Ukraine Relief Fund

To Live is Christ

The energetic and effervescent character named Dani Rojas in the sitcom Ted Lasso shares his life philosophy: Football is Life! This reminds me of the Scottish football manager who, when asked, Is football a matter of life and death?, responded by saying, ‘No, it’s much important!’.

Football is life! For Dani Rojas, football is what gives them life and what gives meaning to life. But notice what he does not say: Life is football. That doesn’t even make sense!

In the book of Philippians we read one of Paul’s most enigmatic sayings: To live is Christ. This takes the Dani Rojas formula and makes it backwards. Notice he doesn’t say, ‘Christ is life!’. If we he did, we’d be shouting, ‘Amen!’ And that’s because Christ is our life! When we repent and believe the gospel we are united with Christ; we are made partakers of the life that is in him (John 1.4). We experience true, eternal life, God’s life when we are made partakers with Christ of the life that is in God. This is the profound blessing of salvation.

As compelling and beautiful as it is to say, ‘Christ is life!’, that’s not what Paul says. Rather, he says, To live is Christ. What does that even mean? Before I give you the answer, we’re going to put this in the context of Philippians 1.19-26.

1. Paul’s Passion: Christ will be exalted

vv. 19-20: Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

Remember, Paul is in prison writing to a church that had been birthed in a prison (Acts 16). At the time of his writing, he is standing trial and wanting to be faithful. He ends this section by saying, whether I live or die, it doesn’t matter! And the reason it doesn’t matter is that his main ambition is not to live or to die but that Christ will be exalted!

But that raises the key question: facing trial and possible torture or death, will Paul remain faithful? He expects that he will remain faithful, he says, ‘I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage’. Why is that? It’s because of your prayers and the supply of the Spirit.

God answers pray, and by his Spirit he provides whatever we need to remain faithful. But he phrase supply of the Spirit is best understood – not ‘what the Spirit supplies’ but ‘God’s supply of the Spirit’. This doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t have the Holy Spirit but that even for someone who is Spirit-empowered and Spirit-filled, God ministered to Paul with fresh supply of His Spirit to such a degree that Paul could be confident that he will be faithful and courageous.

2. Paul’s Perspective: For to me, to live is Christ. and to die is gain

vv. 21-23:  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

So this is the meat of this passage: to live is Christ, to die is gain. What does this mean? Very simply, living is all about Christ – knowing Christ, honouring Christ, serving Christ. Paul makes it plain, the main benefit of living is fruitful labour. We get to know and enjoy and be with and worship God forever in heaven. But we only get to do fruitful labour -  preaching the gospel, making disciples, reaching lost people – we only get to do that now.

But more than affirming that his life is all about Christ, Paul goes on to say that to die is gain. This doesn’t mean that Paul has a death wish or is suicidal; rather, ‘we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5.8). For a believer to die is to instantaneously transition to God’s unmediated presence. For Paul personally, dying is beneficial because he gets to go be with God. But if he stays … to live is Christ.

3. Paul’s Purpose: your progress and joy in the faith

vv. 25-26:  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

Paul speaks as if he has a choice. He doesn’t; he stands before Caesar and will be judged. But he is confident that the Lord will leave him on planet earth at least for a bit more. Why? Because Paul wants to work, he wants to continue with the Philippians for progress and joy in the faith.

This is a good and helpful instruction providing guidance for Christians; Paul’s passion for the Philippians should be our passion for each other, to help advance progress and joy in the faith. Paul wants to continue and remain for this focus. But he works and leads in such a way that when the Philippians receive from him, they don’t say, ‘PAUL IS GREAT!’. No, their boasting is in Christ Jesus. That is, God’s grace poured out to them through Paul accrues to God’s glory.


What do we do with this? Very simply, the Lord is inviting us to say with Paul, To live is Christ. For many of us, we can’t say that honestly. Rather, we think and live as if to live is Christ plus … Christ + family, job, hobbies, wealth. What is your plus? The danger of having a plus is that eventually the plus becomes the main thing. So that rather than saying, To live is Christ plus X, we say, To live is X plus Christ. The order gets completely inverted. If we’re not careful, our lives become centred around X, and we try to sprinkle some Christ on it because we know we’re supposed to have some Christ.

Football is not life; true life is found only in Christ. But in experiencing life in Christ, our lives become all about Christ. Your best life now – and tomorrow, and next year, and the rest of this century, is to say – and live – like Paul: to live is Christ.  




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