Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
It is a shame that we take verses like this, pull them out of context, and spit out quasi-motivational or therapeutic messages that go something like this: “It would be better to be in Heaven which is far nicer than this old world but we need to sacrifice and stay here a little while longer to share Jesus with a few more people.” While a true statement, it’s maddeningly shallow.
Taken in context, the Apostle Paul’s statement elaborated on would go something more like this: “To die is preferable (I can go be with Jesus whom I’ve seen in person) but to continue to live in this world will promote Christ and establish His church even though it’s going to cost me my freedom, my personal plans, my possessions, my comfort, my health, and ultimately my life.”
How easy it is to express the sentiment “I’d rather be in heaven with Jesus but if I have to stay here a while longer and go to church and witness to others, that’s okay too” compared to “I’d rather be in heaven with Jesus but if the Kingdom of God is benefited by my suffering, loss of freedom, or even my death, then give me that instead.” That’s exactly what Paul was facing.
Death for Paul (or us) was personal gain: freedom from sin, freedom from chains, freedom from persecution, freedom from health problems, freedom from betrayal, freedom from uncertainty, freedom from pain, and freedom from loss. Nothing is wrong with wanting to be face to face with Jesus. In fact, any Christian who does not constantly LONG for that just does not really “get it” about Heaven (hence the ridiculous statement you often hear: “I want to go to Heaven, just not today”).
But to live “is Christ.” In other words, Paul’s personal gain, his comfort, his relief, and his own desires were willingly subordinated for the glory of Christ. Helping Jesus is more important that helping ourselves… and worth it. Consider it in these terms:
- If my suffering promotes Christ, let me suffer.
- If my loss of freedom glorifies Jesus, take my freedom.
- If my striving and toil results in Kingdom progress, I will gladly bear it.
- If remaining here in this sin-cursed world continues to help God’s will be done, let me remain.
Nothing wrong with wanting to go to heaven NOW. You’d be a fool (or ignorant) to want anything less. And we do not have to go out seeking trials and imprisonment; however, the mark of true Christian maturity is the elevating of Jesus Christ over anything that we want, anything that benefits us, or any plans or personal advantage… this is evidence of genuine and mature faith. This is the result of truly understanding the preeminence of God’s Son in the universe.
Does that mean we are resigned to a stoic life of drudgery and giving up everything that’s “in it for us”? Heavens no (pun intended). The sacrifices we make in this life are NOTHING compared to the ETERNAL rewards God has in store for us. For everything we give up, God promises to restore and reward a thousand times over for all eternity. God’s promises are the only “sure thing” when it comes to investing our life. Consider the famous saying by Jim Elliot: