the company of angels and glorified saints; is possessed of perfect holiness and knowledge; inherits a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world, and wears a crown of life, righteousness, and glory; enters upon an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled; is received into everlasting habitations, into mansions of light, life, love, joy, peace, and comfort; is at perfect rest, and surrounded with endless pleasures. This is the common interpretation, and is countenanced by the Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, which read, "to die", or "if I die, it is gain to me": but instead of reading the words as consisting of two propositions, they may he considered as one, and the sense be either this; Christ is gain to me living or dying in life or in death; for Christ is the believer's gain in life; he is all in all, his righteousness, his wisdom, his sanctification, his redemption, his life, his light, his food, his raiment, his riches, his joy, peace, and comfort; he is everything to him he wants, can wish for, or desire: and he is his gain in death; the hope he then has is founded on him, and the triumphs of his faith over death and the grave arise from redemption by him; his expectation is to be immediately with him; and the glory he will then enter into will lie in communion with him, in conformity to him, and in an everlasting vision of him: or thus, for me to live and to die is Christ's gain; his life being spent in his service, in living according to his will, in preaching his Gospel, serving his churches, and suffering for his sake, was for his glory; and his death being for his sake, in the faith of him, and the steady profession of it, would be what would glorify him, and so be his gain likewise; and this seems to be the genuine sense of the words, which contain a reason of the apostle's faith, why he was persuaded Christ would be magnified or glorified in his body, whether by life or by death.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Php 1:21. Justification not of the joy, Php 1:18 (Weiss), which has already been justified in Php 1:19 f., but of the εἴτε διὰ ζωῆς εἴτε διὰ θανάτου just expressed: For to me the living is Christ, that is, if I remain alive, my prolonged life will be nothing but a life of which the whole essential element and real tenor is Christ (“quicquid vivo, vita naturali, Christum vivo,” Bengel), as the One to whom the whole destination and activity of my life bear reference (comp. on Galatians 2:20); and the dying[71] is gain, inasmuch as by death I attain to Christ; see Php 1:23. Whichever, therefore, of the two may come to pass, will tend to the free glorification of Christ; the former, inasmuch as I continue to labour freely for Christ’s glory; the latter, inasmuch as in the certainty of that gain I shall suffer death with joyful courage. Comp. Corn. Müller, who, however, assumes that in the second clause Paul had the thought: “et si mihi moriendum est, moriar Christo, ita etiam morte mea Christus celebratur,” but that in the emotion of the discourse he has not expressed this, allowing himself to be carried away by the conception of the gain involved in the matter. This assumption is altogether superfluous; for, to the consciousness of the Christian reader, the reference of the κέρδος to Christ must of itself have been clear and certain. But the idea of ΚΈΡΔΟς, which connects itself in the apostle’s mind with the thought of death, prevents us from assuming that he meant to say that it was a matter of no moment to him personally whether he lived or died (Wiesinger); for on account of the κέρδος in death, his own personal wish must have given the preference to the dying (see Php 1:23). Others (Calvin, Beza, Musculus, Er. Schmid, Raphel, Knatchbull, et al.) have, moreover, by the non-mention of Christ in the second clause, been led to the still more erroneous assumption, in opposition both to the words and linguistic usage, that in both clauses Christ is the subject and κέρδος the predicate, and that the infinitives with the article are to be explained by ΠΡΌς or ΚΑΤΆ, so that Christ “tam in vita quam in morte lucrum esse praedicatur.” Lastly, in opposition to the context, Rheinwald and Rilliet take τὸ ζῆν as meaning life in the higher, spiritual sense, and καί as: and consequently, which latter interpretation does not harmonize with the preceding alternative εἴτεεἴτε. This explanation is refuted by the very ΤῸ ΖῆΝ ἘΝ ΣΑΡΚΊ which follows in Php 1:22, since ἘΝ ΣΑΡΚΊ contains not an antithesis to the absolute ΤῸ ΖῆΝ, but on the contrary a more precise definition of it. Although the ΔΙᾺ ΘΑΝΆΤΟΥ and ΤῸ ἈΠΟΘΑΝΕῖΝ contrasted with the ΖῆΝ, as also Php 1:20 generally, afford decisive evidence against the view that takes ΤῸ ΖῆΝ in the higher ethical sense, that view has still been adopted by Hofmann, who, notwithstanding the correlation and parallelism of τὸ ζῆν and ΤῸ ἈΠΟΘΑΝΕῖΝ, oddly supposes that, while ΤῸ ἈΠΟΘΑΝΕῖΝ, is the subject in the second clause, ΤῸ ΖῆΝ is yet predicate in the first. Like τὸ ἀποθανεῖν τὸ ζῆν must be subject also.

