What does Philippians 1:21 mean?
ESV: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
NIV: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
NASB: For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
CSB: For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
NLT: For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.
KJV: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
NKJV: For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Verse Commentary:
This verse offers some of the most memorable words in the entire Bible: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Regardless of whether the verdict of his case was life or death, Paul would remain faithful to God. He knew that life on this earth meant to live for Christ, but death would be even better because he would be in the presence of the Lord. Paul was in no hurry to die, since it was important to him to spread the gospel as far as possible (Philippians 1:22).

These words are also important when discussing what happens to a believer's soul upon death. Some have argued that "soul sleep" is possible. This is the view that the believer's soul enters a state of unawareness, and does not go to heaven with the Lord until the future judgment. This verse shows the false nature of this teaching. Paul clearly states his expectation to be with Christ the moment his life on earth ends. This is a view also reflected by Jesus when He told the thief on the cross he would be in paradise with Him "today" (Luke 23:43).
Verse Context:
Philippians 1:19–30 shows Paul reflecting on two competing desires. On one hand, a believer wants to serve God and bring others to Christ through their life. On the other hand, a Christian yearns to leave suffering behind—to be with God in eternity. Paul concludes that it's better to live until God calls him home, so he can serve his fellow men. Paul also encourages the Philippians with his conviction that he will be released to see them again. His experiences, good or bad, are all adding to the glory of Jesus Christ.
Chapter Summary:
In chapter 1, Paul thanks the Philippian believers for supporting his ministry. Even when Paul was jailed, or persecuted, they had been generous and loyal. Paul encourages these Christians by explaining that all of his suffering has been for a good cause. Even better, these attempts to persecute Paul have actually caused the gospel to spread. For this, Paul is grateful. He fully expects to be released, and to see the believers of Philippi again.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 1 introduces the major themes of Paul's letter. A large proportion of the passage is given to thanking the Philippian church for their loyal support of Paul. Paul also encourages them with a reminder that, good or bad, anything a Christian experiences can be used for the glory of God. This sets the tone for the rest of the letter, where Paul will continue to stress the importance of living out the Christian life. This, he says, starts with having a proper attitude and approach.
Book Summary:
Philippians is Paul's discussion of living the Christian life. In this letter to the church of Philippi, Paul highlights themes such as joy and glory. He also puts great emphasis on how a Christian's thinking—their attitude—affects the way they live out their faith. Paul is very thankful for the support of the Philippian church, but is also concerned about the influence of various false teachers. This letter is less theological than most of his other writings, and more practical.
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