For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain . Others, as Calvin, render (not so well), "For to me Christ is gain both in life and in death." The alternative suggested in Philippians 1:20 leads St. Paul to a short digression on the comparative advantages of life and death; he is content with either. Life is blessed, for it is Christ; comp. Colossians 2:4 , "Christ, who is our Life," and Galatians it. 20, "Not I, but Christ liveth in me;" " Quit-quid rive, Christum vivo " (Bengel). The life of Christ lives, breathes, energizes, in the life of his saints. His flesh, his incarnate life is their meat; his blood, the mystery of his atonement, is the drink of their souls. He abideth in them, and they in him. And yet death is gain; the slate of death, not the act of dying, is meant (the infinitive is aorist, τὸ ἀποθανεῖν ), for the dead in Christ are at home with the Lord ( ἐνδημοῦντες πρὸς τὸν κύριον ) in a far more blessed sense than the saints on earth.
The great alternative, life or death.
I. ST . PAUL IS PREPARED FOR EITHER ; "for," he says, "to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
1 . Christ was his life . Christ was magnified, not in his body only, in his labors and suffering, but in his spirit. The presence of Christ filled his whole conscious existence; communion with Christ was to him the very breath of life. Life was worth having only so far as the life of Christ was realized in the apostle's life. The outward life, with its comforts or its hardships, was as nothing in comparison with this inner life of the spirit. "Dost thou not, O blessed Paul, live the common life of men?" exclaims St. Chrysostom; "dost thou not see the sun, dost thou not breathe the air, dost thou not need sleep, food, clothing, like ourselves?" Yes, he needed these things; he sent for his cloak and books. But he lived in the spirit of the Savior's words, "Take no thought [no anxious thought] for your life;" "Seek ye first the kingdom of God." His real life was hidden—hidden with Christ whose presence filled his soul. He was dead unto the world, but alive unto God. He was conscious of high thoughts burning within him; there was a power there and an energy that lifted him up and strengthened him and filled him with calm and holy joy in all his many trials. But that new life was not his life: "Not I, but Christ." Christ was there; that sacred presence influenced the whole conscious life of the apostle, keeping up a current of pure, high, heavenly thought within his heart. Where that blessed presence dwelleth the outward life sinks into comparative insignificance. St. Paul scarcely counted that outward life as belonging to himself; it was full of change, shadowy, unreal His true, real life was the Life that lived within him. "To me to live is Christ."
2 . Death would be gain to St. Paul. Life in Christ is blessed; still more blessed are the holy dead. They rest from their labors; death removes them from the temptations, conflicts, cares of life. And to depart is to be with Christ, in his immediate presence. To see him thus, without the intervention of the veil of flesh, is gain, unutterable gain. But we must know by our own experience the power of Christ's life indwelling in our souls before we can feel with the apostle that death is truly gain.
II. ST . PAUL KNOWS NOT WHICH TO CHOOSE , LIFE OR DEATH . Who can tell the blessedness of such advanced holiness? Who would not gladly accept St. Paul's sufferings to share his calm faith? Life is blessed, for it is life in Christ. Death is blessed, "by much very far better," for it is to be with Christ. The apostle hesitates; he is in a strait between two alternatives—work for Christ here, and the life with Christ in Paradise.
1 . For himself his desire is set towards departing. Death is to him but the weighing anchor, or the taking down of his tent, the last stage in his journey to the heavenly country. The blessedness awaiting him there is beyond the power of language to express; it needs the tongue of angels.
2 . But he fears there may be something of selfishness in this lowing to depart. His continued life on earth may be necessary for the progress of the gospel. For his converts' sake he is willing to remain, for their furtherance and joy. A high example of most entire unselfishness.
3 . He leaves his will submissive to the higher will of God. God knows better than he what is best for the Church and for himself. One thing he knows: if his presence is needful, he shall continue with his converts; for his life and death are in the hands of God, and God doeth all things well.
1 . Death is no strange thing to the advanced Christian; he lives in habitual preparation for it.
2 . He knows that he is in the hands of God; knowing this, he is content to live, and content to die; "Thy will be done."
