At church tomorrow we’ll be moving into a classic passage from Philippians 2, but before we get there I want to hone in on Paul’s very intriguing attitude in Philippians 1:21-26.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
As you can note in our previous podcast episode, Paul was quite fine with persecution if it was on behalf of honoring Jesus—but Paul’s words in this passage take his attitude another step further and it stands out to our culture (and probably any culture) in a radical way.
We are constantly focused on this life. We drag ourselves to the gym in hopes to ward off death a few extra decades. We eat tasteless foods to keep our bodies in the best health possible and label eating like a normal person for a day to be a “cheat day.” We buy books about living our best life now and practice the 10 quick habits that will make us healthier human beings in just 30 days. It’s all about living for the now and getting the most out of our lives and extending them for as long as humanly possible.
And yet, here’s Paul, so enamored with Jesus and the life to come in the resurrection that if he’s given a choice as to if he will live or die, he’s somewhat unsure which one he’ll choose. He knows ultimately that he would choose to live longer in this life because people need him, but in his honesty, he can’t help but admit that he’s eager to get to Jesus’ presence already.
This is not a life that American Christianity seems to display very much. Many of our funerals seem to be lost in some kind of conflicted hope—Well, I really hope this resurrection thing is real because otherwise…—as though when faced with the power of death, we find ourselves a bit unsure about everything we stand for.
And that’s why we could use a page from Paul’s book, so that we might rest in his assurance of that which is to come for those who follow Yahweh and receive His Son, Jesus. When we do this, living a life for that what lies beyond death becomes so important that we may not be able to help but grow excited to leave this world and enter God’s space.
It’s not that we shouldn’t live healthy lives that extend our stay on the earth—indeed, to take care of our bodies is to honor God. And we should never desire something like suicide as that is not at all what Paul was referring to; for suicide is a dark and evil tactic of Satan. But when we live lives that are dedicated to Jesus and all about God’s kingdom, we may just see death evolve into something we didn’t expect it could be seen as.