What does “to live is Christ” mean?
In the first-century Greco-Roman world, life was built on the concept of honour and shame. Seneca the Younger, who lived at the same time as the apostle Paul, highlights the importance of honour:
“The one firm conviction from which we move to the proof of other points is this: that which is honourable is held dear for no other reason than because it is honourable.”(De Beneficiis 4.16.2; quoted from David A. deSilva: Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity).
Honour is the bedrock of decision making. Honour is valued for its own sake. Now listen to Paul’s outlook that leads to his well known affirmation:
“…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ…”Philippians 1:20-21, ESV
Paul is working to avoid shame, but how does he approach this? In this situation, who is the one being honoured? Here is the equation:
If Christ is honoured…Paul is unashamed
If Christ is dishonoured…Paul is ashamed
The way that Paul seeks to avoid shame is not by gaining his own honour, but by honouring Christ. Paul has tied his greatest value to his Lord. He still cares about honour or dishonour but the way he measures these is remarkable. What gives his life worth is not what he gathers to himself but what he contributes to the glory of Jesus of Christ.
What does “to live is Christ” mean? It means that we tie our value into Christ. It means that our pursuits matter to us because they work to honour our Lord.
What am I pursuing today? Does Christ stand to ‘gain’ by these things?
“In the United States, some of the more frequently traversed roads to worth are acquisition, upward mobility, competition, sexual conquest or affirmation of superiority based on ascribed status like race, class, “birth” or “breeding” (including education, refinement and the like). The New Testament writings hang an unmistakable dead-end sign at the mouths of these avenues, summoning us to measure ourselves and one another by such yardsticks no longer.”(David de Silva: Honor, Patronage, Kindship & Purity, 86)