Does my life have a purpose?
Does my life have a purpose?
He sits in a prison cell. And he waits. Day after day. Waits to know his fate.
This is a Roman prison cell in the first century. It isn’t a place designed for long sentences. For the most part, the Roman system is simple. You are executed, or you go free. The rare prisoner is held for a long time, but that is the exception.
This man in particular is waiting to find out if he will be killed or if he will be allowed to leave. Paul has always been an active man. He thrives on going and doing. Now he sits and waits. Sounds a bit depressing, doesn’t it?
Yet we find this man, the apostle Paul, writing a letter about joy, encouraging his friends to be happy. In the book of Philippians in the Bible, Paul writes and tells his friends in the city of Philippi not to worry about him, that he isn’t afraid of death.
How can he say that? Because of a simple statement that describes the purpose of his life. Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) That’s it. Simple words, profound thoughts.
You can look at it as if it were a mathematical formula, an algebra problem:
If to live = x, then to die = y. Solve for y = gain.
What could replace x to make y equal gain? What if we plug in “pleasure”? If our life is centered around pleasure, death certainly doesn’t equal gain. There is no gain in dying for the person who is focused on pleasure.
What if we make x equal “money”? Death certainly won’t be gain for that person. Hearses don’t come with trailers. Tombs don’t have storage closets. Money and possessions don’t follow us when we die.
We can try with other values of x, but none of them work. Family, power, charity work… not one of those things can be the center of a life that ends with gain. There’s only one correct answer: Christ. If to live is Christ, then to die is gain.
You might be thinking that a man like Paul only talks that way because he has nothing else. Yet he tells the Philippians that he was born into a great family, had the best education, was on the road to power and fame within the Jewish religion. His resumé is perfect. He even says that he was faultless as far as God’s Law is concerned. Wow!
He goes on to explain how he looks on those former things: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8-9)
For Paul, all that mattered was Christ. He considered everything else as loss, even the things that everyone around him seemed to want. He looked on those things from his past as “rubbish”—people who know Greek, the language Paul wrote in, say this word was pretty strong, maybe making some of the Christians who heard it blush. His past was loss, but his future was gain, because of Christ… even if that future meant death at the hands of a Roman executioner.
A lot of people today are trying to find purpose for their lives. They look to college degrees, high-paying jobs, significant relationships, sports, music… an endless list of places. Maybe you are one of those people. I’ve been there, trying to feel good about myself because of the things that I do or the things that I have. Looking around me, I see that most people aren’t any more successful with that than I was. It just doesn’t work.
But making Christ the center of your life works. Focusing on Him and His things will give you a sense of meaning that nothing else can. Our lives here on earth don’t last forever, so anything built around this life can only lose meaning over time.
Life with Christ knows no end. Death is merely a rest stop, not an end. Our relationship with Him will only grow over time, even after death. Everything we do for Him and His people is an investment in eternity. None of it is lost; it all adds up to profit without end.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) The things around us are temporary; everything that lasts forever is invisible. It only makes sense to build our lives around eternal things.
What is my life built around? If it’s built around anything except Jesus Christ, my life is destined to end in loss. Death will bring the end to my life’s purposes. But if my life is centered around Jesus, death will only propel me to a higher level of meaning. I, like Paul, will be able to look forward to it as the moment when my relationship with Jesus will be face to face.
Does my life have any purpose? Yes! Because of Jesus Christ.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”