I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.Philippians 1:20-24 NIV
I have met few Christians who did not talk about looking forward to heaven. They look forward to being reunited with family and friends. As well as being freed from physical ailments that trouble them now. But I have met few who were ready to go today. And most of them were weary of life here because of the ravages of age or disease. Mostly we seem to want to enjoy life here as long as possible before facing what is for many professing Christians, an unknown and uncertain future.
An unknown and uncertain future? Really? While few of us would likely admit that, it does appear to be what we actually believe. If we were convinced that it was real, and as wonderful as we say, would we not be much more eager to go; and to go now? Instead we seem to hold on to that hope as something only to be used once we have wrung every last drop of life out of our time here.
To Die Is Gain
But Paul expresses something entirely different in this passage. Rather than something to hope for when he has used up this life, Paul expresses that leaving this life, and being with Christ, is much the preferred condition. The only thing holding Paul back is the knowledge that God still has a task for him to accomplish here. But even while he stays to accomplish that, his heart is in heaven with Christ. He is yearning for that, just like some yearn for a long awaited vacation or other special event.
What is also unique about Paul, and what I like best about this passage, is his focus while he is waiting to be called home. If he is to left here, it will be for fruitful labor, something that will be beneficial for the believers he would be leaving behind. For Paul, the only reason he has to be stuck here on the ground is because he can still make a difference in the lives of those he has contact with. And you can bet that was what he devoted every waking moment to; making a difference for the kingdom. What an example he sets for all of us who call on the name of Christ.
I can just hear the Father greeting Paul when he finally stood before him: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21).