For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. (Philippians 1:21-24)
- Death isn’t scary
Paul tells the church of Philippi that to die is far better than to live. Why would this be so? Because to die means to be with Christ. For a Christian, to be absent from the body means you are present with God (2 Corinthians 5:8).
There are (supposed to be) two kinds of people in the world: those who are afraid of death, and those who aren’t. Those who are afraid are afraid because they don’t know where they are going. The others aren’t afraid because they know exactly where they are going.
If you belong to Christ, then death has absolutely no hold on you. Death has no sting, no victory, no power (1 Corinthians 15:55, Romans 8:2).
Now as we shall see, we shouldn’t morbidly welcome death at every moment. But we also shouldn’t fear the day when we will finally go home many, many years from now.
- You choose when you die
Paul makes a statement that would probably be declared blasphemy if uttered by a Christian nowadays: “What I shall choose I cannot tell.”
Paul got to choose whether he’d die or not?
This stands in the face of today’s common belief that God might take your life at any moment (a view espoused in Francis Chan’s Crazy Love in Chapter 2, titled “You Might Not Finish This Chapter”). But the bible makes it clear that the man or woman of God gets a say about when they go.
Paul was told at the time of his conversion that he’d die a martyr (Acts 9:16). And yet through faith, he was repeatedly delivered from death. From his own lips he testified that he got to choose when he’d die. And when he finally did die, it was after he had told God he was ready to go (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
And Paul wasn’t the only one who had a say in the matter. Think back to Hezekiah. He was told by the prophet Isaiah to get his life in order, because he’d be dying soon. Hezekiah didn’t like that much, so he prayed a simple 27-word prayer, and God immediately healed him and extended his life.
Moses told the Israelites during his farewell address that God has “set before you death and life.” He then told them that the choice what theirs: “Therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Solomon confirmed this, teaching that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
Now obviously we can’t choose to live forever. Anyone who would want to live forever clearly doesn’t have a grasp on point one (“it’s far better to be with Christ”) and it motivated by fear. It would be unscriptural to desire to live away from heaven forever. But based on the entirety of scripture, we must conclude that long life is promised for God’s children. And any young person who has died prematurely has ultimately died because they didn’t choose life.
- You should choose to help others
Paul, talking about his impending choice, doesn’t say he is making his choice based on how much more money he can earn for himself. He doesn’t base it on his desire to see Avengers 2, or in hopes of being around when Firefly inevitably makes its return.
So how did Paul make the choice?
“To remain in the flesh is more needful for you.”
He based his choice on the needs of the world around him. His life was poured out to bring the message of a saving Christ to a dark and dying world.
This should be a primary motivation for everything we’ve discussed.
Does God want you healthy? Yes. And as a healthy child of God, you are to go lay hands on the sick and see them recover (Mark 16:17). Does God meet all of your needs? Yes. And because you have freely received, freely give (Matthew 10:8). Did Jesus tell you to cast your cares on Him? Yes. Now bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
When talking about how abundantly God has blessed you, we often forget the third promise God made to Abraham:
- I will bless you.
- I will make your name great.
- You will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)
But a primary reason God has promised to bless us is so we can bless those around us.
And when talking about choosing to live a long life here on earth, the question you should be asking is:
“Do I have more to give to those around me?”
Once the answer is no, then it’s probably time to pack your bags and head on home to glory.