I admire Paul’s devotion to please God and walk as Jesus did (1 Thessalonians 4:1). He is an example whom I gladly imitate (1 Corinthians 11:1), and thankfully his letters in the New Testament left clear trace of his thoughts and life to follow after. Of all his letters I cherish Philippians most, because therein I see clearly Paul’s courageous devotion, selfless humility and heartfelt desire for Christ his Lord. Here also I his sincere concern for the he ministered to.
We know that when Paul wrote this letter he was a prisoner of Rome and responded to a gift and some news from a congregation in Philippi. They were praying for Paul’s release, and he replied that he is confident of his release on account of their prayers. He rejoices to see his imprisonment has furthered the gospel both in Rome and in Philippi. He states that he would rather the Romans execute him so that he could be with his Lord, but he knows it would be better for them if he be restored to them. Then Paul penned this well-known phrase “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1: 21). This phrase is the anthem of Paul’s life, visible throughout his letters. In a sense it is his live view. And I desire it to be mine.
So I ask myself “How does ‘to live is Christ’ look like in my everyday life?” And with that question I read through Paul’s letters in found these five practical ways in which Paul expressed “to live is Christ” in his everyday life.
I live to serve Christ
The first thing we read about Paul in most of his letter is this phrase: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus”; on a number of other occasions he mentions “I serve God” (see 2 Timothy 1:3 and Romans 1:9). Paul literally saw himself as a servant of Christ and a servant of God that were happy to do whatever his Lord desires. After his conversion-meeting with the Christ (Acts 9; Galatians 1:13-24), Paul received a commission from Jesus his Lord, determining the course for the rest of his life as one who is sent by Christ (aka apostle), a course he stayed on until his execution. Near the end of his life he shared these words with the leaders of the churches in Ephesus: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
Paul served Christ in this mandate willingly and cheerfully amidst the many beatings, whipping, imprisonment and other suffering (2 Corinthians 6:4-10). He took his commission serious, and served the Lord and His people gladly and selflessly (Acts 20:17-19) not for a reward or praise from man. Paul only had in mind to please Christ his Lord (refer Ephesians 6:6 and Colossians 3:22). . In a like manner he encouraged the churches to serve the Lord (Romans 12:11) and also to serve one another in the manner Jesus served: in love (Galatians 5:13) and in humility “taking the form of a servant… becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:5-8).
I live to know Christ
Paul had an all-consuming passion to “know Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7), and stated that this intimate knowledge of Christ was more important than anything else in life – costing him the loss of everything else in life. Paul yearned to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:14). Living to know Christ was not an academic pursuit; Paul knew Christ in communion with Christ (prayer and worship, see 1 Corinthians 3:17-18) as well as copying Jesus’s life of obedience to His Father – even if it meant suffering unjustly (Philippians 3:14).
I live to glorify Christ
On two occasions Paul referred to his life as “being poured out as a drink offering” (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6) to the Lord – a reference to a Levitical worship ceremony. By calling his life a “drink offering” Paul meant that his life was lived for and consumed by his service to Christ, as an act of worship to God. He existed to glorify Christ, to make Christ look great and to make his Lord famous.
Using another worship metaphor Paul implored the church in Rome “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). He called on them to use their bodies as worship to God so that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The “glory” he writes of here has to do with the fame and renown of God – that everyone may know of God: his great name, power and his great works.
Paul lived to worship God in everything he did and appealed the churches to do the same. Thus worship was not removed from everyday life activities – rather, everyday activities was the means by which he glorified Christ. For instance, he wrote that work was meant to be worship to the Lord (Colossians 3:23), marital relations ought to represent Christ (Ephesians 5:23-27), church relations ought to represent Christ (Ephesians 5:22; cf John 13:34-25), as well as how we manage our money (Philippians 4:12-13; 1 Timothy 6:6-11). Literally everything Paul did, he did for Christ, so that in reality he lived for Christ.
I live to reveal Christ
As a servant sent by Christ (aka apostle) Paul saw himself as an ambassador (Ephesians 6:20) – one representing Christ and His Kingdom. Thus it was important for Paul to not only bear the message of the gospel of Christ, but also to represent the righteous, loving nature of Christ his King in the way he lived. Paul knew that as one bearing the name of Christ (i.e. Christian) his life was a reflection of the Kingdom he represented as ambassador and proclaimed. That is why Paul also appealed to the churches to walk “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27, Ephesians 4:1).
For Paul, “to live is Christ” meant living to present the glory of his King and the nature of Christ’s Kingdom.
I live to preach Christ
As Paul was about to embark on his journey to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, Paul stated that he knows great troubles await him there, “but I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). As long as Paul had breath he would preach Christ, as he wrote elsewhere “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
When he wrote “for me to live is Christ” Paul definitely thought of preaching Christ as well.
An example to follow after
Paul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and his life was forever transformed. He saw Jesus and met him as his Lord. From that day onward his life motto was “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” From that day onward he gave himself to serve Christ. He was consumed with the desire to know Christ, and his greatest ambition was to glorify Christ in everything he does. His life purpose was to preach Christ and therefore he also resolved to represent Christ well as an ambassador of this great King.
He challenged the Corinthians church to live for Christ as he does, arguing “that [Christ] has died for all, …so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” We have no choice but to live for Christ! This is symbolism which we enact in baptism (Romans 6:3-13) – our life is no longer for our benefit, but for Christ’s who saved us and made us his own.
Does Paul’s devotion to Christ inspire you too? How will you respond to his life motto “for me, to live is Christ.”