What if you spent your entire life, all your time and energy, chasing a dream you didn’t really want?
For the past few Thursday nights, we’ve been studying the book of Philippians in depth. (If you want to join us, find out meetup here.)
In the first chapter, we find a passage that is often quoted, yet rarely understood. “… to live is Christ, but to die is gain.”
What did Paul mean by that?
What Are You Living For?
In order to understand what Paul meant, we have to take that passage in the context with which it is written.
Paul opens the book of Philippians encouraging the church at Philippi by telling them that his imprisonment in Rome has actually caused a revival. That God was using his circumstance to further the Gospel.
The church, apparently, was very worried about Paul. They knew he was there because of his appeal to Caesar, which would mean going before Nero – the first Caesar to sponsor wholesale persecution of Christians. The last thing they wanted was for Paul to be executed, leaving them without their pastor.
Paul, though, had a different outlook on things.
The church in Philippi had, to this point, escaped most of the persecution – but that was about to change. Paul was both wanting to encourage them, but also to get them in the right frame of mind – to serve God through the persecution, and to not let any amount of suffering tear them away from the joy they had found in God. So Paul opens up in an honest way to let them know how he felt about the possibility of being executed at the hands of Nero (something that would eventually happen).
Paul refers to an internal struggle, both wanting to remain alive and spread the Gospel, and wanting to get it over with and just go to be with Jesus. When he compares the two, he qualifies going to be with Jesus as “even better.” Still, Paul said, it was God’s will that he stick around a little while longer, to help facilitate the spread of the Gospel for a time – and to be their spiritual father for a few more years.
And there’s more to talk about here, but stop for a second and realize what Paul is saying… the only thing he is living for, is Christ. He prefers to go to heaven, but since he is still alive, he will concentrate on doing the work of God.
A few scriptures later, he admonishes the Philippian church to have the same mindset – to desire heaven, but live for the will of Christ.
What’s the Point?
Paul is accomplishing two things with this line of teaching:
- He is preparing the Philippians to have the right mindset, which will keep them through persecution.
- He is preparing the Philippians to have the right priorities, which will keep them from losing their faith.
Having the Right Mindset
The first one is easy to understand – in light of heaven, a short time of persecution on earth is worth it. If my heart has a constant, burning desire to go to heaven, it keeps me from getting discouraged and disappointed through times of persecution. In fact, that desire in my heart even grows the more persecution I endure.
It was this desire that amazed the Romans as they executed hundreds and thousands of Christians – leaving historians to remark at the joyful way the Christians endured their executions, with many singing praises to God as they burned at the stake, or laid their heads on the chopping block.
For a Christian who is holding on to the world, persecution makes them want to give up.
For a Christian holding on to heaven, persecution increases the desire to go there.
Having the Right Priorities
The second is harder but just as important. Paul was turning their eyes away from earthly pursuits, and onto the work of God.
Philippi was a very wealthy city, and many in the church were middle-to-upper class citizens. The church actually started with the conversion of a wealthy merchant, named Lydia – a seller of purple.
It’s really easy to get carried away with ambition for earthly advancement – and when that happens, the Father’s business becomes less important.
Let me be honest for a second, and give you a personal example:
Moving to Seattle to start a church costs a lot of money. God, through nothing short of a miracle, gave me a great job in marketing. Within two years of moving to Seattle, I found myself the head of marketing for a growing marketing and design agency – which required me to fly across the nation attending different marketing conferences.
One year, the CEO of the agency asked me what my personal goals were. With excitement, I revealed I wanted to build a personal brand and speak at the biggest marketing conference. I wanted to be an expert people looked up to, and the fastest way to “marketing rockstar” status was to speak at these conferences.
I wanted it so badly!
Thank God, He is always patient with me.
A few weeks ago, I was called by our head of operations about the biggest marketing conference. He asked me if I wanted to go or stay home this year (an option I have never had). I told him I preferred to stay home, as I didn’t even really enjoy that conference anymore. Then, I went into the living room and told my wife, “good news! I don’t have to go to the conference this year!”
Then it hit me – what was so important to me a year ago, wasn’t even remotely important to me now.
I was busy with building a church – and it was growing! That was so much more exciting than a stuffy marketing conference.
Then, the image of me gathering angels around after 10,000 years in heaven, telling them about the exciting time I spoke at this large marketing conference. Yeah, right. The angels wouldn’t care. And neither would I. Next to 10,000 years in heaven, a marketing conference is so unimportant.
Next to 10,000 years in heaven, a marketing conference is so unimportant.
That’s what Paul was trying to explain to the Philippian church – To die is gain – but to live… let our living be for Christ.
What are you living for?
What dreams are you holding onto that are more important than anything else?
How do those dreams stack up to 10,000 years in heaven?
If they have anything to do with earthly accomplishments – they don’t! Not even close!
Now, I believe we should strive for success on this earth. We should strive to make good incomes and be the best at whatever we put our hands to do. But that success should be to facilitate the furtherance of the Gospel, not our own selfish ambitions.
It’s okay to see success – it’s preferred to see success! We need more millionaires in the church. But let those millionaires see their fortunes as a blessing to further the gospel, not so they can heap unto themselves a lot of possessions that will rot and decay away.
Ask yourself, what are you living for?
What are your main goals in life?
Take advice from Paul, and pick up the priorities of Christ. You’re on this earth for one reason – to share the Gospel with others – to make disciples.
All earthly gain is loss.
Death is gain (heaven).
But to live our lives dedicated to the cause of Christ is having the very mind of Christ.
What are you living for?