3 . More than this, he hath a desire to depart, for to depart is to be with Christ.
4 . But this holy resignation, this calm and blessed hope, implies a life of fellowship with Christ. "To me to live is Christ." Be it our most eager desire, our most earnest effort, thus to live.
The grand alternatives.
"To me to live is Christ, to die is gain." This elucidates as well as confirms his previous statement.
I. HIS NATURAL LIFE FINDS ITS SUPREME OBJECT IN CHRIST . The apostle does not here assert that Christ is his spiritual life, for the reference is strictly limited to his "life in the flesh." That life is supremely devoted to Christ.
1 . In all its thoughts. There never was a man whose intellectual life was so wrapped up in his Savior; his plans, his anxieties, his hopes, centred in him; every thought was brought into subjection to him; therefore his thoughts were not vain, or selfish, or earthly.
2 . In all its deeds. The apostle abounded in labors more than the other apostles. Yet Christ was the object of such holy activity. His ceaseless, exhausting works of love found their spring in the love of Christ as they marked his supreme devotion. Thus Christ was his life. It ought so to be with us all. "For whether we live, we live unto the Lord."
II. HIS DEATH WOULD BE GAIN . "To die is gain."
1 . This assertion seems hard to reconcile with human feeling. Death always involves loss of some sort. To the saint it involves the loss of many pure enjoyments of life, of happy domestic ties, of the means and opportunities of working for Christ; while to the sinner it is utter, irreparable loss.
2 . The assertion is not that of a mere pessimist , who asks , "Is life worth living?" nor of a worn-out roue , who has outlived the very sensation of enjoyment; nor of a holy man wearied out with exhausting labors and anxious to get quit of trials and persecutions. There is nothing in the apostle's writings to justify the conclusion that he was sour, or morose, or cynical, or merely attached to the scene of human existence at the point of duty; for he possessed hearty human sympathies and entered with spirit into all the schemes of true Christian life.
3 . His assertion marks the true connection that exists between death and the believer ' s gain. Death is pure gain; for it puts an end to all the losses which so largely shake human comfort in this life, to all the evils of sin, and to all temptations to sin; and it puts the believer in possession of his full inheritance with the perfection of grace, the blessed vision of God, the society of the just made perfect. It is gain:
Life here and hereafter.
The brave apostle, awaiting the slow issue of his case at Rome, has been speaking of the good effect of his imprisonment upon the promulgation of the gospel. He can see the good beneath the apparent evil. And now he speaks of the life he lives on earth and of the other life beyond the shadow of death. Let us notice the lessons as they are set before us here.
I. PAUL 'S SELF - ABANDONMENT TO CHRIST . ( Philippians 1:21 .) He surrendered himself in a spirit of entire consecration to Jesus, that he might do as he pleased with him. As in the parallel passage, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" ( Galatians 2:20 ), Paul's life was one of inspiration. Christ's Spirit entered into him and took possession of it, and moulded it according to his own gracious purposes. Of course, Paul's life was not a perfect realization of this inspiration, but it was an approximate realization. " τὸ ζῇν signifies here," says Rilliet, in loco , "the life par excellence— the life alone worthy of this name, in opposition to τὸ ζῇν ἐν σαρκί —this life; it is Christ, ὁ χριστὸς ἡ ζωὴ ἡμῶν ( Colossians 2:4 ). But the Christian, so long as he is here below, so long as he lives in the flesh, possesses Christ only incompletely, and has, consequently, only an imperfect life (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 )." Yet there is nothing that helps this approximation more than to face honestly the ideal that our lives ought to be lives abandoned to Christ and inspired by his Holy Spirit.
II. PAUL 'S GAIN AFTER DEATH ( Philippians 1:21 .) For it is the aorist which is here used, τὸ ἀποθανεῖν and so the apostle's meaning manifestly is, to use Alford's words, that "the state after death, not the act of dying," is the gain. Death in itself is no gain, but it leads to gain beyond it. The imperfect conditions of the present state being removed, the inspiration will have freer play, and all the gain which it necessarily entails. We can only feebly image the glorious condition beyond death; but to escape sin and be filled with the Spirit of Christ must be gain incalculable.
