The magnetism of this world pulls strong on every human being including us Christians. So strong, in fact, is the attraction that many Christians would push back when the Bible says, “to die is gain” and “to depart and be with Christ is far better” (Philippians 1:21, 23). Not you? You don’t push back? Please continue to read.
Paul wrote those famous words while under arrest in the imperial city of Rome. For Paul, the previous two years delivered blow after blow to his physical and mental wellbeing (Acts 21-26). Now he finds himself perilously close to the executioner’s blade. What will happen he does not know. What he desires to happen he is quite certain. He wants to depart this life by means of his death to be with Jesus which, Paul proclaims, is far better. To which most reply, “Well, of course it’s better to die and to go be with Jesus than to live under persecution.” But that response misses Paul’s point.
Paul is not saying that departing this life via death is better than the parts of this life that stink. Paul says departing this life via death is far better than the best this life can offer to us.
We agree departing this life via death to be with Jesus is better than Christian persecution, better than cancer, better than bankruptcy, better than fighting, better than pain, better than divorce, better than infertility, better than temptation, better than addiction, better than paralysis, better than abandonment, better than jealousies, better than bitterness, and better than heartbreak. But the Christian view is departing this life via death to be with Jesus is better than the very best this life can offer to us.
- Life on earth with Brenda is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
- Life on earth with two sons, two daughters, a daughter-in-law, and a future son-in-law is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
- Life on earth with grandchildren is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
- Life on earth with a healthy heart and lungs, and strong arms and legs is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
- Life on earth with expansive liberties because I am an American is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
- Life on earth with financial freedom is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
- Life on earth enjoying with family and friends mountain slopes, wilderness lakes, and tropical breezes is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
- Life on earth seeing all my dreams come true is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
Do you push back against any of those declarations? Frankly, I do. In reality, I, like many of you, have little interest to leave this world for another better world in order to be with God. “My life is good,” I think, “There is so much left to enjoy here and to look forward to here. When I get old and frail, suffer memory loss, cannot see or hear well, then I’ll want to go be with Jesus.” Our contentment with the best of what this life offers reveals how far away we are from God, from His love, and the blessed life which is in Him.
Now, don’t be argumentative or worse, foolish, and conclude that you should end your life today because the Bible says, “to depart and be with Christ, is far better.” Paul determines in the next line, “Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul the timing of his departure via death to be with Christ belongs to heaven. Paul desired to die, but he was willing to live. While death would have been gain to him, he would endure the personal loss of living on earth if it meant a benefit to others.
What do you desire, to depart and be with Christ or to have a little more of the good life here? Your answer determines in part how you will live your life here and what will hold the passions of your heart.
O Lord, while I am thankful for the life you have given to me here, I often find myself far more interested in this life than in the life to come with you in heaven. I want to hold this life loosely, even the very best parts of it that you have given to me to enjoy to the max. I want to be like those who have gone on before me who desired a better country, a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:17). Separate my heart from its love for this broken creation and stir my heart to want to be with you. Amen.
As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.