Be Still and know
“As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not at all be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:20
drink deep from the well:
In 1934, in South Anhwei, China, a small mountain town was attacked by communist bandits. In this town were two missionaries, Betty and John Stam and their baby girl, Priscilla. In the rampage of the city, Betty and John were taken captive, stripped of their outer garments, and marched down these streets of the city in front of a speechless and terrified people. While the Stams were in a holding cell, John wrote to the China Inland Mission of their dangerous situation – “My wife, baby and myself are today in the hands of communist bandits. Whether we will be released or not no one knows. May God be magnified in our bodies, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:20.” Soon after John penned this letter, he and his wife were beheaded by their captors. John’s prayer was answered. Christ was honored and glorified in both the life and the death of the Stams. They understood that the secret to living fully and hopefully is Christ. Though their death may seem tragic from a human perspective, their testimonies continue to share the gospel to this day. That is what it means when Paul eagerly states “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
We have a tendency to look at the life of Paul and the lives of missionaries and martyrs such as the Stams and place them on a pedestal. Their passion and reckless abandon often intrigues us. There was an urgency and deep resounding joy in the ministry of Paul and the Stams. The fabric of their ministry, life, and death was woven tightly with the gospel. Jesus was magnified both in and through them. Every second of their lives mattered for the sake of the gospel. Even in death, their life proclaimed “give me Jesus.” In many ways, the lyrics to the hymn “Give Me Jesus” have lost their power in today’s culture. They were originally sung by African American slaves. The words were written as a heartfelt cry and passion by those who had tasted of the freedom and hope found only in Christ. The very end of the hymn says “when I come to die, give me Jesus.” In every moment, every trial, and even in suffering, our hearts cry should be give me Jesus. This was the passion that kept Paul proclaiming the gospel even in a prison cell awaiting punishment and eventually death.
There is a secret to Paul’s life and to the Stam’s life that many often wonder about but never truly grasp. The secret was that they traded their worldly ambitions for the eternal pursuit of knowing Jesus, their Savior. J. Vernon McGee explains in his commentary on Philippians that the Greek words in verse 21 are translated as “to live Christ, to die gain.” We are to literally “live Christ.” This verse is more than a verse to go on a coffee mug, it is meant to be lived and breathed. What does it mean to live Christ? In Luke 9:23, Jesus tells us that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him. We “live Christ” when we follow in His footsteps all the way to the cross. Thomas Watson once said “Christ died to take away the curse from us, not to take away the cross from us.” The cross is the avenue to true life.
For the believer, living equals Christ and dying equals gain. In both life and death, we have Jesus, therefore we have all we need. Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23 that if anyone is to follow him, they must take up their cross daily, deny themselves, and follow him. We must first die to our worldly ways and be crucified with Christ so that we can gain true life. The word used for “live” is zao in the Greek, meaning “to enjoy real life, active, blessed, and with vital power that is endless.” Real life is life built upon the foundation of Jesus. Apart from Him, there is no real joy. Christ is the greatest treasure we could gain in this life.
Paul dreamed about being with Christ and worshipping Him for all eternity. He yearned to be forever in His presence. But he also knew that while he had breath on earth, he had a job to do. That job was to proclaim Christ, even from a prison cell.
Do you have this hunger for Jesus? Is He the source of your joy? Jesus told us to die to ourselves each day because He knew that in dying, we would truly live. Dying is gain because when we are crucified with Christ, we live for what is eternal. We trade our rags for the riches of Christ. Do not fear the cross, for in the cross, you will taste Christ and never be the same.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
ask and apply
- What would your life look like if you were to truly “live Christ?”
- What does “give me Jesus” mean to you? Is it simply a quote on your coffee mug, or is it the song of your life?
today i learned:
In both life and death, Christ is glorified and magnified. Therefore, we can rejoice and have hope in every circumstance that comes our way.
today i will:
Today I will think about what it means to “live Christ.” I will pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show me ways I can be fruitful in this life to share the gospel and magnify Jesus.
Father, You are worthy of both our life and our death. We pray that in every second of our life, You would be glorified and we would be strong and courageous in Jesus. Amen.