III. PAUL 'S PAUSE UPON THE BRINK . ( Philippians 1:22 .) He now speaks about the probability of his abiding some time longer in the flesh, and he shows that, if the fruit of his work depended upon this continuance in life, he dare not complainingly, desire to be released. He consequently pauses and leaves the issue in the higher hands of God. So that, as one writer sententiously puts it, he was "willing to wait, but ready to go." Bengel's remark is also most beautiful: "Alius ex opore fructum quaerit; Paulus ipsum opus pro fructu habet." Let it be ours not to seek our reward out of our work, but always in it!
IV. PAUL 'S EQUILIBRIUM . ( Philippians 1:28 .) The two desires which were so nicely balanced were—to depart and he with Christ which is very far better, and to abide in the flesh. The one would be a personal experience altogether blissful; the other would be a patience still fruitful in the welfare of others. Between the two he maintains a holy equilibrium. In either alternative he can be happy with his Lord.
V. PAUL 'S ASSURANCE OF MORE WORK IN THE PRESENT WORLD . ( Philippians 1:24-26 .) Paul did not hesitate to affirm that his life was a valuable one to the Philippian Church. There was no false modesty about the man. Moreover, his work for them would be with a view to their progress and joy in believing. Especially would this be promoted if he were allowed to visit the Macedonian Church again. If, then, this be the first Epistle of the captivity, as Lightfoot seems to think, the present assurance of Paul would correspond to these premonitions about recovery, which the Lord's servants often have in times of sickness. Is there not often an impression that a sick person will recover because of his own confident assurance of it? And when this is allied to such a holy and wholesome desire for the fulfillment of the Lord's work among men as Paul here manifests, it becomes intensely beautiful. We thus see that the life here and the life hereafter only tally when they are consecrated to Christ. It can consequently be left to the all-wise Lord whether meanwhile he would have our service there or here. Those who by his grace are willing to serve him with their whole hearts have nothing to fear, but everything to hope for, in the unending future with all its opportunities.—R.M.E.
Thoughts suggested by his captivity.
I. PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL IN ROME .
1 . Generally. "Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel." It might have been expected that his imprisonment, which is principally referred to, would have fallen out to the hindrance of the gospel. But Paul would have his Philippian brethren know, for their comfort and confirmation, that, though to some extent it had been a disadvantage, yet to a greater extent it had been an advantage· It was with it as with the early persecutions as a whole. They were intended by the Church's enemies to be for its destruction; but Divine wisdom overruled them for its increase. The scattering of the disciples brought about the fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel, "Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." The imprisonment of the ark was the fall of Dagon. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.
2 . In two particulars.
3 . More detailed statement in connection with the second particular. "Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one do it of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel: but the other proclaim Christ of faction, not sincerely, thinking to raise up affliction for me in my bonds." The first-mentioned class here is not to be identified with the minority of the verse just considered. For they could not be characterized as brethren in the Lord, and then as insincere. But the general class of those who spoke the word being suggested, we are told of some of them that they were actuated with unfriendly feelings towards Paul, and of others of them that they were actuated with friendly feelings. It showed the strength of the gospel movement in Rome, that it drew into it even those who were not friendly to Paul. Their first feeling was that of envy. Who would have thought of Paul becoming an object of envy in his bonds? Yet so it was, to the praise of an all-wise God, he conducted a movement in Rome from his very prison, personally and by his agents, with so much success that some were drawn into the movement from very envy toward him. Their further feeling was that of mischief. As Satan, envious of our first parents, desired to destroy their bliss by introducing sin, so they, filled with envy because of the good movement carried on by Paul, desired to destroy it by introducing division. To this badness of motive they did not add badness of doctrine. If they were Judaists at heart, they did not put forward Judaism in their teaching. That would have been to have defeated their ends, in view of the strong Christian character of the movement. No, they were more cunning. They were false prophets, inwardly ravening