This is Living!

By Mark D. Roberts

June 18, 2024

Life in Christ: Devotions Inspired by Philippians

Scripture — Philippians 1:20-21 (NRSV)

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.


As the Apostle Paul thinks about the possibility that he will be executed because of his missionary work, he has mixed feelings. On the one hand, being with Christ would be better for him. But remaining on earth to serve Christ would be better for the beneficiaries of his apostolic work. Nevertheless, whether Paul lives or dies, in either case, Christ is everything to him. As he writes, “For to me, living is Christ.”

This devotion is part of the series Life in Christ: Devotions Inspired by Philippians.


The Apostle Paul wrote the letter we know as Philippians while he was imprisoned because of his church-planting apostolic work (1:7, 13, 17). Though he hoped to be set free (1:19), Paul recognized that he might be put to death (1:20-26). The Roman Empire was not especially tolerant of those whom they considered to be religious rabble-rousers (such as Jesus, to cite an obvious example).

Yet, when faced with the possibility of being executed, Paul did not despair. For one thing, he was glad that his imprisonment was actually advancing the Christian mission (1:15-18). But when he considered the fact that he might be put to death, Paul had mixed feelings. On the one hand, he knew that being with Christ would be far better for him than anything he might experience on earth (1:23). On the other hand, Paul relished his mission of sharing the good news of Jesus and planting churches (1:22-24). So, selfishly, he preferred to die and be with Christ.  But missionally, Paul embraced his calling and eagerly sought to fulfill it.

Yet, on a deeper level, no matter how Paul’s life turned out, he would always experience life as a grace-filled, intimate, lasting, meaningful, loving relationship with Jesus Christ. As he writes in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” I grew up memorizing this verse in the classic language of the King James Version, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

As you might expect, Bible scholars offer various theories about what Paul means in saying “For to me, living is Christ.” Some say Christ is the source of Paul’s life. Others say Paul lives for Christ’s glory. Others suggest that Paul means both his physical life and his spiritual life depend ultimately on Christ. Still, other scholars wax poetic and say that, for Paul, “living is Christ.” It seems to me that Paul probably means all of these and more. His whole life was transformed by Christ. Christ was Paul’s mission, his message, and his passion. Christ was the center of Paul’s life.

As I reflect on Philippians 1:21, I have to ask myself, “Can I truly say with Paul that for me, living is Christ?” Maybe, sort of. I can’t imagine my life without Christ. I “accepted Jesus as my personal savior” at a Billy Graham Crusade 61 years ago. My faith in Christ has been extremely important to me since I was six years old. I’ve spent thousands of hours studying, teaching, and preaching about Christ. I spend a good chunk of time each morning speaking to Christ and trying to listen to him. I want his glory more than anything else . . . most of the time, anyway.

But there are other things for which I am living. I live for my beloved family. I live for my work. I live for my enjoyment of nature. I live for being with good friends. I live to show love to others. I live so that people might think well of me. I live to help the world become a better place. And so forth and so on. Thus, I cannot say with Paul’s stunning clarity, “For to me, living is Christ.” I’d have to say, “For to me, living is Christ . . . and some other things.” But I’m not done learning and growing. I fully believe that God will continue to help me discover all that it means to say, “For to me, living is Christ.”

Out of curiosity, I did a Google search on “This is living!” Some of the top results pointed to a Christian song written by artists associated with Hillsong. But in the “Images” section of Google, scenes of people on beaches dominated my “This is living!” search. Many of these were part of a 2016 beer promotion. I can well imagine that for many people, the best life they can imagine involves sitting on a secluded beach sipping a beverage of their choice. I get that. When I was a pastor in Southern California, I spent countless hours walking on a beach a few miles from my home. I loved those times hearing the waves and feeling the cool breeze on my face.

But, truly, what I loved most of all was my deepening relationship with Christ. While walking on the beach I could talk with my Lord for an hour or two. I’d usually go through my list of prayer needs fairly quickly. Then I’d talk with Jesus as if he were a friend. These were some of the most open and intimate conversations I’ve ever had with him. They made such a difference, not only in my work as a pastor, but in every part of my life.

Beaches are great. So are mountains and forests. So are sunrises and sunsets. Enjoying the goodness of God’s creation is a gift God has given us (Gen 2:9). But living, true living, isn’t a matter of enjoying a beach. Rather, it has everything to do with knowing and serving the one who created the beach and who created us with the capacity to delight in it.


When you read “For to me, living in Christ,” how do you respond? What do you think? How do you feel?

In what ways would it be true for you to say, “For to me, living is Christ”?

What competes with Christ for your fundamental allegiance when it comes to how you’re living today?


Set aside some time to reflect and pray about what you’re living for. Be honest with yourself. What are your deeper motivations, purposes, desires, longings, etc.?


Gracious God, thank you for Paul’s example. Thank you for the depth, reality, and intensity of his relationship with Christ. Thank you for the ways he encourages me to grow in my relationship with you.

Lord, you know all the things I live for other than you. You know the things that give me meaning and a sense of identity. You know the temptations that lead me into sin. You know everything about me.

And therefore you know that in some ways it is true, for me, living is Christ. But in other ways, this is not true. I’m living for many other things. Yet you are at work in me and, in time, you will finish this work. Thank you! In the meantime, may I grow in my relationship with Christ. May it be increasingly true that “For to me, living is Christ.” Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: What Does It Mean to Walk Worthily?.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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