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LIFE > Life in Christ > The Passion of the Believer  


The passion of the believer is Christ. Verbal expression is found in the statement of Paul to the saints at Philippi: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

From prison in Rome Paul penned these words; he is only a few years away from the end of his ministry and is capable, therefore, of mature reflection on the significance of life for the believer. Note that Paul is incarcerated and is facing possible death; he does not know his future. But there is no hint of apprehension or trepidation. He does not write with hesitancy or question. His center is fixed and his determination anchored; he is not the captive of his earthly predicament. Consider several thoughts.

One, Paul’s passion in life is Christ. He writes: “For to me, to live is Christ.” The risen Lord, who had appeared to him on the road to Damascus, was the totality of his life. His living had come to be centered in Christ, who had invested his life with meaning and purpose. Nothing else really mattered—Christ was the focus of his soul, the passion of his living.

How easily the world allures and promises, ultimately only to provide disillusion and denial. It is true that the “things” of the world tease and appeal to the flesh; there is an attraction and enticement that is ongoing. Priority is given to wealth, popularity, power, and pleasure to name a sordid few; for the religious, attention is give to morality, commitment, and deeds of kindness. If these “things” are attained then fulfillment and happiness will surely follow is the sinful and enticing suggestion of the world system. Those who epitomize these things are set forth as superb examples of what is possible and desirable. The deception, however, is great, and often, too late, one learns that “all is vanity” (Song of Solomon).

But in all of this pursuit for significance the focus is horizontal; the aim of life is for the self to be satisfied with a satisfaction that is earthly and temporal. With increasing futility the “things” of the world are considered and given an opportunity to bring fulfillment and contentment to the individual. Attention moves from one new possibility to another—all to no avail. Devotion to the practice of religion is equally frustrating and hollow. Without Christ man is daily experiencing a living-death, which is a life devoid of value and meaning.

For the one Embraced by Truth, the Truth is that there is no life apart from Christ. Only He provides true life and then invests that life with purpose and significance. When Christ becomes the focal point of existence, then “things” slowly but surely, over a lifetime, loose their allure and promise, which is really a fleshly allure and a pseudo-promise. With Paul the believer comes to be able to proclaim that “things” are nothing but “rubbish” (Phil. 3:8; lit.: refuse, filth, manure, or human excrement) and therefore without eternal value. As the believer grows in knowledge of the One who has embraced him, that knowledge and embrace draw the perspective of the believer away from the horizontal and toward the heavenly—less humanistic thoughts are thought, and redemptive theology controls more of the thinking and living. Christ becomes precious, and then more precious, and ultimately He becomes the passion of the believer.

Two, Paul’s passion in death is Christ. He writes: “to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). To die would mean that Paul was united with Christ, completely and eternally. For Paul, death was not the end, but only the beginning; it marked the entrance into eternal fellowship with Christ. Death was not a loss but a “gain.” So death even becomes something that is desirable and not objectionable; Paul writes: “I desire to depart and be with Christ”; he adds: “which is better by far” (Phil. 1:23). Through death Paul’s experience of Christ would enter into a more profound relationship. All that had been anticipated during life, and more, would be realized completely and continually in eternity.

This sentiment is so contrary to natural thinking which views death as an unwelcome intrusion into the life. It is so distasteful that it is not the topic of social conversation; death is pushed to the edge of thinking or out of the picture completely. The only time death is faced is when it becomes a necessity.

Death is thought to be a negative, a loss; it is associated with separation, tears, loneliness—the funeral home, the casket, the cemetery. An uneasy association with death exists in society. But death is certain (it will happen) and it is uncertain (we do not know when). Perhaps the problem with thinking about death is that the majority does not know how to think about death, and very few attempt to reflect upon death from a Christological perspective.

Paul exhibits the proper viewpoint regarding death, a viewpoint which does not focus upon death but upon that which death makes possible: eternal union and communion with Christ. Even in death the passion of the believer is Christ. Thus, death is not a loss, but a “gain”; it is not a curse but a blessing. Adequate reflection upon death by the believer causes him not to be fixed upon the loss and separation which is all earthly, but to highly esteem the initiation that death brings of a union and fellowship that is heavenly and eternal.

Three, in both life and death Paul desires Christ to be magnified. He writes: “so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20). Neither the desire to live nor the greater desire to die was Paul’s greatest desire; his greatest passion was either in life or in death the magnification of Christ. “The hope of bringing glory to Christ was to the Apostle the possessing and animating interest of life” (H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Philippians).

It seems that he has moved from a horizontal motivation in living to a vertical; he has given up the earthly for the sake of the heavenly. His purpose for existence is to give glory to Christ, for Him to be magnified; his purpose in death is identical. Thus, life has a purpose and death has a purpose: the lifting up of Christ. Whatever happens must magnify Christ and bring honor to Him. The experience of life and death is not about the Christian but about the Christ of the Christian.

As believers today, we stand exposed and condemned by these three declarations. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 21) is to be the confession and the passion of the one who has been embraced by Life.

Translations of Phil. 1:21

NKJV:   For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain
ESV:    For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (also ASV, RSV)
NIV:     For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (also NASB)
CSB:    For me, living is Christ and dying is gain
NLT:    For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better
LB:      For to me, living means opportunities for Christ, and dying—well, that’s better yet

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