To Live is Christ and To Die is Gain
The following is a transcript of the message I preached on May 14, 2010 at the memorial service of my dear friend and brother, Jeff Dolan. To this day I miss my faithful partner in ministry, but I rejoice in knowing that even now he is experiencing the ultimate gain of being with Christ.
Beloved, death is difficult for a number of reasons. Death is final. Death comes suddenly. Death means saying goodbye to someone we love, someone we care about, someone we will dearly miss. And yet in the midst of the intensity of our grief and the suddenness of our loss, there is the underlying comfort of knowing that even though this is a time of great sorrow for us, it is a time of exceedingly great joy for our dear friend and brother, Jeff Dolan. And for this reason, as Charles Spurgeon once said: “Our tears are [plentiful], but they glisten in the light of faith and hope.”
In Philippians 1, the apostle Paul said that for the child of God dying means departing to be with Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul said to be absent from the body—that is, to die and have your soul depart from your physical body—is “to be at home with the Lord.” And in Luke 23, Jesus said to the man on the cross next to Him: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Beloved, even now as we gather to mourn the loss of Jeff, we do so with the joy of knowing that he has departed to be with Christ, that he is now at home with the Lord Jesus in a place called Paradise. That’s why Psalm 116:15 says: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” Today is precious in the sight of God because Jeff has been taken to glory, and therefore we do not grieve as those without hope.
You may not remember this, but on the night before He died, Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father, and during the course of that prayer, He prayed for those who would eventually come to believe in Him. In John 17:24 He looked ahead to that time when He would ascend into heaven, and He said, “Father, I desire that those You have given Me, be with Me where I am [that is: in heaven], that they may see My glory.” The prayer of Jesus in John 17:24 is that His people would some day come to be with Him in heaven to see His glory, and this past Sunday morning, when Jeff departed from this world and went home to be with Christ, the prayer of Jesus was answered. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death—the homecoming—of His godly ones.
This afternoon as we take a few moments to seek wisdom and comfort and perspective from the Word of God, I would like to direct your attention to a single verse of Scripture that very concisely summarizes not only the life and death of the Christian in general but the life and death of Jeff Dolan in particular. That verse is Philippians 1:21: “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To live is Christ, and to die is gain—that was the mindset of the apostle Paul and that was the mindset of our brother, Jeff.
When Paul wrote these words, he was writing not from the comforts of home but rather from a prison cell in the city of Rome. As he sat there in prison and reflected not only on the purpose of life but also on the very real possibility of death, he summarized each of these two possible outcomes with a single word—“To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” For many people, to live is money; to live is stuff; to live is career; to live is fun and pleasure and all the pursuits of this world. But for the apostle Paul, to live was Christ. In other words, Paul says: “My life is all about Christ—Christ is my motivation; Christ is my compelling passion; Christ and Christ alone gives me meaning, direction, and purpose. He is the singular pursuit of my very existence and I live for the sole purpose that He would be exalted through my life.” To live, Paul says, is to glorify Christ because Christ is the ultimate purpose of life—He is what life is all about. This was the heart of the apostle Paul, and this was the heart of Jeff Dolan as well. To live is Christ.
The reason that Jesus was (and is) so precious to Jeff is because Jesus is his Redeemer—Jesus died on the cross for his sins and rose from the dead to conquer death and give him eternal life. The Bible teaches that God is the almighty Creator of all things who made us in His own image for the purpose of loving and worshiping and obeying Him. And yet all of us have sinned against God. We have lived in disobedience to Him and worshiped other gods instead of Him. The Bible also teaches that every single individual will one day stand before a holy God and be held accountable for his sin. Scripture speaks of a day when the Lord will judge us for every thought, every word, and every action. And so the question is: How can a sinful human being possibly escape the judgment of His Creator? If God is a God of justice and He will leave no sin unpunished, how can there possibly be any hope for eternal life?
