For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
New Year 1975.
All around us there is an exchange of pleasant greetings of “Happy New Year.”
Some seem to be rather flippant about it, evidently confident that the new year can never be as bad as the old. The past year may well be past and forgotten, but the new year looks far more promising.
Others speak with tongue in cheek. Whether we care to face it or not, the reality is inescapable that the world is still in turmoil, like a seething kettle that is ready to boil over at any moment. Every nation of the globe faces an economic recession. Problems which formerly plagued a single nation now involve the whole world. Churches suffer from unrest, dissatisfaction, loss of membership and lack of interest. Heresy runs rampant as ticklish ears attend to every new whisper of vanity. Each family has it’s own problems, every individual his own cares.
A new year in an old world, a world that is steeping itself in iniquity as it runs its course toward total moral bankruptcy.
One can only anxiously ask: where lies the solution to all my problems?
The solution to our problems does not lie with men.
Those who have looked to the powers that be have always been disappointed. One who builds his hopes on promises of politicians is due for a rude awakening. One who dreams that his own resources can carry him through is trusting in soap bubbles.
In this world of sin, with the heavy clouds of judgment smothering us more day by day, we can only look to the Lord, our Maker, our Recreator, our Savior.
In faith we say with the apostle Paul: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
This is Paul’s confession as he sits as a prisoner in Rome. Once he had escaped out of the mouth of the lion, yet now he was being brought to trial a second time. The outcome was still uncertain. He might be set free, since there were no real charges of any crime that could be brought against him; but knowing the kind of justice that prevailed in the world, he might very well be put to death for his faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever the outcome, the apostle is not deeply troubled, for he knows that he is in the service of Christ, Who will use him to the best advantage. Christ will be magnified, whether that be in Paul’s life or in his death, whatever may serve best to the glory of the Lord.
The church at Philippi is greatly concerned about Paul’s welfare. Eagerly they looked forward to a favorable verdict that would spare the apostle for the churches. Instead of the Phillipians comforting him, as one might expect, Paul is compelled to comfort them. Therefore he writes in his own intimate way that when he considers the crown that awaits him, he grows eager with anticipation, for that will be far better than anything this life can offer him. Still, when he considers the churches, he is torn with the desire to serve them. The important thing, he knows, is that Christ be glorified, whether that be in the apostle’s life or his death. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
This is not passed along to us merely as a matter of information, but rather is preserved for us by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures that we may experience the same grace with the apostle, to make the same confession. What better confidence can we express at the outset of a new year than to confess with the apostle that living is Christ and dying can only be gain.
Living is Christ. This golden nugget of truth is taken from the unfathomable depths of Scripture’s mines.
It could be expressed in this way: Christ is the SOURCE of my life.
We are reminded that we are chosen in Him from eternity. God has chosen Christ as the Firstborn among many brethren and given to Him the entire family of all the elect. In Christ we are sons of God and heirs of salvation, to glorify God forever.
As if that were a small thing, God has redeemed us in Christ through the death of the cross. We, who are born in trespasses and sins, children of wrath, even as the most hardened sinner, are made sons of God through the death of His dear Son. When there was no other sacrifice to give to atone for our sins, God gave the Son of His Love, His only-begotten, to redeem us from death unto everlasting life in covenant fellowship with Him.
The Spirit of Jesus Christ now dwells in our hearts to bestow on us the merits of the cross. He assures us of the adoption to sons and the right to eternal life. He even changes us into the likeness of Christ, so we cry from the depths of our hearts: “Abba, Father.” Since we are sons, we are heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, now to suffer with Him, only to be glorified forever.
We can even put it this way: Christ is the STRENGTH of my life.
In this flesh dwells no good. Sin still wars in our members, causing us daily to complain that what I will I do not do, but what I hate, that I do. Sin seems too powerful to suppress. In our own strength we never can, but the Word of God assures us that sin shall not have dominion over us, for grace abounds.
Which makes it even more emphatic: Christ IS my life. Living is CHRIST.
This is actually nothing more than an echo of Christ’s own witness: I am the Bread of Life. I am the Water of life. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. I am the Resurrection and the Life. Not: I am willing to be the Bread of Life, and all the rest. Nor: I give you the Bread of life and other gifts. But I AM the Bread of Life. I am THE Bread of life. So that we become partakers of Christ and all His benefits. All our salvation is in Him. He makes us partakers through faith, the living bond that unites us with Him forever. By His Spirit we eat His flesh and drink His blood; so that we become completely one with Him, as flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. We are as intimately one as one body, one organism: for He is the Head, we are the members of His Body. He is the Bridegroom, we are the Bride.
This can only mean that Christ is THE PURPOSE of our lives.
