Rev. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Although most of mankind cannot, and therefore by their actions do not, say with Paul that to live is Christ, some of them do believe and say that for them to die is gain. This they clearly manifest by committing suicide. And there are also those who break the sixth commandment by helping their friends commit suicide. They, and those whom they help, reveal that they believe that to die is gain, being convinced that death will end all their aches and pains.
That sin was clearly manifested by Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ and afterwards hanged himself, believing that death would be a benefit for him. He wanted to escape ridicule and opposition from those who loved Christ. He wanted to gain relief.
But in Matthew 25:46 we find Christ Jesus our Savior declaring that the death of the unbeliever is by no means a gain, but is a terrible loss! He taught the truth that death opens the door of hell for unbelievers, bringing them into everlasting punishment. Likewise, as we read in Matthew 8:12, those who cannot sincerely say that for them to live is Christ “shall be cast out into outer darkness” where for them there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
What we find in the text with which this meditation begins is the comforting truth that the moment that the child of God dies, he will by God’s grace be brought where there is no sorrow, pain, or tears, and where he will have sweet communion with God. He will not, as Paul says, lose that which is truly good, but will gain the blessedness of sweet communion with God. For the elect child of God it is so very true that he will gain, that is, obtain more fully, the blessedness which Christ earned for His people. We will have there no temptations. We will there know and enjoy the blessed truth that for us to live is Christ. From the moment that we die, we will lose all of our old man of sin, and we will be in a realm where we will no longer be tempted to walk in sin. We will there with our souls gain a perfectly holy life.
We will through death reach a blessed life that is higher than that of the highest angels. In Hebrews 1:13, 14we read that we will be at God’s right hand, and be higher than the highest angels. For all the angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister, for them who shall be heirs of salvation.”
Now the important and comforting truth here in Philippians 1:21 is Paul’s statement that for God’s people “to live is Christ.” For that living is enjoying that which Christ earned for God’s elect. The idea is that we can and will live a better life after we die because of what Christ did for us and does in us. That comforts us, too, in the truth that by God’s grace we gain blessed perfection for our souls the moment we die.
This also brings out the comforting truth that we, through the work of Christ, become Christians. The name Christian we find three times in Scripture. In Acts 11:26 we read that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. In Acts 26:28 we read that Ring Agrippa said that Paul had almost persuaded him to be a Christian. And in I Peter 4:16 we are told that if we suffer as Christians, we should not be ashamed, but should glorify God because of what He did in making us become Christians.
Likewise, for us “to live is Christ.” And that means that we, as born again children of God, live in Christ. It means that we are the members of His body, the church, which is presented in Romans 12:5 as the body of Christ. There we read: “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” We also find that truth very richly expressed in I Corinthians 12:12. There Paul writes: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.” And then in verse 27 he states: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
Note that truth! We, as the elect children of God, are members of the body of Christ, each in his own eternally and divinely designed place. Therefore for us to live is Christ; that is, we have a new spiritual life, being made to be members of Christ’s body. The moment we die our souls gain perfection. For death cuts us off completely from our sinful flesh.
We must therefore hold on tightly to the truth that, basically, salvation is the gaining of the gift of love for God. The basic element of our salvation is not a release from the punishment and pain which by nature we deserve. That kind of salvation all the children of the devil want. Even their suicide is an attempt to get away from pain and suffering. Then their suicide indeed is seeking salvation. But basically salvation is that gift of God’s grace whereby we gain freedom from sin! Thus in Genesis 3:15 God promises us that He will cause His elect to hate Satan and sin, and that He will work into His elect love toward Himself. Yes, in this life we will be attacked by Satan and have our heels bruised. But we are promised that we will love God, and will have in this life the beginning of a walk which will become perfect for our souls the moment we die.
In verse 20 Paul declares that Christ shall be magnified in his body, whether it be in this life or after death. Christ shall be magnified in Paul in this life by His using him as His apostle. And although the day comes when Paul will die, Christ will be magnified in Paul by the complete deliverance of his soul from his sinful flesh. Paul will begin that wonderful and blessed life when his soul is fully free from sin. We also, when we die, gain holiness for our souls. And when Christ returns, our bodies will be raised; and then we will in body and soul be saved fully. For then our bodies as well as our souls will be in a holy life which will everlastingly be ours.
Paul desires and looks forward to this blessedness. But he is in a strait, because, although he does desire and does eagerly look forward to that blessedness, he is also eager to serve God now by being His apostle. Besides, he realizes the need of the Philippians for further instruction. He points this out literally in Philippians 1:22-26, when he states that, though his desire is to be with Christ, which he calls “far better,” he realizes that for him to abide in the flesh is now needful for the Philippians for their spiritual growth.
By all means we should not push into the background the truth presented in Genesis 3:15. Basically, salvation is God’s work of taking our sin away from us, not merely the punishment of sin. That part of salvation is wonderful and a great blessing. But our God in Genesis 3:15 presents salvation as the taking away from us of our enmity against Him, and causing us to love Him, and to walk in that love.
Disobedience manifests hatred against God. And every sin does that! Paul reveals that – yes, God reveals it through Paul — in Ephesians 2:10. We are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Now, that we are created in Christ reveals how we get this blessed gift of walking in good works of love toward God. Thereby for us death is a gain. Then our souls will be one hundred percent free from the love of and acts of sin. And our souls will love God perfectly.
To die is gain, because then we receive the spiritual perfection of our souls. That truth assures us that when Christ returns we will also get bodies that our perfect souls will use for perfect works of love toward God. Then we will know that for us to live is Christ, and we will enjoy that life. We will be equipped with bodies that want only to do that which serves and glorifies God in love. The awesome question is whether we want that salvation, not merely relief and escape from the punishment of hell.
As surely as our God determined every heart beat of our physical life, so He determined every heartbeat of our spiritual life, from the first one onward, to those that will everlastingly be given us. Even as we did not cause our fleshly heart to begin beating, we do not cause our spiritual hearts to beat with the desire to serve God, and make us want to be in the Kingdom of Heaven, where we can and will want to serve Him with all our body and soul, and everlastingly in love toward Him. We do spiritually that which God enables us to do. We give Him nothing either physically or spiritually. We do what He enables us to do.
Let us cling to the truth which God gives us through Paul, as found in Ephesians 2:10. We are in every sense and in every detail God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. As Paul, used by God, presented to us, the truth is: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” God in no way depends upon us. We depend upon Him for every breath of earthly life, but just as surely for every breath of spiritual life. For us to die is gain, because God caused Christ to earn for us, and give us through death, a spiritual life of perfect and everlasting love.
Since it pleased God to give us the gift of salvation, we can and will say with David what he wrote in Psalm 139:14. There we read: “I will praise thee: for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works: and that my soul knoweth right well.”
Let us then sing that truth from our hearts as well as from our lips. It is presented so beautifully in our Psalter, number 383:1, in this way:
All that I am I owe to Thee.
Thy wisdom, Lord, hath fashioned me;
I give my Maker thankful praise,
Whose wondrous works my soul amaze.