Christ is everything. No matter what. That’s what this passage is about.
To Live is Christ
On the one hand, Paul writes about living or dying in a way that makes it sound like he has a choice (verse 22). Yet he seemed to know that he would be released from prison (verse 19).
We know from 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. So God was speaking through Paul here. It was not just Paul himself speaking.
At the same time, Paul himself had certain feelings. He was feeling “hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ…” (verse 23).
Even though Paul would like to just go be with Christ, he knew that he would “remain in the flesh” (verse 25).
God, in His wisdom, allowed Paul to feel the feelings of being torn between the two, while writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he would remain here on earth a while longer, which is what God had ordained for him.
From what we can learn from church history, Paul was released, traveled more, then was imprisoned a second time and subsequently martyred.
The question that is hard to answer is: Where did Paul go in between his two Roman imprisonments, and who did he see?
Apart from knowing the answer to that, we can be sure that there was fruit from his labor, whatever that labor was, and whatever the fruit looked like. It was God who was working in him, and God would complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (just as it says in verse 6).
This Is Life For Real
The key principle for us is that we should be able to say as well, “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” We don’t know how long we have here on earth, but we should have that attitude every day, for as long as we are here.
Think about what means a lot to you (name, place, activity, feeling, desire, etc.). It might be hard to think of living without whatever it is. But whatever it is, we have to surrender it to Christ, in order to be able to say, “To me, to live is Christ.” Whether He lets us have it or not is totally up to Him, but we can’t hold onto it. We have to give it to Him.
The alternative is to say, “To me, to live is … such and such (apart from Christ),” and that has very serious consequences. Like as in when a whole generation of the children of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years instead of entering the promised land.
Life doesn’t get to be fulfilling, exciting, joyful, and abundant by holding onto what we want. It gets to be that way by surrendering what we want to Christ, and wanting Him most of all.
Jesus is My Life
This has to be our passion — for Christ to be the One living in us and through us.
I pray this for myself, and all my family. Jesus is my life. When I get up in the morning, when I go through the day, whatever happens, I want it to be Jesus living in me. I want to be fully surrendered to Him. I want other people to see Jesus in me.
This is not just some nice way to talk. It’s real life.
Most mornings I would rather sleep a little longer. My body wants what it wants — just plain sleep. But more than that, I want Jesus. So I get up and pray.
“God, please help me. Please let it be Christ in me today, not myself. I surrender myself to You. I lay myself down before You and ask You to do what You want in my life. The words I say, the things I do — Let it be what You want me to say and do. By Your power, for Your glory.”
And I know His peace. I know His grace and power and strength for the day… which is way better than a little more sleep!