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Imagine for a moment that you were given the choice between life and death. Which would you choose? For many of us, the question seems almost foolish. Duh, of course we choose LIFE. A more analytical person might say, “It depends on what is at stake.” But, if life and death were to run for office the popular vote would no doubt be in favor of life. Perhaps it is superfluous to say but life would then, unquestionably, be reelected for a second term. After all the choice seems elementary. We choose life!

However, this is what makes the Apostle Paul’s statements in Philippians 1:20-23 so astonishing. Unlike many, Paul did not view death as something to be feared or even avoided. Rather Paul considered death to be gain. Gain? Really? So what exactly allowed Paul to view death as gain? These verses teach us that death is viewed as gain when Jesus is seen as magnificent. This was true of the Apostle Paul and it is true of us as well.

In Philippians 1:20a Paul says, “...it is my eager expectation and hope.” At first it might seem strange to see these words side by side. After all, if Paul expects something why does he also hope that it will happen? But, Paul is not using the word “hope” in the same way we typically do. Paul is speaking in much more sure and matter of fact terms. We could define this kind of hope as, “expectation combined with assurance.”[1] This hope that Paul has is stated both negatively and positively in the second half of verse 20. Negatively he says, “that I will not be at all put to shame.” Positively Paul’s hope is that, “Christ would be magnified in his body.” Much like a telescope helps us to better understand the magnitude of Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. So also, Paul wanted the magnitude of Jesus to be better understood through his life – but also in his death. This is what he meant when he said, “whether by life or by death.” At this point we must pause and ask ourselves a question. How can a person show Jesus to be magnificent in BOTH their living and in their dying?

For many of us, it is not difficult to see how a life lived for Jesus can indeed magnify him. It is magnifying him in death that doesn’t seem to follow conventional wisdom. The hope found in the gospel, however, is not conventional. So while some may say that death, “robs you of the very life that can magnify him [Jesus].”[2] Paul anticipates that Christ will be magnified in both his living and his dying. He says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Sometimes it is easy to read these words without considering their importance. But for Paul, this verse was far more than a great saying to screen print on a t-shirt or coffee mug. This verse is a summary statement of the proceeding verses (i.e. verses 19-20). It tells us HOW Christ could be magnified in Paul’s life and death. Verses 22-26 could be described as a commentary explaining both halves of verse 21 more clearly.

In Philippians 1:23b we find how Christ could be magnified in his death. He says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” You might ask, far better than what? The answer. He is better then anything! How do we magnify Christ in death? “We magnify Christ in our dying precisely to the degree that we believe fellowship with him in heaven is more preferred than any person or any thing in this earth.”[3] When we view life this way, it changes the way we understand death. Death is no longer seen as a something that threatens too rob us of the things we love. Rather it seen as the fulfillment of our greatest longing, namely to be with Jesus. This is what Paul means when he says to die is gain. For Paul, “Death is gain because death means more of Christ, and he’s better than anything this life can give.”[4] 


[1] Eadie, John. A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. Reprint ed. Minneapolis: James and Klock Christian Publishing Co., 1977, 45-46.

[2] Piper, John. Don’t Waste Your Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009, 66.

[3] ‘John Piper’s Candidating Sermon at Bethlehem Baptist’. January 27, 1980. Accessed March 30, 2016. http://www. desiringgod.org/messages/john-pipers-candidating-sermon-at-bethlehem-baptist.

[4] ‘Philippians 1: 20–23: To Die Is Gain’. December 18, 2014. Accessed March 30, 2016. http://www.desiringgod.org/labs/ to-die-is-gain.