To Live is Christ

Famous last words fascinate us. We read them for inspiration, looking for hints of faith heard in the confidence of someone’s final words. We also read them for the humor with which many have faced death. 

We’re inspired but the last recorded words of Todd Beamer on United Flight 93. Just before he and several others rushed the cockpit in an attempt to subdue the terrorists. After reciting the Lord’s Prayer with the operator on the other end of the phone, Beamer turned to his fellow passengers and was heard to say, “Let’s roll.”

With his last words, Leonardo Da Vinci said, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” It seems like maybe Leonardo was a bit of a perfectionist. 

Buddy Rich to Live is Christ

And then there are the last words of drummer, Buddy Rich. Just before going into surgery, a nurse asked him if there was anything he couldn’t take. “Yeah,” Buddy replied, “country music.” He died during surgery. 

Of course, we cannot forget Union General John Sedgwick. As Confederate sharpshooters took their stand against Sedgwick and his troops, he was heard to say, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist—.”

To Live is Christ, and to Die is Gain

The Bible doesn’t record Paul’s last words, but we would imagine them to be something akin to his words in Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Those are worthy words, and we hope our last words reflect something of that kind of faith. But that’s not a matter of memorizing and rehearsing the words, and it’s not a matter of waiting until the end to say something brilliant. Instead, it’s about the faith we live out today that sees us to that moment. 

But Paul’s statement isn’t simply a perspective on death, is it? It’s also a perspective on life. In fact, it is first a perspective on life! “To live is Christ.” Long before our own mortality confronts us, we’re called to live each day with Jesus at the center. In Sunday’s sermon, I shortened Paul’s words in verse 23 to, “my desire is Christ.” That’s where we must begin if we’re going to find ourselves holding to the words, “to die is gain.”

What Does That Look Like for You Today?

Back in the Old Testament, Jeremiah asked the question, “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in the safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5). The prophet’s question is, “If you’re having trouble when times are easy, how are you going to handle the challenges that eventually come?” It’s an important question that addresses the commitment we live out everyday, not just the faith that eventually promises us a place in heaven.

To live is Christ

Is Jesus your desire today? As you display his love to others, you are proving that “to live is Christ.” In caring for the poor, sick, the hurting and the huddled important to you because you are encountering Jesus and caring for him (Matthew 25:40).

We don’t get to “to die is gain” without living out the first half. Let Jesus be your life today!

How Did It Go?

My theme for this series through Philippians is, “For Those We Hold in Our Hearts” (1:7). We’re always facing the temptation to read the Bible for ourselves rather than the body. Philippians seems especially susceptible to a self-centered reading. If we’re not careful this passage can become a very selfish promise of my own confidence at death rather than the confidence we should all share.

I brought the focus from self to the faith we share, and addressed it in as relevant terms as possible. Currently, that meant addressing the abuses that could come with the blessing of live-streamed worship. That’s a tough line to walk, of course, but I was glad for the opportunity to address it and I believe it was received well.