wolves, but they knew to appear in sheep's clothing. They preached Christ, as the others preached Christ. They were Pauline in their doctrine; but it was to gain influence, in order to use it for the subverting of Paul. The other class mentioned here is to be identified with the majority previously mentioned. They were his brethren in the Lord, and they were brotherly toward him. Their feeling was that of good will. And, loving Paul and sympathizing with him in his strivings, they preached Christ. Taking the two classes in an inverted order, of the latter he now says that they preached Christ of love. As love is the great moving cause in God, so it was in them as under his influence. Love worked in them, along with the knowledge of the position for which Paul was destined. He was set for the defense of the gospel. He was appointed to make a stand against worldly powers, to bear the brunt of their opposition to Christ. It was a perilous position, requiring extraordinary courage, and its perilousness was not yet past; but they were willing to subserve him in it, in cheering his heart by the preaching of Christ. Turning now to the first class, he declares that their feeling was a spirit of faction, such as rules only in unregenerate hearts. They did not preach Christ sincerely, i.e. from love for him, or desire to extend the knowledge of his Name. But what moved them to preach Christ, or rather—for another word is now used with a slight change in meaning—to make Christ fully known, was the thought (not knowledge, as in the previous clause, and the apostle seems to indicate that it was nothing more than a thought) that it would never be realized—the thought of raising up affliction for him in his bonds, apparently by undermining his influence and forming an antagonistic party.
4 . Feelings of the apostle in view of what has been stated.
(a) Assurance that it would result in good to him. " For I know that this shall turn to my salvation, through your supplication and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." The apostle seems to have in view the whole state of matters described. His imprisonment is in the background, and in the foreground this on which he has been dwelling, that there were around him in his imprisonment many who preached Christ from friendly feelings toward him, but some also who made the preaching of Christ only a cloak for designs against him. He knew—his tone is that of certainty—that this would turn differently from what it was in part intended to do, to his highest good. But they must give him their prayers. He needed them in the critical position in which he was placed. Yes, God, who knew all the movements that affected him, and could counterwork all the designs of his enemies, must extend his help. He must especially, through their prayers for this, supply the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Then would he be able to act, even as Christ acted, so that all that happened to him would turn—though that might not be its nature—to his good.
(b) Hopefulness as to his accomplishing his destiny. "According to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing shall I be put to shame, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death." God had wrought for him in the past, and so he was not without hope for the future. Nay, he had an earnest expectation and hope. His eye, taken off everything else, was strained toward this, that in nothing he should be put to shame, in not exhibiting the proper spirit or carrying out his proper destiny. The proper spirit for his circumstances was boldness. God had always enabled him to be bold in the past; he would not allow him to be faint-hearted now, when he was looking forward to his trial. And his proper destiny, as he conceived it, was this, that Christ should be magnified in his body, whether that body should be preserved alive for the future service of the Master, or whether it should be given up in martyrdom. Thus through one instrumentality viz. Paul's imprisonment, it was true, that God wrought various ends. Let us, even when we do not see what he is doing, trust in him as all-wise. "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." The forces of evil may seem to hold the Church in imprisonment; but let us trust that from the imprisoned Church, made, to feel the cruel hand of worldliness and scepticism, there shall go forth a wider, more glorious proclamation of Christ, as alone meeting the wants of men. And let us trust, too, that the Church shall come forth purified, saved, and more hopeful against the forces of evil. And if we feel individually as in a prison-house, from evil without or within, let us look to the all-wise God to make our prison-house the means of Christ being better known, and of our souls being blessed with more of the elements of salvation, and with more hopefulness of accomplishing our destiny to the glory of Christ.
II. HE CALMLY CONTEMPLATES THE QUESTION OF LIFE OR DEATH .
1 . He feels If , at the advantage to himself is in dying.
