For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.Philippians 1:21(ESV)
If you read Philippians 1:21 without pause, something is wrong. Take some time now to consider this verse. How do you get to that point where you truly believe that death would be true “gain”?
Every time I read that verse I’m amazed at the apostle Paul. As John Piper has reminded me, Paul can say this with a full heart because he truly makes Jesus his highest treasure. Admittedly, I’m not always like Paul. I’d like to stay alive and enjoy worldly pleasures for a bit first, thanks.
Not so fast. Are the pleasures I can experience here on earth better than the pleasures of Heaven? Is being here on earth really better than being in the presence of God? Clearly something is not right with my perspective. Isn’t Jesus great enough that I should be stoked to die for him, even right now?
So how do I actually treasure Jesus as I should? Unfortunately, I can’t just flick a switch to change my heart. None of our desired heart change happens apart from the work of God’s own Spirit. He shows me how much I need to constantly see, savour, and sacrifice for Jesus. Only then am I cultivating a heart that truly and deeply treasures God above all else. In order to treasure Christ to the point where I would consider it gain to die, I try to keep the following three points in mind.
Paul says later in Philippians 3:14 that he presses onward towards the upward call of Christ. This reminds me to lift my eyes to heaven instead of just the road before me, and thus be looking to Jesus and running the race of faith with endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2). Paul reminds me to be conscious of my fleeting time on earth, and be one who knows that his life is temporal. I need to remind myself of C.T. Studd’s studly quote: “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ shall last.”
How do we “see” Jesus? The idea is one of intimacy, and is illustrated by the phrase “in-to-me-see.” It’s one thing to visually see a person (which we don’t with Jesus – 1 Peter 1:8); it’s another to truly, intimately “see” their person. This happens when we communicate with and genuinely experience them.
I can communicate with Jesus: in prayer, in getting to know what he is like and what he values from reading the Scriptures (his communication to us), and in living a life of faith and fellowship with the body of Christ (other Christians). When we do these things, we grow into Christ-likeness (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:16).
When things are ideal (i.e. we have time and motivation), we actually want to do these things. But even if we don’t, we must cultivate the discipline to do so! So put your foot down and start with baby steps, and pray God would help you in that process.
Savouring is like letting something sit in your mouth and enjoying it. When you wolf down food or just eat for the sake of eating, you risk getting sick or bloated, and you completely miss out on the goodness that is food (well, as long as it is good food). What kind of spiritual life will you have if you never enjoy God and yet do all these things that are supposedly for him? Resentment and bitterness are just around the corner.
In Don Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, he reminds us that discipline without direction is drudgery. Drudgery is plain dull work. But our labours for Christ should never be that.
We will undoubtedly find ourselves feeling dull or tired of certain things in our Christian life, and it may well be that some seasons call for change. There’s no need to freak out.
But more likely, we need to remember why it is we are doing what we do. We are coming alongside God as he changes us and the lives of others for eternity, bringing glory to God and storing up treasures that we will enjoy in heaven forever. We are investing in order to reap unthinkable rewards when we die and are resurrected. And we are making our lives better by enjoying and obeying the God that has blessed us with so much to enjoy.
Sometimes we just need a bit of time to step back and be thankful for what we are seeing and what gifts God has given us. We need to enjoy God by enjoying his gifts, be they food, friends, family, fun or the like.
In Randy Alcorn’s heaping volume, Heaven, he ponders and reflects on the biblical doctrine of worship. What is true worship, at its core? What will worship in Heaven look like?
The fact is, we won’t be just singing in corporate worship for eternity. We will worship and enjoy God in similar ways that we do now: through productive work to bring about human flourishing, and through enjoying the fruits of that labour. When we eat or drink, we will do so to the glory of God.
That’s how we are supposed to savour Jesus Christ even now while we are on fallen earth. We spend time with believers and thank God for them. We do the same with the food we eat, the games we play, and the things we create. We enjoy and worship the Creator by enjoying and being thankful for his creation.
For me, this means hosting board games and movie nights at my house. It means joking and laughing with those closest to me. It means doing evangelism and writing to the glory of God through my work. It means letting the amazing truths of the Bible transform me and feed my soul. I thank God for these things, and I consider them a taste of the goodness of God (Ps. 63:5).
In Philippians chapter 3 the apostle Paul says that he counts all things as loss (he even uses the word meaning “dung”… that’s poo) in comparison to knowing Christ. John Piper points out that this is essentially putting all things in one’s life under Christ. If I am faced with a choice between Christ and something else, I choose Christ. I am ready to let go of anything I have to in order to honour Christ. This is a mindset that we are called to live out daily.
For example, given the biblical view that sex is for marriage and alcohol is for moderation, if you’re a Christian who gets hammered and has premarital sex, you are called to sacrifice these behaviours for Christ. If you don’t, you aren’t treasuring Christ, and you are setting yourself up for failures far beyond the spiritual in your life.
Perhaps for you it’s grades. Are you placing your school performance before Christ? Are you caring more about what your family or friends think than what God thinks?
If we are to truly treasure Christ and believe that “to die is gain,” we must recognize that even the good things can become “God things.” God calls us to sacrifice them, or at least be willing to, counting them as loss. As we sacrifice for Christ, we are training ourselves to treasure Christ more than lesser things. We instead look to and enjoy him and the life he has called us to. All of this is essential to the renewing of our minds Paul calls us to in his earlier letter to the Romans (12:1-2).
Like most things in life, our hearts can fluctuate. Sometimes, we feel ready to put our lives on the line for Christ. Other times, we’d sooner just forget the gospel than fight for it. But this is progressive sanctification.
Deep down, if you’re a Christian, I think there is always a desire to give it all up for Christ. If it’s not always coming out on the surface, don’t worry. God is patient with you. Pray and be faithful to work hard in following Christ. As you take the steps God would have you take, and as you see, savour and sacrifice for Jesus, your heart will change by His great grace.