Question: "What did Paul mean when he said, "I die daily" in 1 Corinthians 15:31?"
Answer: First Corinthians 15:31 says, “I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” (NASB). Other Bible versions word the last clause this way: “I face death every day” (NIV) and “Every day I am in danger of death!” (NET).
Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians is a strong defense of the doctrine of the resurrection. In verse 14 Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Then verses 30–32 make the point that Paul and his associates face death and suffering every day for preaching about the resurrection. If the resurrection were untrue or a hoax, then they are wasting their lives. Why should he “die daily,” if his message is a lie?
Paul expresses a similar thought in Romans 8:36: “As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’” (cf. Psalm 44:22). Here, as in 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul references the constant persecution that he and his companions endured.
“I die daily” echoes Jesus’ command to those who want to follow Him: “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The mention of a cross by a Jewish rabbi would have been shocking to first-century Jews. The cross was a torture tool introduced by the Romans to terrorize those who would speak against Caesar. The cross was a public humiliation that always represented death. Always. So, when Jesus said that in order to follow Him we must carry a cross, He meant that something must die before we can live. We must die to ourselves, our rights, and our desire to be our own boss. We must die daily.
Paul saw his life as a daily death to himself. He expressed this understanding to the church elders of Ephesus: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). This dying to self empowered Paul to face unimaginable suffering and many persecutions for the sake of the gospel.
When Paul said, “I die daily,” he reminded the church that he faced the possibility of death every time he strode into a new synagogue and proclaimed Christ to those who didn’t want to hear (Acts 17:2–5; 18:4). In 2 Corinthians 11:24–28, Paul lists some of the dangers he had faced that threatened death, yet he was undeterred. Acts 14:19–21 records Paul being stoned and left for dead. But he miraculously survived, got up, brushed himself off, and went to the next town to preach. He did not fear physical death because he had already reckoned himself “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).
Paul wrote often about dying to sin (Romans 6:11), to the flesh (Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:24), and to self (Galatians 2:20). He lived what he preached and urged believers everywhere to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; 4:16). He was able to impact untold millions for the kingdom of God because he refused to be distracted or consumed by earthly interests. Not even death scared him, so he could not be threatened away from obeying Jesus (Philippians 1:20–23).
We, too, can say, “I die daily.” Paul was totally sold out to God, and we can be, as well. Sin, the flesh, and this world will continually vie for our attention and demand our participation. But when we die daily, we consider ourselves unable to respond to those temptations. A dead man has no personal agendas or rights. He is not tempted to sin because he is dead to everything around him. “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world” (Colossians 2:20, NLT).