When an EMT arrives on the scene of an accident, he first surveys the scene. Sometimes he has to treat minor wounds and sometimes he has to tend to unconscious victims. Breathing? Check. Pulse? Check. Ok, at least they’re alive, right? A person does not always have to look the most lively to be considered living.
Then again, a person doesn’t have to be decomposing in a casket to be dead.
Let me explain. We’ve all probably at least heard Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” And some of you even understood it when you first heard it. Sadly, it took me until this summer to get anything out of this scripture. Context is everything. Immediately following this famous verse, Paul conveniently elaborates:
“If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me…My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
Good stuff, Paul. I think we can all agree that “to die is gain.” It would be easier and more pleasant for any Christian to go be with Jesus than to stay here. If you disagree, I challenge you to leg wrestle over it. Earth presently offers deception, pain, tears and imperfection. If, however, we die, we are freed from this world, made new in the presence of Holy Himself. I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs of eternity, but what I can tell you is that suffering is not a thing once we get past mortality.
I want to camp out on living. What does “to live is Christ” mean? Well, what does it mean to say “fire is hot”? It means that fire is hot. Heat is a defining attribute of fire. Fire and hot are inseparable. If something looks and behaves like fire, yet is not hot, it cannot be fire. In the same way, Paul literally equates life with serving Christ. The two are tantamount. If your life is not marked by “fruitful labor” for Christ, you are, by definition, not living.
I am not questioning the salvation of those who are not bearing fruit. That is not my responsibility, but those failing to bear fruit should be warned that they are not living the abundant life that Christ came to give them. We have the choice daily to either serve Christ or serve self. One of these is defined as true living, while the other is inglorious waste. I aim to admonish those who faithfully labor for the former and challenge those who cling to the latter.
Micah Kinard of Oh, Sleeper puts it beautifully in one of the band’s songs: “if death is victory, how afraid of life can we be?” Kinard, as well as Paul, acknowledges here that going to be with the Lord would be a victory, but he also recognizes that we are called to fearless, fruitful service while we’re here. Choose life.