For to me to live [or living] is Christ. – Phil. 1:21
We stand here face to face with one of the sublimest and greatest statements ever made, even by this mighty Apostle of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There is a sense in which anyone who faces this verse must feel that he stands on very sacred ground. Indeed, I am ready to admit that I would almost regard it as sacrilege to approach a verse like this in an unworthy manner. Here we have not only the statement of an experience which was true, which was a fact and a reality, but at the same time, and for that reason, we also find ourselves face to face with a standard of judgment. Any God-given experience is sacred, and nothing is further removed from the spirit of the New Testament than approaching a statement like this in a purely objective manner, handling it with our rough hands, bringing our critical or dissecting apparatus to bear upon it. There is something so sublime about it, so delicate and pure, that one is – as always with such verses – confronted with a kind of dilemma. On the one hand, one is afraid of handling it in a detached, so-called scientific manner yet, on the other hand, of course, there is also the danger that, if we do not analyse it up to a point, we fail to realise its inner meaning and its true purpose. One is compelled to do both – to analyse it and try to understand it, while always remembering that it is a living experience and a statement of fact which puts us under judgment.
Now Paul, as we have seen, is comforting the Philippians who were concerned and troubled about him. He has told them how this imprisonment of his has turned out ‘rather unto the furtherance of the
gospel’, and added, you remember, that it was his earnest expectation and hope ‘that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.’ That is the background of the statement. Paul means that as far as he is concerned, it is immaterial whether he is to be put to death, or whether he is to go on living. The two possibilities are there and he does not know which it is going to be, but, he says, it is all right. He is not concerned and they need not be either, for, ‘to me to live is Christ and to die is gain’. And then he proceeds to work it out a little further, for he says that if he were to express his own personal preference, it would be to depart, yet for their sakes it is better for him to remain. At this point, however, we are concerned with this particular statement that the Apostle makes with respect to life and to the meaning of living.