For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain – Philippians 1:21
Meaning of Philippians 1:21
The meaning of the verse, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” is that if a Christian dies or lives, they should remain faithful to God like Apostle Paul. These are the words of Paul, who writes to the Philippians that whether the verdict of his case resulted in life or death, he would forever choose to remain faithful to God. Paul knew that life on Earth is meant to be lived for Christ and death is better because he gets to live in God’s presence. However, the next verse indicates that Paul was in no hurry to die as he wanted to spread the message of the Gospel as much and as far as possible.
Interpretations of Philippians 1:21
Philippians 1:21 is a very commonly quoted verse in the Churches and among Christians. However, it can also be misinterpreted sometimes. Here are a few examples.
Interpretation #1 Christians are destined to be a martyr
The interpretation of the verse, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” is that Christians’ ultimate destiny is to die as martyrs for Christ’s sake. The reader believes that Paul wrote this verse during a time of persecution when Christians were hunted, caught, and persecuted by the Roman empire. Hence, Paul wrote this verse to prepare Christians for similar kinds of circumstances and situations. He also wanted his readers to know that dying for Christ was the right thing to do. Additionally, minor persecution still continues to exist in the middle east and similar areas, and that is why the reader believes that Christians are destined to be martyrs.
Interpretation #2 Paul was perhaps suffering from depression
The meaning of the verse, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” is that Paul was suffering from depression and psychological issues. The reader believes that while Paul is expressing his courage and saying that death would be welcome, the tough circumstances could have made him depressed. The Bible records incidents through Paul’s letters of his being tortured in prison ruthlessly. Additionally, various methods of punishment were executed on Paul. He was stoned, beaten, and flogged repeatedly. This was to harm him both physically and mentally. In several verses in the New Testament, Paul wrote that he was being tortured, but he was still alright. Thus, the reader assumes that Paul was pretending for the sake of his readers and that he was indeed depressed because of the persecution he was witnessing and was being put through.
Interpretation #3 Paul was aware of his death
The interpretation of the verse, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” is that Paul knew that he would die soon. The reader believes that Paul was aware that he would be killed by the Romans eventually because he was boldly defying orders and preaching about Christ in every city he could. He also changed his alliance with Judaism as he was himself involved in the persecution, hunting, imprisoning, and killing of Christians. But, after being transformed into a Christian and being saved by God, Paul knew that he had made enemies with both the Jewish and Roman communities and was going to be killed by either of them sooner or later. However, he was positive, resilient, and strong and felt that it was alright to die for the sake of his faith and love toward Christ.
Interpretation #4 Paul is testifying his undying faith
The final interpretation of the verse, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” is that this verse is a testimony of Paul’s everlasting faith in Christ. The reader believes that Paul had already predicted that Christians will always face difficulties because of their faith. This verse was meant to be his testament, confidence, and love toward Christ and his ministry. He wanted his readers to know that despite his arrest, persecution, and suffering, he was happy and content in serving God and spreading the Gospel as he viewed the work as greater than his life. The reader believes that Paul viewed himself as a soldier for Christ and was ready to give up his life as a martyr but wanted to serve Christ as long as he lived.
Historical background of Philippians 1:21
Apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians. This book is a letter to the Philippians. He had written this letter to the believers of Jesus, deacons, and bishops in the church at Philippi, which was at that time a city in Macedonia. It is believed that Paul was in Rome when he wrote this letter. Philippi was also the first city in current-day Europe where Apostle Paul established a Church. Chapter one of Philippians is a greeting to the people of Philippi, and he also talks about his life for Christ. Verse twenty-two is Paul’s perception of life and death and how his life has been dedicated either way to God.
Literary Devices of Philippians 1:21
Assonance – Though the verse is a short sentence, there is a good use of vowel sounds in repetitions. However, not all are quick successions. For example, the sound of /i/ and /ai/ in ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’.
Consonance – The verse Philippians 1:21 has a few consonants sounds in repetition without quick successions. For example, the sound of /s/ and the sound of /t/ and the sound on /n/, ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’.
Pathos – Through this verse, Apostle Paul is trying to appeal to the emotions of his readers by expressing confidence while suffering, especially Christians, to be bold and continue spreading the message of Jesus Christ. Hence it is a good example of pathos.