The Good News of the Gospel is that God, in the richness of His grace and His mercy, did not leave mankind in this desperate and guilty condition. He did not leave mankind without hope. But instead, He displayed His amazing love by sending His Son Jesus into this world to become the perfect sacrifice for sin. When Christ died on the cross, He died as a Substitute for sinners. He took upon Himself the punishment that mankind deserved. He died to take our place. Romans 5:8 says: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Think of it this way: Suppose I had committed a crime that was punishable by death and the authorities lined up a firing squad to execute me. And suppose that at the very last moment Jeff’s brother-in-law Randall here stepped right in front of me and took the bullets on my behalf as my substitute. And suppose that when he did so, the authorities agreed that the penalty had been paid and justice had been satisfied—I was free to go. In this case, you could say that Randall (being innocent) had died in order that I (being guilty) could live.
Beloved, this is what Jesus did on the cross. He died that those who repent and believe in Him would live. He died to pay the penalty for sin, and He rose from the dead to give eternal life to those who believe. This is the Gospel. This is the Good News. This is the hope of those who confess Jesus as Lord of their life and Savior of their soul. And this is why Jesus is so precious to Jeff. This is why Jeff could say with the apostle Paul: “To live is Christ”—because Christ is his Savior; Christ is his Redeemer; Christ is the One who delivered him from eternal condemnation and gave him eternal life.
And this is also why Jeff could say: “To die is gain.” To live is Christ, and to die is gain. See, when the apostle Paul contemplates the possibility of his own death in Philippians 1, he finds himself torn between these two destinies of either living or dying, because living would mean more opportunity to serve in the name of Christ, and yet dying would mean going to be in the presence of Christ. To live is Christ, and to die is gain. In fact, Paul says in the very next verse: “If I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better [that is gain], yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake [for the sake of the Body of Christ].”
And once again, that was very much the heart of Jeff. I remember talking with him in the hospital just a week before he died, and Jeff (who was always the optimist) said to me: “Maybe this is God’s way of getting me to retire from my job so I can spend more time serving Christ in the church or maybe even on the mission field.” Living on in the flesh would mean more fruitful labor, more service in the Body of Christ; that was Jeff’s perspective. To live is Christ. And yet at the same time, he also knew that it was very much better to depart and be with Christ, and that was his ultimate desire. Jeff was ready to go home. To die is gain.
For many people, to live is me and to die is loss. But for the child of God, to live is Christ and to die is gain. To live is to live for Christ, and to die is to depart to be with Christ—to live is Christ, to die is gain. Some of you here this afternoon do not know the Lord Jesus Christ and the words of the apostle Paul are very foreign to your heart, because if the truth be known, for you to live is not Christ and to die is not gain. And for you the words of the apostle Paul may be just the opportunity you need to examine your heart and life and ask yourself the difficult question of where you stand before the Lord.
Someone once said, “Because the human mind is able to avoid contemplating the future, most men die totally unprepared.” And so I ask you the question: Are you prepared? Are you truly prepared, or have you avoided contemplating the future? Have you avoided contemplating the reality that one day you will stand before God? Beloved, if that’s you this afternoon, my prayer for you today is that God would open your heart to the Good News of the Gospel so that Christ would be your Savior; so that Christ would be your Redeemer; so that Christ would be the One who delivers you from eternal condemnation and gives you eternal life; so that Christ would be your life in the here and now and your gain for all eternity. And for those of you who know the Lord Jesus, for those of you who have embraced Him as your life and your gain, I encourage you today to rejoice in the promise that when Jesus returns for His bride, the dead in Christ shall rise first and then we shall all be reunited not only with each other, but with the Lord Jesus Himself.
As we grieve the loss of Jeff, beloved, our tears are plentiful, but they glisten in the light of faith and hope, for to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Matt Waymeyer serves on the pastoral staff at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL and teaches Greek and theology at The Expositors Seminary.