“Living is Christ”


Philippians 1

Sunflower.medium21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

“Living is Christ.”

Paul is in prison in Rome. We do not know for sure whether, at this point, he is under a form of house arrest as described in Acts or whether he is in a more brutal custody, but he is facing the reality that he may be near his end.

He has been in prison a long time now. He was arrested in Jerusalem after a riot broke out in the temple when it was rumored he had desecrated the temple by bringing a gentile into the inner court. The arresting officer had assumed he was an insurrectionist, advocating armed rebellion against Rome, and started to flog him before Paul’s status as a Roman citizen came to light. Still, the hostility against Paul was intense. His message that we are reconciled to God in Christ Jesus by grace apart from the law was reported as teaching Judeans to abandon the Law of Moses. A plot to murder him was discovered and he was secreted out of Jerusalem by armed guard to Caesarea. There he was kept in custody for two years because his case was too incendiary to release him. Eventually, fearing that he would be sent back to Jerusalem for trial, Paul exercised his right to appeal to the Roman Emperor. Unfortunately the Emperor was Nero.

Traveling late in the shipping season against his advice, they were driven by a violent storm for many days before wrecking off the island of Malta.  It was three months before they were able to sail again for Rome.

Paul’s advocacy of Jesus had prompted communal violence and prison before, but this time, as Paul writes to Philippi, things don’t seem to be turning towards his freedom. Acts reports that he was in custody for at least two years in Rome. Though the New Testament never tells us, he is eventually beheaded in Rome – beheaded because, as a Roman citizen, he could not be tortured to death on a cross.

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

Should he be martyred, his death would unite him with Christ Jesus. After more than four years in chains, it is not hard to understand why he would see that as to his personal advantage. But “living is Christ.”

It is not just that living allows his service of Christ to continue, but “living is Christ.” Christ is present in the world in the community of believers.

Christ is present in the world in us. In our living as children of hope. In our witness to the Resurrection of Jesus. In our service of our neighbor. In our love.

“Living is Christ.”

It is common for people to say that Christ is life. Jesus the crucified and risen one is indeed the embodiment of the creator, the source of life. He is the embodiment of heaven’s mercy. He is the embodiment of the truth. He is the embodiment of forgiveness. He is the embodiment of life.

And now he is embodied in us.

“Living is Christ.”

My life. My frail, hesitant, troubled attempt to live by God’s spirit and grace, my living is Christ. My halting efforts to forgive as I have been forgiven, to love as I have been loved, to speak as Christ would speak, to serve as Christ would serve – my halting labor is Christ in the world.

Now the words of Jesus echo in my ears, “”You are the salt of the earth,” “You are the light of the world.” I know full well that Christ and Christ alone is the light of the world, but “Living is Christ.”

These hands, this mouth, these eyes and ears are the presence of Christ in the world. Christ is not present as some ethereal presence, some disembodied spirit; Christ is embodied in us. “Living is Christ.”

Such thoughts fill me with awe and shame and courage all at the same time, for I so easily discount the significance of my life. But “living is Christ.”


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