Far Better

Who is Jesus to you? This is one of the most important, if not the most important, questions we can answer. For 2000 years people have been arguing and answering this question in a variety of ways. For some people Jesus is a good teacher, offering platitudes for kind and generous living. For some people Jesus is a menace, calling people to deny themselves and repent of sin as if he had some kind of authority to do so. Some people don’t know what to do with Jesus, they’ve heard the name, but have never really spent enough time considering Him to form an opinion. For the Christian, Jesus is not simply a teacher or someone calling for life change, He is God. He was there in the beginning, and all things were made through Him (John 1:1-3). He is the One with all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He is the one way to the Father (John 14:6), and the savior who makes us right before Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I have been working my way through the book of Philippians the past several weeks, and the reason I want to start with Jesus is because we see in the scripture that Paul’s Christology shapes the way he approaches his circumstance. Christology is what we believe about Jesus. The way that Paul views Christ determines how he views the world and his situation. In the same way, our view of Christ will determine our response to Him and our response to the world.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

(Philippians 1:21-23 ESV)

Often when I read these verses I look at them as a confidence-booster. “Yeah, to live is Christ to die is gain! I can do anything I want and I don’t have to care about the consequences!” (Not what that means btw). When I came to these verses today though, I found myself really convicted by them. Reading this, I was confronted with the question: Do I view Christ this way? Do I have a view of Christ that is so exalted that I view him as far better than anything in this life?

The honest answer is no, I don’t. I want to, I really do, but if I’m honest this is not the reality of my heart a majority of the time. The honest pull of my heart is in two directions. I do not desire as I ought. I know that Christ is my Lord and Savior. I love Him and I know that He is working in me, but my heart is still drawn away. He should be the center of everything I think, say, and do, but I find my eyes and heart wandering elsewhere. I am sinful, broken, and in the process of being made new by the Holy Spirit. I am a work in process, and I can be honest about that because I know that my salvation is secured in Christ, but there is a holy frustration to seeing the sin left in me a wanting it to be gone. Before reading on, I would invite you to sit in that tension for a while. Ask yourself: Is Christ better than life to me? Where am I exalting myself or other things above Him? Where do I need to repent of sin and turn to Him?

This is where my heart was drawn by these verses, and I invite you to participate in this spiritual discipline of confession and repentance before reading on…

It hurts to see the sin in my life, but I am thankful for it because it shows me that God is still working on me. Conviction of sin is a cause for joy because the Bible tells us that it is God who grants repentance and leads us to a knowledge of the truth. This is not to harm us or make us feel bad, but to sanctify us and move us toward holiness and the image of Christ. As we pursue this end, Paul shows us in this passage how our view of Christ directs us toward holiness.

Christ is Better Than Life
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain… My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21,23). One thing that is important for us to note in this passage is that Paul does not have a low view of life, but a high view of Christ. As we have seen in earlier passages, Paul is not despairing in his circumstances. He is not in a slump of depressed anxiety weighing the possibility of ending it all. He is merely being honest about the fact that he is in prison and has no guarantee of release. A big risk when we are in hardship is to skew our view of life and living, to let the lies of darkness and depression slip in and stain our worldview. This is not the way of Christ, these are lies of the enemy. If this is where you have a tendency to go, it may be helpful for you to seek out Christ-centered counseling. Having seen the pervasive way that sin can ravage the mind and tear at our lives, we must do all that we can to hold fast our view of Christ and our hope in Him.
Paul does not have a low view of life, but a high view of Christ. He is not longing for escape, but for Jesus. Paul understands that this life is not all there is. He realizes that this world is broken and stained by sin, but that Christ is bringing redemption. Paul looks forward to the life-giving, joy-filled, all-satisfying presence of Christ. Paul knows that Jesus “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 NIV). He knows that in everything Jesus has supremacy, and the fullness of God dwells in Him (Colossians 1:18-19). Paul knows that all things are from Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus (Romans 11:36). He knows that no one can go to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6). He knows that Satan, sin and the world are like a thief that desires only to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus is the One who offers fullness of life (John 10:10). He knows that the love of God is revealed in Christ (Romans 8:39). He longs for the day that all stand in the presence of the Lord, and God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4 NIV). He longs for the promise that Christ is “making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).
What Paul is exclaiming in this passage is that Christ is “far better” than anything else he could gain in this world. Oh that we could come to see this clearly. If only we desired God the way he ought to be desired. Jesus is better than our worldly comforts, our personal victories, our sorrows and pains. Jesus is far better, may we worship Him in that truth more fully every day.


Christ Shapes Our Labors
Paul recognizes that “to live is Christ” and that living means “fruitful labor for [him]” (Philippians 1:21-22). In the next passage he says that he will continue with the Philippians for their “progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25). What we see here is significant to understanding the Christian life. To live as a Christian is to live for Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “And he [Jesus] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” People who believe that Jesus died for them will live for Jesus. The Christian life is one that is increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. In Colossians, Paul calls Christians to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you… and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:5,10). When we have a right understanding of who God is and what he’s does for us, we shape our lives around that understanding.


Holy Longing Drives us to More not Less
The last thing I see in this passage is that Paul’s longing for Christ drives him to pursue more. It drives him to seek after more good. More labors. More relationship. More of Jesus. We have this tendency in our culture to think that when we want something we should sit around and mope ’til we have it. Especially in Christian circles, there’s this unspoken assumption that spiritual longing is disconnected from the realities of every day life. It’s somehow less spiritual to seek after earthly goods when you catch a glimpse of the future heavenly good. This is not what we see with Paul. When Paul is confronted with the far better reality of his future in Christ, he lets that drive him to more good works here. This is because Paul has a right view of worship. We tend to think of worship as a higher, spiritual state of feeling. We associate it with experiences in singing, and with the feelings we get listening to powerful sermons, but this is a narrow and limited view compared to the Biblical depiction of worship. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1 NIV). In Romans, Paul tells us his definition of worship. He says that true and proper worship is responding to God’s mercy in such a way that we give our whole lives to him. Worship is an all of life response to who God is and what he’s done. When we view worship like Paul, it isn’t hyperspiritualized meditation, or crazy experiences while singing, but it is everything we think, say, and do given up to the call of Christ on our lives. This includes times we meditate on God’s word, and when we are singing to him with the congregation, but it also includes when we go to the grocery store, or the coffee shop. When we see the far better reality of our future with Christ in glory, we should be driven to unite or lives to Him in a holy longing. We should worship.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

(Philippians 1:21-23 ESV)


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