Life and Death Christians (Theology for Living from Philippians)

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. (The letter of Paul to the Philippians, chapter 1, verse 21)

Most of us are probably more familiar with the 1984 NIV (New International Version) translation of this passage, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  The version quoted at the outset is the 2011 NIV.  This new version does make Paul’s meaning more explicit.  But there is something powerful about the pointedness and pithiness of the ’84 translation.

For the believer, whom Paul represents in his statement, life in this body is all about Jesus Christ, or should be.  When we measure ourselves against this pronouncement there is surely some room for critical personal inventory.  How do we evaluate fun, rest, sleep, vacation and a host of other seemingly non-Christ oriented activities?  If to live is Christ, or as the new translation says, “means living for Christ,” then this means He is surely our highest priority.  He is the one who rescued us from condemnation, who made it possible for us to have peace and purpose, who gave us a life worth living.

So when I sit down to play a video game or watch a movie, in what way am I living for Christ?  Part of the answer comes from understanding that my body does need rest.  God did not make these marvelous machines to work without food, sleep and rest.  Not only do our bodies need these but our minds do, too.  We can use this, of course, to justify overeating, laziness and wasting of precious time.  If any of these needs begin to take over lives and reduce our effectiveness in serving Christ, then, to that extent, they are harmful and sinful.  They are robbing us of what God made us to enjoy.

We were made for rulership in God’s world.  We were made to make a powerful difference for good in the lives of those around us.  We cannot be satisfied as couch potatoes.  We were made for adventure.  And if we find ourselves settling for less than this we will also tend to find ourselves losing our compassion, losing our confidence, getting depressed and losing our sense of pursposefulness.  We were made for so much better.  You don’t put a warhorse in a petting zoo and expect it to thrive.  We are warhorses!

What is hardest for us to comprehend is that “dying is even better.”  Death has always been our greatest dread.  God built into us a fear of pain and dying to keep up from giving up too easily, I suppose, when things get really tough.  And we have experienced the seering pain of losing those we love in death.  But for the follower of Christ the “sting of death,” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:53-57, has been removed.  When Jesus dealt with our sin and removed our guilt before God by His death in our place, He made death the passage to eternal life in His presence.

This means that death is gain.  Paul does not say all he can say here.  There is much implied.  In other places he tells us that death means to be in the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:8).  It means the end of our sinful, selfish desiring (Hebrews 12:22-24).  It means the end of suffering and pain (Revelation 21:4).  These blessings are incalculable.  There is nothing that compares to life in the presence of Jesus, fulfilling our warhorse potential as we live out all we were meant to be.

No one enjoys the progress toward death.  It is fraught with pain and loss of function and a growing inability to take care of our most basic needs.  It often means unusual vulnerability, discomfort and limitation.  This is the time when we learn in a new way what it means to live for Christ as we are so near death’s door.  It is for the most part a learning to long for that which is truly lasting in life, our relationship to God and to those he has put in our lives.  And for this dual perspective Christians are most aptly suited.  We are truly life and death Christians.

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