Most people focus on the second part of the verse, “to die is gain,” and contemplate the joys of heaven. But we should not overlook what comes before. The importance of the phrase “to live is Christ” cannot be overstated. In all honesty, this phrase should be central to every Christian’s life.
In this statement, the apostle Paul is saying that everything he has tried to be, everything he is, and everything he looked forward to being pointed to Christ. From the time of Paul’s conversion until his martyrdom, every move he made was aimed at advancing the knowledge, gospel, and church of Christ. Paul’s singular aim was to bring glory to Jesus.
“To live is Christ” means that we proclaim the gospel of Christ. Paul preached in synagogues; he preached at riversides; he preached as a prisoner; he preached as an apostle; he preached as a tentmaker. His message was constant: “Jesus Christ and him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2. He brought the message of Christ’s sacrifice to kings, soldiers, statesmen, priests, and philosophers, Jews and Gentiles, men and women. He would preach to literally anyone who would listen.
“To live is Christ” means that we imitate the example of Christ. Everything that Jesus did and said, that’s what Paul wanted to do and say. The church benefitted from his godly example: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” 1 Corinthians 11:1. What would Jesus do? That’s what we want to do.
“To live is Christ” means that we pursue the knowledge of Christ. We want to know Christ better and better each day. Not just a set of facts about Christ, but Christ Himself. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” Philippians 3:10-11.
“To live is Christ” means that we are willing to give up anything that prevents us from having Christ. Paul’s testimony in this regard: “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. All the things that you and I count as worthy, Paul said was one big ball of Nil! What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” Philippians 3:7-9. We cling to the promise of our Lord in Mark 10:29-30 that our sacrifices for Jesus’ sake will be repaid a hundredfold.
“To live is Christ” means that Christ is our focus, our goal, and our chief desire. Christ is the center point of our mind, heart, body and soul. Everything that we do, we do for Christ’s glory. As we run the “race marked out for us,” we lay aside the entangling sin and worldly distractions, “fixing our eyes on Jesus” Hebrews 12:1-2. After all, He is our life.