The apostle could say: “Whether I live, I live unto the Lord, and whether I die, I die unto the Lord: whether I live, therefore, or die, I am the Lord’s.” It was his avowed privilege to be a servant, a slave of Jesus Christ. All the scars of his body that spoke of past stonings, past whippings, past affliction that he had suffered, were so many brand marks signifying the ownership of Jesus Christ. To Paul they were indubitable proof that he belonged to his faithful Savior Jesus Christ. The ambition of his life was that God be glorified in Christ.
Although not in the same measure, we do experience that grace of God that inspires us to pray: “Our Father, hallowed be THY name.” With the Psalmist we say: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord.”
Christ is, therefore, also the GOAL of our lives.
The same yearning that impels us to pray that God may hallow His own Name in all His works, also motivates us to pray: “Thy kingdom come.” Since Christ is our life, we can never be fully satisfied until we are face to face with Him, sharing the fulness of His life and blessedness in glory, praising and magnifying the Name of our God with endless song.
To live is Christ. Wonderful reality.
For to ME to live is Christ. That makes this confession even more personal.
No, the apostle had not always been able to say that either. There had been a time in his earlier years when for him living meant persecuting the church of God. Saul felt that he was doing God an honor by trying to wipe out the name of Jesus from the earth;—until Jesus Himself appeared to him as the living Lord in a dazzling brightness that faded out the noonday sun! He saw Jesus, and he believed. Long afterward Paul still spoke of himself as the chief of sinners, whom Christ had come to save. He confessed: Jesus is the SOURCE of my life.
Every sincere child of God humbly repeats that confession after him. We find an echo in our hearts of that blessed truth of Scripture: “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
He is also the STRENGTH of my life.
I experience anew every day what Jesus taught: “Without me ye can do nothing.” The guilt of sin weighs like an impossible burden upon my soul. The power of sin is so overwhelmingly strong that I cannot overcome it. The thought oppresses, if I cannot even stand in the midst of daily temptations, what would happen if I were called to stand with Daniel’s three friends in defiant opposition to the command of the king, knowing that refusal to obey can only mean death? Or could I pray at an open window, if I knew being faithful to my God meant being fed to the lions? How shall I stand in the evil day?
You and I know that to this question there is but one answer: the answer of Christ, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Or again, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” To which faith responds: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Jehovah is my light, and my salvation near;
Who shall my soul afright, or cause my heart to fear?
While God my strength, my life sustains,
Secure from fear my soul remains.
Christ is the strength of my life; but even more than that, Christ IS my life.
He is the vine, and I am privileged to be a branch of that vine, bearing fruit through the power of His life in me. “I live, yet no more I, Christ lives in me.” We begin to understand what it means that Enoch walked with God. We also know something of the confidence of the Psalmist that made it possible for him to say: “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
That makes Christ also the PURPOSE in my life.
I ask myself: why are you a minister? Why do you preach and write meditations? Because it happens to be your vocation, or because you enjoy it? I know that there is but one answer to that question, one proper answer: I am a minister because God’s name must be glorified through Jesus Christ in me.
You ask yourself: why am I reading this meditation? As a teenager, why do I go to school and study day after day? As a mother in the home, why do I busy myself with these unpleasant chores around the house? As a father, why do I toil day after day, struggling to support my family? Why? To all those questions there may be but one answer: that my very life may bear out that which I pray, “Father, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come.” Anything apart from that is sin.
That makes Christ also the GOAL of my life.
Asaph puts it this way: “Nevertheless, I am continually with Thee: Thou hast holden me by my right hand, Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me in glory.” To which I add the refrain:
When I in righteousness at last Thy glorious face shall see,
When all the weary night is past, and I awake with Thee
To view the glories that abode, Then, then I shall be satisfied.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
We often say that death is gain only after we have set certain limitations to it. Death is gain for the burdened invalid, for the aged, and for the pain-racked sufferer. Yet Scripture sets no limitations, so that faith responds: “To me death is gain.” Death is only, always gain, gain when it comes at the close of life’s weary day, but also gain when it comes at any other time. Death is gain even if it strikes in this new year.
Gain it is for us individually, yes. For to be with the Lord is far better than anything this life can offer. It is especially gain because Christ is magnified in the death of His people, as well as in their lives. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Christ uses the death-bed of the believer to show that even the last enemy is servant of Christ to bring His saints to glory. As we slip out of this valley of shadows, we immediately pass over into the light of glory, this present night bursts into an eternal day, our last sigh becomes a song of victory shared by all the saints and all the myriads of angels about the throne.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
As we enter into this new year, is that our confession?
Living day by day means what? Serving Mammon, laboring for the bread that perishes? Then death is total loss.
Living for me means what? Family and friends and earthly pleasures—are they the joy of my life? Then death robs me from all that is most precious, and that forever.
Living for me means what? My proud self, that BIG I—am I the most important? Then death spells everlasting torment where the fire never grows dim.
Living for me is Christ? Then I enter this year with the confidence that my life is hid with Christ in God. That spells eternal gain!