ἐμοί] is emphatically placed first: to me, as regards my own person, though it may be different with others. Comp. the emphatic ἡμῶν, Php 3:20.

For profane parallels to the idea, though of course not to the Christian import, of ΤῸ ἈΠΟΘΑΝΕῖΝ ΚΈΡΔΟς,[72] see Wetstein. Comp. Aelian. V. H. iv. 7; Soph. Ant. 464 f.; Eur. Med. 145.

[71] Not the being dead (Huther, Schenkel). On the combination of the Inf. pres. (continuing) and aor. (momentary), comp. Xen. Mem. iv. 4. 4 : προείλετο μᾶλλον τοῖς νόμοις ἐμμένων ἀποθανεῖν ἢ παρανομῶν ζῆν, Eur. Or. 308: σὺν σοὶ κατθανεῖν αἱρήσομαι καὶ ζῆν, Epictet. Enchir. 12; 2 Corinthians 7:3. See generally Mätzn. ad Antiph. p. 153 f.; Kühner, II. 1, p. 159. The being dead would have been expressed, as in Herod. 1:31, by τεθνάναι.

[72] Compare also Spiess, Logos Spermaticos, 1871, p. 330 f.


21–26. The same subject: the Alternative of Life or Death: Expectation of Life

21. For, &c.] He takes up and expands the thought of the alternative just uttered, and the holy “indifference” with which he was able to meet it.

to me] Strongly emphatic in the Greek. It is not self-assertion, however, but assertion of personal experience of the truth and power of God.

to live is Christ] Luther renders this clause Christus ist mein Leben; and so Tyndale, “Christ is to me lyfe”; so also Cranmer, and the Genevan version. The Vulgate has vivere Christus; and this, the rendering of A.V. and R.V., is undoubtedly right. For the Apostle, undoubtedly, Christ was life, in the sense of source and secret; see Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:4. But what he is thinking of here is not the source of life, but the experiences and interests of living. Living is for him so full of Christ, so preoccupied with Him and for Him, that “Christ” sums it up. Hence the “eager expectation” just expressed; eager, because it has to do with the supreme interest of life.

What the Apostle experienced in his own case is intended to be the experience of every believer, as to its essence. See Colossians 3:17; and cp. Ephesians 3:14-21.

to die is gain] This wonderful saying, uttered without an effort, yet a triumph over man’s awful and seemingly always triumphant enemy, is explained just below.

Php 1:21. Ἐμοὶ) to me, at the beginning of a section, means, so far as I am concerned; for he treated in the preceding verse of what regarded Christ.—τὸ ζῇν, Χριστός, to live is Christ) The article denotes the subject, as again in the next clause. Whatever may be the life I live (in the natural life), its principle and end is Christ.[10] [While I live in the world I consider the cause of Christ to be my own.—V. g.]—τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος, to die is gain) Although in dying I seem to suffer the loss of all things.

[10] Literally, I live Christ. “Christum vivo.”

Verse 21. - For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Others, as Calvin, render (not so well), "For to me Christ is gain both in life and in death." The alternative suggested in Ver. 20 leads St. Paul to a short digression on the comparative advantages of life and death; he is content with either. Life is blessed, for it is Christ; comp. Colossians 2:4, "Christ, who is our Life," and Galatians it. 20, "Not I, but Christ liveth in me;" "Quit-quid rive, Christum vivo" (Bengel). The life of Christ lives, breathes, energizes, in the life of his saints. His flesh, his incarnate life is their meat; his blood, the mystery of his atonement, is the drink of their souls. He abideth in them, and they in him. And yet death is gain; the slate of death, not the act of dying, is meant (the infinitive is aorist, τὸ ἀποθανεῖν), for the dead in Christ are at home with the Lord (ἐνδημοῦντες πρὸς τὸν Κύριον) in a far more blessed sense than the saints on earth. Philippians 1:21To me

Emphatic. Whatever life may be to others, to me, etc

To live is Christ (τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς)

Lit, the living is Christ. Compare Galatians 2:20. He has no thought of life apart from Christ.


As consummating the union with Christ. Compare Colossians 3:4; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8.

"Declare unto him if the light wherewith

Blossoms your substance shall remain with you

Eternally the same that it is now,

And if it do remain, say in what manner,

After ye are again made visible,

It can be that it injure not your sight.

As by a greater gladness urged and drawn

They who are dancing in a ring sometimes


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