Most Christians are quite familiar with Paul’s great words in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (NIV). Or as the Geneva Bible has it, “For Christ is to me bothe in life, and in death advantage.” Thomas Watson (d. 1686) wrote a nice brief explanation of this verse in A Body of Divinity. Here’s Watson:
We must understand from Paul about spiritual life. ‘For to me to live is Christ’, i.e. Christ is my life (Gregory of Nyssa); or thus, my life is made up of Christ. As a wicked man’s life is made up of sin, so Paul’s life was made up of Christ: he was full of Christ. That I may give you the sense of the text more fully, take it in these three particulars:
1) ‘For to me to live is Christ’ i.e.. Christ is the principle of my life. I fetch my spiritual life from Christ, as the branch fetches its sap from the root. ‘Christ liveth in me.’ Gal. 2:20. Jesus Christ is a head of influence; he sends forth life… into me, to quicken me to every holy action. Thus, ‘for to me to live is Christ’: Christ is the principle of my life; from his fulness I live, as the vine branch lives from the root.
2) ‘For to me to live is Christ’, i.e., Christ is the end of my life; I live not to myself but to Christ. So Grotius and Casaubon, Christo servio, ‘For me to live is Christ;’ all my living is to do service to Christ. ‘Whether we live, we live unto the Lord.’ Rom. 14:4. When we lay out ourselves wholly for Christ. as the factor trades for the merchant, so we trade for Christ’s interest. We propagate his gospel; the design of our life is to exalt Christ, and make the crown upon his head flourish. It may then be said, for to us to live is Christ; our whole life is a living to Christ.
3) ‘For to me to live is Christ’, i.e., Christ is the joy of my life. ‘God my exceeding joy,’ or the cream of my joy. Ps. 43:3. A Christian rejoices in Christ’s righteousness. He can rejoice in Christ when worldly joys are gone. When the tulip in a garden withers, a man rejoices in his jewels; when relations die, a saint can rejoice in Christ, the pearl of price. In this sense, ‘For to me to live is Christ’; he is the joy of my life; if Christ were gone, my life would be a death to me.
It should exhort us all to labor to say as the apostle, ‘For to me to live is Christ’: Christ is the principle of my life, the end of my life, the joy of my life. If we can say, ‘For to me to live is Christ,’ we may comfortably conclude, that to die shall be gain.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)