(a) W hat it is to make Christ the end of our life. It is to make everything a means toward the advancement of the glory of Christ. This is the aspect in which it is regarded in the context, and to which the connecting word refers us. It was the ambition of the apostle that Christ should be magnified in his body by life or by death. We are to seek nearer ends, such as self-preservation, proficiency in our earthly calling, but not as ends in themselves. There is only one absolute end, and that is Christ. Everything is to be set aside as useless, impertinent, which cannot be directed to Christ. Even a life devoted to science, to philanthropy, must be rejected as unworthy, unless it is humbly lived for Christ. All our efforts, as all our prayers, must be in his Name, all the fruits of our life we must lay at his feet. We have to plan our lives differently; for that is dependent on our natural capacities and on our circumstances; but there is to be this unity in them all, that they are to be planned so that they shall bring the largest revenue of glory to Christ. Let us, then, have our end clearly in view, and let us pursue it intelligently, and with all the simplicity and abandonment with which men of the world sometimes pursue their ends.
(b) Why Christ is the end of our life. It was Christ who was the reason for our being originally brought into existence. And as we came from his hand (for by him, as well as for him, were all things made) we were rich in opportunity. By sin, however, our existence became so heavily weighted, that, left to ourselves, it would have been better if we had not been born. We owe it to Christ that, by coming into our nature and dying for us, he has made our life worth living. He has redeemed it from the disability of sin, and has made it rich in the opportunity of everlasting glory. And on account of what he has done for us, he is entitled to be the end of our life.
(c) How Christ is fitted to be the end of our life.
( α ) He fills the imagination. In him we have One to live for, who combines in his character every excellence, and in the superlative degree, who leaves every other immeasurably behind, who towers high above the highest flight of the strongest imagination. And while the story of his life is more wonderful than is to be found in romance, it has all the charm of reality.
( β ) He appeals to the heart. Love is the great argument by which he makes his appeal to us. He goes down to the lowest depths for us, and then, coming up, he beseeches us by his tears and agonies. In life's trials, from his own experience of them, he encourages us and beckons us on: "In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
( γ ) He calls forth the energies. Worldly objects call forth the energies of men. "Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise (that last infirmity of noble minds) to scorn delights and live laborious days." To have a loved one to labor for has been the spur to many a man's energies, which otherwise would have flagged. It is the glory of Christ that, though he is viewless, he calls forth our energies purely, equally, in the highest degree, with the greatest pleasureableness. Paul tells us that Christ was the end of his life. When he was thirty years of age, he suddenly discovered that he had been entirely mistaken in the end of his life, and that he had lived all these years to no purpose. Then, in a miraculous manner, the claims of Christ asserted their power over him, and from that point the crucified One became the magnet of his course. To him to live was Christ. Grasping the plan of his life, he made everything subservient to the magnifying of the Savior, in the making of him known. It was Christ who ever came into the study of his imagination. It was Christ whose Name was branded into his heart. It was his unseen Savior who drew forth from him a power of work beyond what has ever been witnessed.
2 . The consideration of advantage to others by his continuing in life makes him undecided. "But if to live in the flesh,—if this is the fruit of my work, then what I shall choose I wet not. But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better." He has shown a leaning to the alternative of dying. But had the other alternative, viz. living in the flesh, no hold upon him? How did it stand related to his work, i.e. the work given him on earth to do? Had he yet accomplished all the good to others that was intended by his labors? Let it be supposed that his living in the flesh was the condition of carrying out his life-task in its fruitfulness to others, then he felt at a loss which alternative to choose. He was in a strait betwixt the two. He felt the obligation of finishing his life-work with all the good that might result from it to others. But he felt, on the other hand, a desire to depart and be with Christ, which was very far better. Let the form of the desire be noted. He had a desire to depart. The reference is to breaking up a camp. Our body is the earthly tabernacle in which we live. We have a natural aversion to break up our earthly encampment. We become attached to our dwelling and its surroundings, even by long use. The apostle had triumphed over this, so as even to desire to break up his earthly encampment. Severe or long-continued sickness may bring on the desire for death. "As a servant," says Job, "earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work: so am I made to possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me. When I lie down, I say, When shall i arise, and the night be gone? and I am hall of tossings to and fro until the dawning of the day." Old age may make us feel that we are becoming unfitted for life. "I am this day fourscore years old: … can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women?" Or our uncongenial surroundings may make us sigh for a change. "Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!" What had principally influence with the apostle was the attraction of the life beyond. The earthly breaking up, or what he elsewhere calls his absence from the body, would be his presence with the Lord. He felt drawn to the Lord, with whom he had vital union and communion, and to the invisible world over which he presided, and to the people who were there happy with him. He felt that to have face-to-face and affectionate intercourse with him, to have a new comprehension of his mind and a new reception of his Spirit, was better than being here. It was far better. Nay, he uses a triple comparative, and his language, deliberately chosen, is, that it is "very far better." It is to have Christ in his incomparable worth and glory disclosed to us and enjoyed by us as he cannot be here.
