As a pastor, if you’re wondering why you have been called to a local church family, I believe Paul the Apostle has the answer for us. He knows a thing or two about pastoring.
For me to live
In Philippians 1:21, which is a famous text in the heart of many Christians, the Apostle Paul says, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” To truly appreciate this text, we need to understand it in its context.
Paul is in prison. The church at Philippi wrote to him to learn more about his situation in chains, and for help in addressing some disunity in the church (4:14-19; 4:2-3). In response, Paul’s focus is on the gospel-centered life and what it it looks like, in the whole palace guard (1:13), in the local church setting (1:27; 2:1ff).
Then Paul inserts his philosophy to the ministry, whether he is a live or dead: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
A. “Fruit Labor for Me”
For Paul, to live meant magnifying Christ in his body (1:20). However, in the local church setting, as in the church family at Philippi, “to live” meant “fruitful labor for me” (1:22). This “fruitful labor” for Paul, as applied to the believers at Philippi, is further spelled out from verses 23-26.
B. For Your Progress and Joy of Faith
Paul was torn between what it meant to be alive and what it meant to be dead (1:23). But he came to the conclusion, “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (1:24 ESV).
So now we understand that when Paul says “for me, to live is Christ” and “to remain in the flesh” refer to one and the same, which is on behalf of the church family at Philippi. This is clear from verse 25:
Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. NIV
Let’s put a few things together. First, for Paul to live in the flesh was to live for Christ, which meant “fruitful labor.” Second, this “fruitful labor” was on account of the believers at Philippi, which he goes on to say is for their “progress and joy in the faith.” Third, this “progress and joy in the faith” was to result in their “boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account” of Paul.
For me to Die
So when Paul says that “to die is gain,” it is because for him “to live is Christ.” In other words, dying will only be gain for Paul if living for Paul means living for Christ.
And as we’ve already discovered, for Paul to live meant “fruit labor,” that is, living for the “progress and joy in the faith” of those who received his pastoral care. To the Corinthians Paul writes,
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. (2 Cor 1:24 NIV, emphasis added)
Similarly, the pastor should approach his call to pastoral ministry the way Paul does. In fact, as pastors we must continue to ask ourselves, “Why were we called to pastoral ministry? Why was this local church entrusted to our shepherding?”
And if the “faith”—for whose “joy” we labor as pastors, comes from “hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 ESV)—then as pastors we must give ourselves to the faithful preaching of the Word and the exaltation of Christ.