James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 1:21 - 1:21

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James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 1:21 - 1:21

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‘To me to live is Christ.’


What was the secret of St. Paul’s life, that secret which made him the greatest of all missionaries to the Gentile world? We have not to go far in our search, for he himself has revealed it in the words of the text. The secret of St. Paul’s life was the power and the presence of a living Christ.

I. Christ in life.—We are Christians in proportion as we possess the spirit of Christ, in proportion as we identify ourselves with Him, in proportion as we are able to say, with something of the bold, transcendent phrase of St. Paul, ‘To me to live is Christ.’ With St. Paul this was no mere exaggeration or figure of speech. He had so far lost himself in Christ that he had made a practical surrender of his own personality.

II. Life is distinguished everywhere by the possession of three great powers—the power of growth, the power of resistance, and the power of production—and we conclude that these same three powers will be found in all living Christianity, whether shown in the history of the world or in the man’s own soul.

(a) Life has the power of growth or expansion. A dead thing, such as a crystal, may change under chemical laws, but it cannot be said to grow. Growth means a vital and organic change; it is never seen, therefore, except where there is life. The converse is equally true, that wherever you find life you find also growth, or expansion. The plant shows its life by its development. Apply that to the Christian’s life within the soul, and you will find that you have a very practical test of its reality.

(b) Life has the power of resistance. Every creature that lives is beset by all sorts of powerful forces that seem to aim at destruction. Life has ever been defined as the ‘successful resistance of death.’ And the more vigorous a life is, the more numerous and the more terrible, often, are its enemies. And so we, if we have this life of Christ within us, must cultivate this power of resistance. We shall have to resist selfish desires, we shall have to resist the spirit of the world. We have to resist self because we have, as Christians, a higher law than that of self to walk by, and because self is a very subtle being, very ready to lead us astray even under the pretence of having good intentions, even under the pretence of doing God’s service.

(c) Life has the power of production. The plant realises the end of its existence by turning to flowers and fruit. Flowers and fruit of a true, noble, unselfish nature are the inevitable results of the Christ-life in the soul. He Himself has said it in one word: ‘The tree is known by its fruit’—known to be vigorous, known to be growing or decaying, known to be dying or dead. Show by the earnestness with which you labour to overcome your besetting sin, and struggle for truth and for virtue, that your repentance is real, that you are sincere when you claim for yourself this great name of Christian.

Rev. Canon S. A. Alexander.



Can I say it in any measure? Does my present life say it—‘To me to live is Christ?’ Would it be mockery in me to say it? Is Christ at all that Christ to me that I may say, ‘To me to live is Christ’? Let me advise you three things in that soliloquy.

I. Make the inquiry personal—a personal Christ to a personal self. A personal Christ! There is all the difference in the world between an abstract Christ, or an historical Christ, and a real, living Person, a personal Christ. Is Christ a Living Person to my soul? One I feel and rest in; holding converse with me everywhere; at my side; looking at me; caring for me, at this moment; Who loves me; my own! A Christ pleading for me in heaven; Whose blood has washed me! A great reality, when all other things are shadowy; a great reality, more than all I can see; the one reality of life; to me; to me personally as much as if I was the only person in the universe; ‘To me to live is Christ.’

II. Do not be discouraged if your conscience answers, ‘I could not say it. It would be the greatest presumption if I were to say to-day, “To me, this day, Christ is my life.” ’ Do not be discouraged. No one can say it as he ought, no one can say it as he wishes to say it, not even a St. Paul (Romans 7.). Do not be discouraged. Thank God if you can even see a standard far above and beyond all you have ever yet reached! Thank God for the drawing which makes you, at this moment, interested about it and anxious for it. Accept that as a token of God’s love and wish to have you, and of His willingness to pardon you.

III. From your knees, get up, and go and do something.—God will show you what, if you ask Him. Do it at once. Do it as an earnest of much more that shall follow. Do it simply, modestly, and trustingly. Do it in Jesus.

Rev. James Vaughan.