What does “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” in Philippians 1:21 mean?

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

For those who are observant, that’s the verse I have right at the top of my website. It’s not necessarily my favorite verse, but, I believe it summarizes what matters to me the most and who I am when everything is said and done. You could say that this verse is a declaration of my identity and what you can expect from/of me – be it in my words, thoughts, actions, attitudes, emotions, expressions, motivations, desires – whatever it may be – pertaining to every area of my life.

To be honest, to understand the meaning behind this verse, one need not have a seminary education or a theological degree. However, to apply this verse in your life does require great faith and commitment, that can only come from Christ, executed through the Holy Spirit.

So, what does Paul mean when he says “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”?

First, we will quickly look at what this verse meant to Paul.

TO LIVE IS CHRIST

The Lord Jesus Christ, whom Paul (Saul at the time) had an encounter with and ended up transforming his life (read Acts 9:1-31), had become EVERYTHING to him. Jesus was Paul’s all in all.

Paul was saturated with love for the Lord Jesus and his only desire was to preach the Gospel, share Jesus with others, see people come to faith in Christ, see their lives transformed by Christ and to guide them in their walk with Christ. Again I say, Paul had no other goal or purpose in life, nothing else mattered, besides loving the Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him (by ministering to others) out of that love. To Paul, living meant loving and serving Jesus Christ.

Paul did not want to start a family, pursue a career, make a name for himself, achieve “something” with his life, enjoy living a “happy” life (not that any of this was wrong in itself) - none of this mattered to Paul. Makes sense right? If all that mattered to him was Jesus and preaching Him to everyone who was willing to hear, that was life for Paul and his all consuming passion, his ONLY desire and purpose. We can clearly see this in all of the writings of Paul in the New Testament.

TO DIE IS GAIN

If the Lord Jesus was everything to Paul and his only desire was to share the Gospel with the world, to live and breathe Christ, why does he say that to die is his gain? Why does Paul say that his death would be a good thing for him?

In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul tells us why.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

As much as Paul loved the Lord, wanted to serve Him and share the Gospel with others and discharge his apostolic duties (which the Lord Himself had handed down to Paul), Paul just wanted to be present with the Lord Jesus, in His presence, forever. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t! Paul was an amazing man of God and was/is being used by the Lord in a mighty way, but he just wanted to be with Jesus. I totally agree with Paul and can see where he is coming from. I can imagine Paul yearning to be with the Lord, thinking along the lines of “Oh to be in the presence of the Lord my God, the One who loves me so much that He died for ME and pardoned all my sins and saved me from eternal death and is using me so much though I am clearly not deserving of it”!

Don’t you get it folks? Is it better to be down here on Earth or up there in Heaven with the Lord Jesus and God the Father? If you have to think for a moment about YOUR answer to this question, then you need to examine yourself/your faith/where your heart is, with the Lord. As Christians, our desire should be for the Lord, to be with Him. BUT, that does not mean that we sit back and do nothing while we are here on Earth. Like Paul, we are meant to build an intimate relationship with our Lord Jesus and to live out that life outwardly (in words, thoughts, actions, attitude, service – because of our love and appreciation for Jesus), relying on the example of Paul and other believers who have gone before us.

Does it mean that like Paul,we SHOULD not raise a family or enjoy a good career or have hobbies or whatever else that Paul denied? No, that’s not what the Scriptures are talking about here. BUT, if those blessings become so important to us, that we are consumed by those desires and our efforts to pursue them and it gets in the way of our relationship with the Lord Jesus, loving Him and serving Him out of that love, that we begin to want to stay on Earth/live longer for those reasons, THEN it is a BIG PROBLEM that needs to be dealt with! If Earthly things begin to make you want to stick around longer and to enjoy what this world has to offer, then you need to rethink who you are and your relationship with Christ/your faith! Why? Because God has a purpose and a plan for you and wants to use you while you are here on Earth! God makes this clear in Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

While we are here on Earth, we can:

  • pray for/have a desire to raise a family (be married, have children)
  • pray for a good/exciting/challenging job (since we are meant to properly earn a living)
  • pray for/have a desire for good friends and relationships, enjoy activities/hobbies

All of that’s OK because these blessings are from God Himself, as long as the Lord Jesus does not become an after thought in your life and pursuing a relationship with Him (reading/studying the Bible, prayer, being an active part of the Church), and serving Him (not just in Church, but on a daily basis) – becomes a burden to you. Watch out! As much as you pray for all those blessings I mentioned earlier, you must pray even more for the Lord to use you to reveal His glory and lead others to Jesus, here on Earth!

So, to live is Christ means that while we are alive and here on Earth, we pursue the Lord with a passion and serve Him because of our relationship with Him, ensuring that every other area of our life (family, work, relationships, hobbies etc..) is directly influenced by that relationship we have with Him. And to die is gain means that even though we have the opportunity to pursue the Lord and enjoy all these wonderful blessings from Him here on Earth, we must not hold on to everything so tight that we wouldn’t want to leave (depart/die) and join the Lord Jesus in Heaven! We must be eager for that day to come so that we can be with Him, because we love Him and He loves us dearly.

