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New and improved death wish

By Wes Van Fleet   |   Read the verses.

Philippians 1:19-26

19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.



Many of us have an obsession with life and try to live every single minute as if it is our last. We can’t imagine wasting time doing unimportant things, so we strategically plan out each and every detail of each and every day. We are invigorated by life and try to capture the fleeting moments.

Think about it. Our decisions are motivated by hopes of achievements, affections, pleasure, and entertainment. When asked whether it is better to live or die, most of us would respond with a resounding, “I CHOOSE LIFE!”

Verses 19-20.

The Apostle Paul sets both categories before God’s people as good options. To him, the goal was for Christ to be honored in both life and death.

Verse 21.

This famous statement of Paul’s holds quite a bit of meaning. At first glance, one might agree that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” is great motivation to meet whatever the day holds. However, as we will see in the following verses, this is no mere slogan meant to cause us to choose either life or death, but a challenge to see Christ in both.

Verses 22-23.

Here, Paul explains his famous statement. What is life to Paul? Is it having the most fun prior to death? Is it highlighting another country on the map in an attempt to show how cultured he is? No! Verse 22 (and 24) describe that life is defined for Paul as fruitful labor to the church. How many of us have ever said, “My life is a success if I faithfully labor for the church I serve?”

Despite Paul’s understanding of life as fruitful labor, he does not suppress his deepest desire, making it clear that he considers death the better option because he would be with Christ face to face.

Where many of us have wished for death in the torrent of depression or despair, Paul is saying our only motive for desiring death should be the joy set before us in the presence of Christ.

Verses 24-26.

Paul comes to a conclusion in deciding which path he will take in this sort of divine dilemma. Being convinced that fruitful labor for the church is more necessary, he is really caring about what Christ cares about. It is a sure thing to Paul that he will be with Jesus face to face, even if it means waiting.

But Paul also knows that his Savior was once faced with the same divine dilemma. Jesus left the comfort of heaven to come and live life for his people. Where they had failed in every aspect, he lived for them so they could be counted righteous before a holy God.

Yet, “to die is gain” had quite a bit more meaning for Jesus. Not only did he have to die for all the times we have chosen life for the wrong reasons, but he set his face towards the cross and gave himself up so he could gain a people for himself.

The next time you are daydreaming about all this life has to offer, remember that life is found in the One who saw his whole life as fruitful labor for his church. Jesus’ fruitful labor was a life lived for his people and a death to secure them forevermore.


Photos by Tom Pfingsten.

Philippians 1:19-26

New and improved death wish.

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