For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
The Christian hope of eternal life, in the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ, is one that is lived out in tension. A tension created by the life we have now and the life we long for in eternity. This tension is not always a godly one. Sometimes we long for this life out of love for the things of this world or the glory that comes from success or even the pursuit of it. Other times we long for heaven because we want to escape this life, not out of a desire and love for God, but just because we want to escape. The godly tension is found in having God’s purposes in view. Whether we live or die our lives are lived out for His purposes and glory.
The apostle Paul understood this tension and saw it as a win-win scenario. ‘If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far’ (verse 22-23). Either way, whether he lives or dies, he does so in God’s purposes. To die is to be with his Saviour and to live he does so for the benefit of God’s people. There is no doubt that Paul has Christ and His purposes at the center of His life, a good example and challenge for us.
I love Paul’s desire for the glory of Christ and his willingness to suffer in this life for it. But I also love that he states his desire to be with Christ, which he thinks is better than this life, better by far. It’s a glimpse into his love for Christ and at the same time a confession of the difficulty of this life. It’s a confession that sets us free as God’s people to long for something better, especially in the midst of suffering and struggle. We sometimes feel guilty longing for heaven. We’re burdened by the weight of having to be the perfect Christian who endures suffering or the victorious believer whose life runs smoothly. But it’s okay to long for Heaven and admit that this life is hard. It’s okay to long for Christ!
At the same time this confession can be a motivator for us to live this life for Christ’s glory and the benefit of others, because this life in Christ is not without purpose. As we live out our purpose in Christ we bear fruit for the sake of others, for their joy and progress. The greatest purpose to be wrapped up in, is to live for others and Christ. Despite what the world thinks, joy and happiness are not wrapped up in selfish ambition but in selfless service. This is a life worth living for the glory of Christ.
Lord, give us by Your Holy Spirit a clear vision of Christ in our life and strong conviction for His Glory. Burn into our hearts a godly tension that to live is Christ and to die is gain, for Your Glory. Amen.