Would you want to be separated for too long from the One (God/Jesus) who loves you more than anyone else on this planet (past, present or future)?

I pray that you have a better understanding of this verse now. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to ask me.

God bless you.

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  • Jason

    This really helped me understand what the phrase “to live is Christ to die is gain” means. I actually have a shirt that says this and up till now i didn’t know what it ACTUALLY meant! But now I do. So thank you!

  • Mary

    Dear friend, I am very glad I have found this website. Your explanation of Phillippians 1:21 was great and now I have a better understandingtthat I will share with my nephew who is in prison. God bless

  • Kit

    Wonderful commentary!!!!

    • Sri

      Thank you :)

  • jim

    You missed the mark on this. No man has risen. No one is in Heaven but God and Christ Jesus. All await his return. Paul just meant that to diw would be one more step closer to the day when he see’s Jesus face to face. He has not put immortality on yet.

    • Sri

      Jim, care to point out the specifics of how I missed the mark? You say no man has risen? What about Jesus who was born a virgin, crucified and rose again from the dead? I took two aspects of the verse, explaining how living for Paul was all about Christ and dying for Paul was about being with Christ, which is a gain. I don’t even see where you got the “he has not put immortality on yet” from my post.

      • Adam h

        Right on Sri!!!

  • Mushet

    I will be honest with you. You do a good exposition of this verse set but I think Paul was being even stronger than people think. If you recall, Paul was stoned by the Jewish religious people at Lystra, and in Corinthians, he said a man, himself, was caught up into the Third Heaven, and saw things that he was not allowed to tell and that are inexpressible. Think about it, Paul SAW Heaven face to face, and He was going to be able to be there with the LORD JESUS CHRIST our Savior, and never have to ever again deal with the problems of this Earth, in short, PAUL THE APOSTLE BECAME A SUICIDAL MANIAC AFTER THIS EVENT and while he did enjoy spreading and preaching the Gospel to lost people and encouraging Christians, most Christians don’t understand this: If you track Paul’s life and actions for the rest of the time until he is finally beheaded by the Romans Paul desired and SOUGHT PHYSICAL DEATH! Wouldn’t you? He did everything he could to get himself killed so he could be back up there with the Lord Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t you brothers and sisters? This world is full of stinking filth and sinful garbage and temptations and stresses and strains and emotional and mental problems, and wickedness through and through…and Paul got to experience the wordlessly joyful beauties of HEAVEN, clean and sparkling sin-free. If you want to live a long life on Earth you do not do the things Paul did. Thus Paul wanted to die physically so he could be there and that is totally okay with God.

    Now, a born-again Christian should not intentionally go out seeking a “death wish” but who in the world wants to spend fifty or sixty or seventy years down here in this rathole called Earth when you can go to Heaven and have all the good things you get here, with none of the bad things? Sounds to me like a good incentive for one to gobble down cheeseburgers and ice cream and pizza and other foods that taste good but are nice and artery clogging! :) God bless you all! I love you in Jesus!

    • Sri

      I do see what you are trying to say and do agree to some extend. I do believe that Paul wanted to be in heaven with the LORD, but he knew that it would happen in God’s timing. Until then, his purpose was to live for Christ. I do agree that we as Christians should have this same attitude. However, as you said, we don’t go around with a death wish. We serve Him as long as we are here and we rejoice when He calls us home.

  • http://www.darcylee.com darcylee.com

    Dying wouldn’t be so bad if it was gain.

    • Sri

      If you know Jesus/God, then it is a huge gain because when you die, you’ll be with God in heaven for all eternity!

  • Camryn

    Beautiful, praising The Lord that he led me to these words this morning!

    • Sri

      Thank you for encouraging me and I’m blessed to hear that these words were a blessing to you.

  • http://toliveforchristisgain Shameca

    I can say that everything you said make a hold lot of sense the holy sprit that live in me talking about the sprit of God that seat Jesus down here to save us. Men of God I learned when you are speaking on the truth the devil always fights agint it why because the bible say the truth will set you free. In everything u said line up with the word of God. Be Bless brother

    • Sri

      Yes, when we stand for the LORD and go by His Word, the enemy will attack us even more. Thank you for your encouragement :)

  • Susan B.

    Boy, I sure did NEED to read this today. Thank you ever so much for sharing this. I’ve been blessed. May God continue to bless you richly as well.

    • Sri

      Thank you my sister :) I am blessed to hear this! God bless you as you continue to walk on the straight and narrow with Christ our LORD.

  • Varghese Philip

    thanks brother to understand this powerful verse “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”increasing my inner strength and confidence.

    • Sri

      I am pleased to hear this brother and thank the LORD for using me to bless you! God bless you abundantly!

  • Michael

    Thank you Sri, I have been struggling for more than a week to put on paper what this verse means to me; you have said it more succinctly and clearly than all my pages of thoughts and notes have accomplished. You have said beautifully in a few paragraphs the thoughts that I have been struggling with for untold hours. I wanted to share with a few friends what this verse meant to me, and you have given me the exact clarity that I have been searching for. May the Lord continue to bless you and your studies.
    Michael