3 . The consideration of advantage especially to the Philipians by his continuing in life ultimately prevails with him. "Yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide, yea, and abide with you all." While he had a strong tending toward the Lord, it was not an impatient, precipitate tending. He was not mutinous against the Divine disposal of him. There was wisdom in his state of mind. He saw clearly that it was for his own advantage to depart. But he saw, at the same time, that it was more needful, for such as the Philippians, that he should abide in the flesh. And when it came to be a question between personal bliss and work to be done by him, there could be no doubt on what side his decision would be given. He had enough of the spirit of the Master, like him, to forego heavenly bliss for earthly work. He was not one to decline present duty, and to grasp at the prize without having run the prescribed race. While he was even desirous to embrace the gain of dying; he could not refuse the obedience of life. Out of the confidence that he had work to do rose the knowledge that he would abide with the Philippians, and still abide with them. The decisiveness with which he thus speaks of abiding shows that he contemplated a successful termination to his trial. He would abide after the great crisis was past. We are not to understand him speaking with prophetic certainty. He knew that the Ephesians would see his face no more when he parted with them at Miletus; he knew that he would abide for the sake of the Philippians. There is reason to think that he was mistaken in the first case , and that he was right in the second case. In both cases he simply proceeded on his own reasonings. In the former case it was anticipated evil at Jerusalem which weighed with him. In the latter case it was the consideration of work to be done especially among the Philippians. Twofold object contemplated in his continuance.
(1) On his part. "For your progress and joy in the faith."
(a) Progress in the faith. He had rendered them assistance in the past. He had introduced them into the faith of the gospel. He had, by visits to them and agents sent to them, helped them forward in the faith. He here intimates to them that it would be his object, when released from imprisonment, of which he was confident, to pay them a visit, and to present Christ so that their faith would become more enlightened, more lively, more steadfast.
(b) Joy in the faith. This is the blessed result of believing. "The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." If we believe that God goes out toward us in infinite love, that in Christ he is favorable to us as sinners, dud has laid up for us everlasting happiness, then there is, in what we believe, foundation for a joy which should be ecstatic.
III. HE EXHORTS THEM TO PERFORM THEIR DUTIES AS CHRISTIAN CITIZENS .
1 . Generally. "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ." The leading word in the original means, "perform your duties as citizens," and the further thought is that we are to perform our duties in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ which has made us members of so great a commonwealth. And it need not be wondered at that the apostle should adopt the form of expression, writing from the Roman metropolis to a city which was invested with the Roman franchise. The citizens of Philippi could appreciate the force of an appeal founded upon their possession of the political franchise. It was this ground which they took up against Paul and Silas: "These men set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive or to observe, being Romans." The apostle here proceeds upon their being members of a greater commonwealth than the Roman. It was a commonwealth presided over by a greater than Caesar, even the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a commonwealth where members were admitted to greater privileges than Rome could bestow, viz. sonship with right of access to God, right of Divine protection, right of Divine direction, right of Divine strengthening, and right of dwelling with God at last. Let them perform their duties as citizens, then, in a manner worthy of the gospel which had admitted them to so great privileges.
2 . Their performance of their duties as Christian citizens to be independent of his presence with them. "That, whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear of your state." This brings out the force of the foregoing "only . " Their performance of their duties was not to be dependent on his presence with them. He proceeds upon the supposition of his being re]cased. When released, it would be his endeavor to come and see them. But it was possible that Providence might direct his steps elsewhere. And even though he came and saw them, it could only be for a time. He could not, in justice to others, be always with them. But whether he came and saw them, or was absent, he would hear (by attraction to latter) of their state, whether they were performing their duties as Christian citizens or not.
