The Powerful Meaning Of Philippians 1:21 (to live is christ to die is gain meaning)

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

These words are some of the most memorable words in the entire Bible. But I think we often fail to reflect on the significance of the meaning of Philippians 1:21. 

This verse is powerful and should be not just words we memorize, but a rallying cry for followers of Jesus. 

In this blog post we are going to look at the Philippians 1:21 meaning and look at 3 ways it can apply to our everyday lives. I believe if you take a few minutes to reflect on this verse you will be challenged and encouraged in your faith.

The Context Of Philippians 1:21

To understand the meaning of Philippians 1:21 we need to understand the context, the surrounding words, that it was written in. 

The first thing we need to know is that book of Philippians really isn’t a book. It’s a letter. It was written by Paul to the church in Philippi. This church had been a larger support of Paul and his ministry. And now Paul wrote this letter from prison to people whom he loved. 

Things aren’t looking so good. Paul is in prison and being a follower of Jesus is becoming increasingly difficult. The purpose of this letter was to reassure and encourage this church that despite the circumstances God was still in control. 

Ironically, even though the circumstances were dire, this is one of Paul’s most positive and personal letters in the Bible. Paul doesn’t rebuke much in the church, rather he encourages and thanks them. And he spends much of his time focusing on Jesus, 51 references in fact.

In the immediate context of this verse we see Paul thanking the Philippine believers for supporting his ministry. And he explains that all this suffering he has faced has actually been for a good cause — the Gospel is still spreading.  

The Meaning Of Philippians 1:21

This is what leads us to the now-famous words, “to live is christ to die is gain.” These few words summarize Paul’s philosophy in life. And we will dive into what they mean in a minute. But it’s important that we remember where these words were being written from prison.

Paul penned Philippians 1:21 while sitting in a Roman prison. And the Romans weren’t exactly friendly; Paul’s life was in danger. He could be executed at any moment.

We cannot lose sight of where Paul was when these words were written. Paul is living out the meaning of Philippians 1:21, he’s practicing what he’s preaching. 

“To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain” Meaning

In these perilous circumstances, Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Paul is saying that regardless of what happens, whether he continues to live or his life ends, his life revolves around Jesus. His entire life revolves around Jesus and his work on the cross. 

Dr. Tom Constable says, “Paul’s only reason for existence is that he may spend his life in that glad service; and death for that cause will be the crowning service.”

Paul recognized what Christ had done for him, and now he gladly served him. And if he were to die in that service, then so be it. He knew that death was not the end; in fact it would be better for him to die because that meant he would be standing next to Jesus. 

This was his ultimate prize, to be with Jesus. While he was on earth he was committed to living for Christ. But he knew when he died, he would be with Christ. In other words, no matter what happens he wins. 

If we are honest, many of us have lost sight of this today. We live for money, fame, power, family, social media, happiness, and many other idols. We’ve settled for something less than what God has for us.

The meaning of Philippians 1:21 reminds us that it is Jesus who should be the center of our life. That we shouldn’t hang on too tightly to the things of this world, they will only fade and let us down. But Jesus never will. 

“To live is Christ to die is gain” is a reminder of what our mission is here on earth and that one day we will be in eternity with Jesus. For Christians we cannot forget this.  

For the world death is the end. The unbeliever has no hope in death. But for the Christian they should take a radically different approach. Paul did. He held tightly onto the hope found in the promises of Jesus. 

It was this hope that allowed Paul to endure his suffering and challenging circumstances. We too can face whatever is in front of us if we keep our eyes on Jesus. 

The meaning of Philippians 1:21 reminds followers of Jesus that we cannot lose. No matter what happens to us or around us, we still have Jesus. And Jesus + nothing = Everything. The “to live is Christ to die is gain” meaning applies to all followers of Jesus. 

Lessons From Philippians 1:21

Now that we’ve looked at the meaning of Philippians 1:21 let’s look at how we can apply this verse to our everyday lives. 

1. Living For Christ Is Not Easy 

Paul’s life was not easy. Because of his decision to follow Jesus he faced numerous hardships and ultimately died on the cross for his beliefs. 

If we decide to live for Christ we too will face hardships. There’s a reason that Jesus tells us in order to follow him we must pick up our cross first.

Some Christians falsely claim that the difficulties we face are from a lack of faith. If we just had more faith than our life would be easier. But that’s not what Jesus promised. Living for Christ will not be easy.


2. But It’s Better Than Anything Else We Could Live For

While living for Christ is not easy, it’s better than anything else we could give our life to. 

This is what Paul discovered. While he had to give up his life, he found something even better. He found peace, joy, hope, and a God who gave him unconditional love. He found a life of meaning. 

No where else can that be found, despite many searching for it. To live for Christ means that we will experience a meaningful and impactful life. It means that we can find peace, joy, and hope that’s not dependent on our circumstances. In short, to live for Christ is better than anything, or anyone, else we could live for. 

3. Death Is Not The End, But The Beginning

The reality is one day our life on this earth will end. For many that’s a terrifying thought and many choose to simply pretend that day isn’t coming. 

But followers of Jesus don’t need to live in fear or pretend it’s not going to happen to them. Rather we can hold onto the hope of spending eternity with the creator of the universe. 

Death isn’t the end, but the beginning. When we lose this life we gain an even better one in Christ.  

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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