Sermon on the Epistle to the Philippians | To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain | Philippians 1:21-26

To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain (Philippians 1:21-26)

When I met with Gerald’s family to discuss funeral arrangements, one of his daughters asked me, “Have you done a lot of funerals?” I had to chuckle, and I replied, “I’ve done more than I’d like.”

I can’t count the number of funerals I’ve conducted. I vividly recall my first funeral—I was 22, fresh out of college. I had never met the guy, he died outside of Christ, and the family knew he was lost. I met with the family a couple days before the funeral, and his mother screamed over and over: “My boy’s in hell! My boy’s in hell!”

I spoke at the funerals of all four of my grandparents. I spoke at Tam’s dad’s funeral. In January of 2010, the congregation where I was preaching lost five members, and I conducted five funerals in a single month.

A few of you have spoken at funerals, but all of you have been to funerals. I imagine that everyone here has attended the funeral of someone you treasured above all the world. I imagine each of you has cried yourself dry at a funeral.

Death hurts. Death hurts because death separates loved ones. Death hurts because death is an enemy of our Lord: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). Death is an enemy of our Lord, for death came into the world through sin: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12).

Paul faced death as he wrote this morning’s text; he wrote from a Roman prison awaiting trial. Paul knew the trial would go one of two ways: 1) He would be released; or 2) He would be killed. As the apostle pondered those two possibilities, he wrote: “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Let’s move beyond the gloom and doom of a funeral and ponder the death of a Christian. Your death can be a gloriously wonderful thing. Do you know how? “To die is gain if living is Christ.

Scripture (Philippians 1:21-26)

verse 21:

“To me to live is Christ”: Should Paul escape death and be released from prison, his life would be dedicated to serving Christ.

“To die is gain”: Should Paul be killed, his troubles would end, and he would be comforted in the Bosom of Abraham.

verse 22:

Continuing in his body would mean “fruitful labor” for Paul; he would continue to establish congregations, to teach, and to write.

Paul could not decide between continuing to work and receiving his reward. Reading this paragraph makes clear that Paul didn’t know what would happen at trial, but here he began to muse what he would chose should the decision be left up to him. He wasn’t after sympathy as he did so, but he was giving the Philippians an example of service.

verse 23:

Paul’s desire was “to depart and be with Christ.” Yes, the faithful Christian goes to the Hadean world rather than to heaven at death, but the Christian is with the Lord in Abraham’s Bosom. Paul didn’t wish to leave this world to escape torture or to have comfort or to escape years of work in the kingdom; he wanted to be with Christ—he sought fellowship with the Lord.

“That is far better.” Being with the Lord in Paradise is far better than living in this world. Fellowship with the Lord is incomplete and troubles abound in this world; yet, in the Bosom of Abraham, the Christian has full fellowship with Christ and his troubles are over.

Sometimes you’ll ask how someone is doing, and he will say, “I’m above ground. That’s better than the alternative.” Biblically, that is false. Being dead is better than being alive.

verses 24-26:

Paul’s remaining alive was “more necessary” for the Philippians. They needed him to teach them, and when he returned to them, they would have ample cause to “glory in Christ Jesus.”


To die is gain if living is Christ.” Paul didn’t have a death wish, but he understood dying in Christ. Paul didn’t want to live life on his own terms; he understood that for dying to be gain he needed to live for Christ.

Paul sought to serve the Lord in his earthly life. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). “We make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor 5:9). “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Because he faithfully served Christ, Paul said at the end of his earthly life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).

If you were to die today, would dying be gain for you? Would you gain Paradise and be with the Lord? Or would you gain torment and scream in agony for all eternity?

How can you live so that dying is gain?

One: Sever

One day, unless the Lord returns first, you will die. Since you’re going to die anyway, Sever whatever keeps you from focusing on heaven.

Heaven must be your focus. Everything in this life is passing away: “The world is passing away along with its desires” (1 Jn 2:17). Everything is going to be burned up with fervent heat: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Pet 3:10).

Since everything in this world is going to be destroyed, why allow the things of this world to take your eyes off heaven? What takes your eyes off heaven? Is it some possession or the desire for more? Is it your job? Is it your family? Is it some sin? Is it some pleasure?

Nothing matters more than heaven. Jesus put it this way: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36). Sever whatever in your life keeps your eyes from firmly being fixed on heaven. Don’t let anything keep you from heaven. What do you need to Sever?

Two: Serve

If dying is to be gain, your life must be Christ. You must Serve the Lord.

You were created to Serve! “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl 12:13). The purpose of life is not self-fulfillment or leaving a legacy or making the world a better place; the purpose of your life is to honor God and obey God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33). Make seeking heaven your life’s only goal.

How will you Serve? Will you serve your neighbor? Will you serve in the church? Will you put sin away from you? Will you live a life other’s can emulate? Will you bring others to Jesus? Will you spend time in prayer for your friends, your loved ones, and this church? How will you Serve?


If you were to die this very day, would you know without a single doubt that dying would be gain? Do you need to Sever sin and Serve Jesus right now as we stand and sing?

This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.

Share with Friends: