How Can Dying Be Gain?

The Key Text for Christian Hedonism


Audio Transcript

John Piper’s opinion is of zero value. God’s opinion is of infinite value. This word is God’s word. If I can show you from here that being happy in God is essential to glorifying him, then you better believe it. And if I can show you that your happiness in God is essential to your loving people (from 2 Corinthians 8 in a moment), you better believe it because it doesn’t matter at all what I say, but only what God says. Philippians 1:20–23:

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. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

In verse 20, Paul is saying that his hope — his passion, his expectation, his desire — is to magnify Jesus. Whether Paul lives, whether he dies, he’s walking through the world in his body, and if he’s alive, he wants Jesus to look great from that life. And if Paul dies, he wants Jesus to look magnificent in that death, right? That’s verse 20. It’s so clear. Paul’s passion is, I want Christ to look great in my life. Live or die, let him look great.

“God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the moments of greatest suffering and loss.”

And verse 21 begins with for, which means he’s giving a ground or a basis. He’s explaining the basis — how it is that, in life and death, Christ could be shown to be magnificent. Answer: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

That has proven to be one of the most important sentences in my life — my thinking, my theology, everything I’ve written. Why? Look at the logic, now. You need to see this, or everything I’m saying here should be ignored, if you don’t see this logic. Everything I live for and say hangs on the connection between verse 20 and 21. That’s saying a lot, right?

So in verse 20, Christ is going to be magnified, and in verse 21, how is that so? Here’s the way to see it most clearly: Just focus on the death half because you have life and death in verse 20 and life and death in verse 21. Let’s just take the death part and see if it doesn’t sound like this. Verse 20: “Christ is going to be magnified by my death.” I expect that he’ll be magnified. I hope he’ll be magnified. I want him to be magnified by my death. Verse 21: “For to me to die is gain.” Do you get that? Do you get the connection between Christ magnified in my death because I experience death as gain?

Why would experiencing death as gain make Christ look magnificent? There’s a missing premise. It’s in verse 23: “My desire is to depart [die] and be with Christ, for that is far better.” There’s the missing premise. Why is it that experiencing death as gain makes Christ look magnificent? Because the gain is Christ. So experiencing Christ as gain in my dying is precisely what makes him look magnificent in my dying.

Now, if you were a preacher, and you just wanted to put that in a little catchy phrase, what would you say? Wouldn’t you say something like, “Christ is most magnified in me when I am most satisfied in him in the moments of greatest loss — death.” That’s my whole theology.

So, I’m back to the first question of Christian Hedonism. Why is it that you can’t glorify God if you don’t delight in God and find satisfaction in God? Because God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the moments of greatest suffering and loss. I think Philippians 1:20–23 says that. And therefore, I just want to do all I can to live that way. I presume no superior success than yours in living that way. I just see it and long for it.


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