3 . He specifies two duties which devolved upon them as citizens in connection with military service.
(a) Their undauntedness a Divine token. "Which is for them an evident token of perdition, but of your salvation, and that from God." It was a Divine token with a double meaning. It was a token of perdition to the adversaries. It was a proof that they were in the wrong, seeing that, by all their threatenings and tortures, they could not make the Christians blench. And it was a token of salvation, of final victory, to the Christians. It was a proof to them that they were in the right, and would be shown to be in the right, seeing that their faith raised them above the influence of fear.
(b) Called to a high destiny which they shared with Paul. "Because to you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer in his behalf: having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me." To all who deserve the name of Christians it is given to witness for Christ by their faith. To some it is given to witness for Christ by their sufferings. Of this number was Paul, who had earned the name of confessor when at Philippi, and was bearing the same name at Rome. He was in painful conflict with the powers of the world. And the same conflict these Philippian Christians endured. Let them rejoice in their high destiny, that thereby they were enrolled in the noble army of confessors and martyrs.—R.F.
An ideal life blooming into a happy death.
"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Paul, having expressed in the close of the preceding verse his supreme resolve that Christ should be magnified in his body, whether it be by life or by death, here describes the life he was determined to live, and the death which he was certain to realize. The subject of these words is—An ideal life blooming into a happy death. Here is—
I. AN IDEAL LIFE . "For to me to live is Christ." An utterance this terse and pithy, carrying the divinest idea of life. The meaning may be thus expressed: living , I shall live Christ. I shall live as he lived, with the same master purpose and inspiration. In relation to this life two remarks may be made.
1 . It is sadly rare. Indeed, it is rare to live at all; living and existing are widely different conditions of being. All who breathe, sleep, eat, drink, follow out their animal instincts, exist; but none but those who have some dominant purpose that fires their passions and concentrates their faculties, live. To live means earnestness in some pursuit or other; the pursuit may be political, martial, mercantile , literary, artistic, or religious, and all who are earnest in their quest may be said to live. But this kind of life is rare. Millions exist on this earth for seventy years, and do not in this sense live one day; whereas those who have lived earnestly have become grey and old in a single night. The martyr, the night previous to his execution, lives years in a few hours. The thoughtless thousands who bowed to the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, existed ; the three Hebrew youths lived an age the night before they were thrown into the fiery furnace. Saul of Tarsus lived the three days and three nights after he was divinely smitten with the conviction of sin, while he lay still and sightless. Indeed, to be earnest in anything is to live. If you take a census of those who exist on the earth, you have only to count the numbers that breathe, and they are legion; but if you take the census of those who live , you must count the souls that are really in earnest, and they are in a terrible minority. But whilst it is rare for men to live at all, it is far rarer for men to live to Christ , to live the ideal life, the life in which all bodily impulses are governed by the intellect, and all the intellectual faculties governed by the conscience, and all the powers of the conscience ruled by the will of God. To live as Christ lived is to become incarnations of him. This was the life that Paul determined to live, and with this deter-ruination he brought all the rivulets issuing from the heart-ocean of his being into the majestic stream of a Christly philanthropy and devotion. Alas! again, how rare this life! If the masses of men who are really in earnest , and who therefore live , were to express their belief. he they would say, "For us to live is wealth, power, science ;"—no more. Christ is no more to them than any of the gods of Olympus.
2 . It is manifestly imperative. It is urged on every man by the authority of reason, conscience , and the gospel.
II. AN IDEAL LIFE BLOOMING INTO A HAPPY DEATH . "To die is gain." To whom? To the man whose life is Christly. It is not gain to those who live to sensual enjoyments and worldly interests. No; by it they lose all that makes tolerable the existence. But to the Christly man it is "gain " on two accounts.
1 . On account of what it takes away. Physical afflictions, secular anxieties, mental imperfections, moral depravities, spiritual temptations; in one word, all that pains the body, deludes the judgment, saddens the heart, and deadens the conscience.
