To Live is Christ: Paul’s “to be or not to be” moment.


Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.(Phil 1:20-24)

A week or two ago I woke one morning with the phrase “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” repeating in my head.

To me this part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a kind of “to be or not to be” moment in Paul’s ministry, where he momentarily weighs up the pros and cons of life or death. But unlike Shakespeare’s character in Hamlet, Paul’s alternatives both have some kind of spiritual merit.

“Not to be” – to die – means Paul would depart this world for a much better place, to be with the Christ he serves. He acknowledges this as a far better outcome for himself.

However the alternative – “to be” – or to live, means to live FOR Christ and to benefit others who are in need of his ministry.

I had to think on the question of what life means to me – do I look on it in the same way as Paul? Do I REALLY, in thought and action, consider living to be Christ? That the purpose of my life is Jesus and serving Him?

And what does “to live is Christ” mean for me personally, in reality, and not according to some glib reasoning?
And how should that be made evident through my life.

4 thoughts on “To Live is Christ: Paul’s “to be or not to be” moment.

  1. That’s always a good question. But the “balance” or motivation seems different at times.

  2. Tim said: Do I REALLY, in thought and action, consider living to be Christ? That the purpose of my life is Jesus and serving Him?

    And what does “to live is Christ” mean for me personally, in reality, and not according to some glib reasoning?
    And how should that be made evident through my life.

    The questions in boldface are “a good question” always.

    What is an example of a “glib” reasoning?

  3. I want to say Paul was one person. Not everyone has to be like him. Or had to. Not even THEN — we know there were people he taught who were believers but lived more normal lives, and well. I know I might be getting into the territory of reducing living for Christ to simply being alive (which sure could be considered glib and would often be far too reductionist). For some people (and not only Paul), that IS the case, though. Their approach to life, based on the gospel, has so seeped into every pore that their presence speaks. Additionally, if his terminology has to be something “greater” than that, to what extent may it not have to be the case that everyone fits it? Paul was an early apostle — someone spreading new thought and faith to an empire that worshipped power and domination. Literally worshipped it. Yet we can also hold against despising those who don’t go around dominating by force as the measure of worthiness to exist and of a goal as to the essence of living.

    It’s difficult to use words that fully hold to be clear. For instance, Jesus said not to work for bread that fills the belly. Paul, nevertheless, said to not argue for idleness — or to not eat… and, yet again, that working in the word (rather than in the worldly ways of amassing sustenances) is good. Further, we speak of it mattering to care that people in need get food or the money to obtain food — while, at the same time, we rail against obsession with material things or money and even food or bread. Similarly, we value the power of Jesus. But we also value his gentleness as well as his tendency to speak truth even if it would lead to his being deprived of needs (such as water) and even put to death. And he spoke of love, yet went ahead and said things for which he could be credibly (even if not rightly) accused of being judgmental or not being loving. It’s not easy to sort things out, especially for everyone who would hear. But the LORD knows the heart and what stands as true.

  4. What is an example of “glib” reasoning?

    I’d suggest there are many, but all have the same effect – they excuse any REAL engagement with the question of what it means to live in Christ. Glibness justifies compromise.

    I’ve been reading through Psalm 119, and how God’s word, law, precepts, decrees etc are made central to life – and yet I have to acknowledge how little His word is actually regarded in our day today lives. Or if it is regarded, it tends to be an intellectual, theological exercise instead of something pertaining to daily life itself.

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