Philippians 1:21 could be described as a summary of Paul’s life. As if someone had said to Paul, ‘Tell us about yourself in sixty seconds,’ and he replied with the words of our text.
Why did he want to live for Jesus? Many reasons could be given, but here are six. First, he lived for Jesus because Jesus had lived for him – the Saviour had provided by his life a perfect righteousness for all of his people. Second, Paul lived for Jesus because Jesus had died for him on the cross and paid the penalty of Paul’s sins. Third, Paul lived for Jesus because Jesus had been raised to life in order that Paul would share in that victory over death.
Fourth, Paul lived for Christ because Jesus had called Paul to serve him, and he discovered that this service was the most satisfying a person could have. Fifth, Paul lived for Jesus because Jesus had brought him into the church, a new community in which everything could be done by the gracious strength of Jesus empowering its members to live gracious lives. Sixth, Paul wanted to live for Christ because Jesus had been faithful to him (2 Tim. 2:13).
Why would death be gain? This outlook is the contrast of those who live for the things of this world. Paul was not a man who had lost his reason when he said this. Nor was he an escapist merely trying to avoid the troubles of life, of which he had plenty – Paul would have thought the same even if he had no negative experiences.
First, it would be gain for Paul because he would become sinless. His longing was to be delivered from all the sinful tendencies that marred his life, and he knew that would only occur when he reached heaven.
Second, he would enter the second stage of his personal salvation when he went to heaven. The first stage is what happens in this life when we come to believe in Jesus; the second stage is what occurs when the soul of a believer goes to heaven at death; the third stage is what will take place on the resurrection morning when body and soul will be reunited in a glorified condition.
Third, he would encounter the activities of Jesus in a greater way than on earth. In heaven, he would receive deeper instruction from Jesus about God; in heaven, he would see Jesus lead the praise of the redeemed; in heaven, he would discover the blessings of the kingdom of which he is a joint-heir with Jesus.
Fourth, Paul in heaven would participate in the joy that comes from conversions on earth. Jesus had said that there is joy in heaven when a sinner is converted. How many times has Paul joined in that song since he reached there? He sang in heaven when each of us was converted.
Thinking today about what Paul said in this verse about his present and his future leads to a straightforward application: ‘How would each of us summarise our lives if asked by someone to tell them about it in sixty seconds?’