I had my first Uber ride a few weeks ago while at a conference in Grand Rapids, MI. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous, so at breakfast one morning I asked some of my experienced Uber colleagues what they knew about Uber and what I should expect. They went around the table and each told a fascinating “Uber” story of drivers whose lives were far more than toting people around. The underlining theme was that most drivers had a story and driving for Uber wasn’t the full picture. One woman at the table spoke of a driver she had whose real passion was bullfighting. “This isn’t my life,” she said. “I only do this in the off-season. My real calling is bull-fighting.” My table-mates encouraged me to find out what my Uber driver’s life was really all about.
I went to bed like a child on the eve of her birthday. What would the next morning bring? A bull-fighter? What if I got a driver without a story? I barely slept a wink.
At 9:15AM the next morning, Daniel pulled up in a blue Nissan Rogue. I got into the car and I greeted him. Then I said, “This is my very first Uber ride.” His steely blue eyes met mine in the rearview mirror and he said, “Well, you’re in luck because not only am I an Uber driver, I’m also a…wizard! And, I can grant you ONE wish.”
He went on to explain that his life was all about travel. He had visited all fifty states and fifteen countries. I, of course, was thrilled that I had a driver with a story…an Uber Wizard! I could hold my head high at breakfast the next morning and be counted among the Uber initiated.
Imagine if the apostle Paul were your Uber driver and you hopped into a car with him behind the wheel. What story would he tell? How would he sum up the essence of his life?
In Philippians 1:21, the apostle Paul says: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
This is an intimately personal statement. I imagine Paul pausing. Maybe he leans back in his chair. He looks up to the ceiling. He thinks hard. Then he writes, “For to me….” He’s reflecting on what his life is about. Even while imprisoned, his life is about one thing: Jesus.
There’s something appealing in what Paul says because he knows exactly what his life is about.
But there’s also something intimidating about what the imprisoned apostle says. Can I really say that? Do I want to say that? That’s the kind of thing that apostles say, not ordinary people, like me. There are seasons in which my phrase has been “For to me, to live is…my kids/work/my house/Downton Abbey or Poldark or just getting through the week without refereeing an argument or a fight; dealing with an emotional drama; not having to watch a rambunctious child ride his bike off the retaining wall without his helmet.”
His statement is appealing; it’s intimidating and it’s also a bit…well…over the top. It’s the phrase of a zealot. It’s the phrase of someone who is all in for Jesus Christ. It’s the phrase of someone who has suffered for Jesus. They are the words of a man who once persecuted Christians but has been forgiven and been transformed by the power of God and will never go back to the way things were before he knew Jesus Christ. For to me, to live is Christ; to die is gain.
So, what does it look like when life is Christ? For Paul, it meant telling people about Jesus. But what exactly did he tell people about Jesus? I think 2 Corinthians 5 sums up Paul’s preaching about Jesus well: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us. So that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.” Paul told others about God’s plan of reconciliation.
What else did he mean when he said “to live is Christ”? He talks about it in Philippians 1:25 when he says “…I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” His life consists of doing what he can to make sure other people make progress in their faith and that they experience joy in their faith.
I love this picture because living for Christ doesn’t involve him guilt-tripping or shaming others. Instead, he’s working to see people progress and grow in the faith. Crucial to progress in the faith is joy.
Even though Paul talks about joy, he also knows that living for Christ means suffering for him as well. Paul is in chains because he preached the good news of Jesus. He writes to the church at Philippi: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him…”
I don’t like the suffering picture of living for Christ as much as I liked the picture of progress and joy in the faith. But Jesus anticipated that his followers would suffer for him. And Jesus also said that those who suffered for him would have reason for joy because they would reap a heavenly reward: “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven (Luke 6:22-23).
Back to my Uber wizard and that one wish. My wish is that whenever I’m going from here to there; running errands, chauffeuring kids around…I’d know what I’m living for and I could say, “For to me, to live is Christ.” And then I could point to the evidence: kids, family members, friends who have progressed in their faith and live life with joy and even suffer with joy because they know something far greater awaits them.