“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23).
How do you feel about dying? How often do you think about your own death? Many of us avoid this subject like the plague. From the opening passage above, it is evident that the apostle Paul took some time to contemplate the consequences of his own death (Philippians 1:21-23).
It was certainly appropriate for Paul to consider his own death as he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi because he wrote this letter from a prison cell in Rome. As he wrote he did not know what the outcome of his sentence would be: Would he be sentenced to death or would he be set free?
While Paul did not know what his sentence would be, more importantly, Paul did know what his purpose was regarding the time he had left on this earth. His purpose was to live for Christ and to glorify Him. Paul writes, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:19-20).
Paul knew either he would be delivered from prison to go on to serve Christ or he would be delivered from this earthly life to go on to his heavenly home to be with Christ. Furthermore, he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In fact, Paul struggled with having his desire to leave this earthly life be greater, at times, than his desire to stay: “For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
How could Paul make such a statement? Did Paul have some kind of death wish or was he suicidal? No! He loved his brethren in the church and knew they needed him (Philippians 1:24-26). However, he loved God and wanted to be with Him too! Paul knew this earth was not his home, but that he was just passing through. Paul understood it was not his place to choose whether he would stay on this earth or go to his heavenly home (Philippians 1:22). Paul would not rob himself of the peace of God by worrying about such things. He determined that while he remained on earth his purpose was to live a Christ-centered life as he looked forward to going home to be with God.
Years ago I met a preacher of the gospel named Garvin Smith. He had been told he had cancer and was going to die soon. He prepared himself for death and told myself and others he was looking forward to going home to be with God. However, his cancer went into remission. After learning this, he said he was actually disappointed to learn of this because he was looking forward to going home.
Would I have reacted this way? Is my desire for heaven so strong that to learn I am being given more days to spend on earth would be a disappointment to me? Brother’s Smith’s cancer eventually did come back and he got to go home to be with God, but his example, like Paul’s, is a great example to me to remember that my “longing” needs to be for my heavenly home, not my earthly tent! Today, I will strive to live by Paul’s words: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.
“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).