2 . On account of what it bestows. Perfection in his being, character, friendships, worship, enjoyments. Death is indeed then "gain." Shall the Christ-living man dread it? Shall the diseased man dread the hour in which he leaves his couch of suffering and weakness, and goes forth into the green fields of nature with vigorous limbs and buoyant health? Shall the exile dread the hour when the bark that bears him from the scenes of long banishment shall touch his native shores? Shall the prisoner under the sentence of death dread the hour, promised by the clemency of his sovereign, when his fetters shall be struck off, and his dungeon door be opened, and he shall go forth to family and friends again? Sooner may this be than a Christ-living man dread death.
CONCLUSION . How often preachers exhort their hearers to prepare for death, urging sometimes with marvellous animal vehemence most utilitarian considerations! Let them cease this work, and urge them to prepare to live Christ: right living ensures happy dying. The ideal life lived out will bloom and fructify into a blessed immortality.—D.T.
The gain of death.
I. Two MOODS IN WHICH PEOPLE FEEL THAT TO DIE IS GAIN .
1. The wrong wood , but the more usual one. W hen it is an expression of weariness and a desire to escape from suffering, responsibility, labor, temptation. This desire is a selfish one, and may mean no more than that he who expresses it is living for himself.
2 . The right mood. When "to live is Christ." This is the mood in which St. Paul speaks. Christ had so taken possession of him that he was no longer living a separated life, but Christ's life was being lived in him. This is a bard life, but a joyous one. They who experience it find that it includes his cross, his yoke, his peace, his joy.
II. How can it be gain TO DIE , IF TO LIVE IS CHRIST ? To die cannot be more than Christ! But it can be more of Christ. To the Christian death is a closer union with Christ, and is to find a higher life in him. To Jesus' to die was gain, and in the Christian, in whom Christ lives, the experience of Jesus is reproduced . He finds in death, not more of Christ crucified, but more of Christ risen, which is the exaltation of Christ crucified. Note how the "Nunc Dimittis" breathes this same spirit. Spoken by one who had seen the salvation of God, and to whom, therefore, to live was Christ, he is ready to depart, knowing that he will thereby see more of Christ. Only when we can say, "To live is Christ," can we say, "To die is gain." Only when Christ is in our arms and in our hearts can we say, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace."—V.W.H.
"To me to live is Christ."
Here is the secret of the wonderful life of St. Paul and the ideal of the true Christian life everywhere. In so far as we approach this ideal we are Christian. The whole scope and aim and energy of Christianity are included in the conception of "living Christ.."
I. CHRIST GIVES THE PATTERN FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE . Christianity is Christlikeness. Only they who have the Spirit of Christ are his. The one call of Christ is "Follow me." St. Paul carries this truth out very fully in his descriptions of the assimilation of the Christian to Christ through every stage—birth (in the new birth), humiliation, self-denial and service in life, death (to sin and the old life), resurrection (to the newer spiritual life), and ascension (the setting our affections on heavenly things). We must beware of mere servile imitation in following the footsteps of our Lord. We are to seek to have the mind that was in him. If our circumstances are different from these of the first disciples, we have to inquire, not simply what was done in Galilee in the first century, but what would Christ do in England in the nineteenth century?
II. CHRIST INSPIRES THE PURPOSE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE . The Christian is the servant of Christ. His object in life should not be to seek his own welfare, but to do Christ's work. It may be that he will suffer personal loss. That will not stand in his way if his spirit is right. For if Christ has died for us the least we can do is to live for him; and even though hardships ensue, we have to remember that we have only to be like Simon, bearing the cross, whilst Christ was nailed to it. So long, therefore, as our object is simply to secure the salvation of our own souls, to be sure of peace here and of heaven hereafter, we have not learnt the very alphabet of the Christian life. That life consists in denying ourselves and living for Christ.
III. CHRIST INSPIRES THE POWER NECESSARY FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE . To live as Christ lived! To deny ourselves and serve Christ! These are hard things, impossible simply as duties to be performed in our own strength. But the gospel of the cross is "the power of God." Morally, the influence of the love of Christ constraining us is great. Spiritually, the power of the indwelling Christ is the real secret of the Christian life.—W.F.A.