I’m thinking that, sometimes, the difference between a portion of Scripture being familiar and fantastic is simply your season. Your current life experience creating a filter, or perhaps more aptly a magnifying glass, which takes something you’ve read, memorized, and believed for years and accentuates it in such a way that it jumps off the page with a fresh reality, meaning, and blessing for today. It’s the difference between a verse ending up on a t-shirt as a slogan and it “piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12 AV). Such, this morning, was the case with Paul’s well known declaration to the Philippians.
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.
(Philippians 1:21-24 ESV)
This morning, I’m chewing more on “to die is gain” than I am “to live is Christ.”
Paul had had a taste of heaven (2Cor. 12:2-4). He had tasted of glory and seen that it was good. He had heard things in the third heaven, the heaven beyond our atmosphere and beyond our universe, for which there were no words to describe them here on earth. Assuming his experience was similar to John’s as described in Revelation, he saw things in paradise beyond anything we could conceive of on this planet–things which drove him facedown to his knees, and those gathered around the throne to their feet, in awe-filled worship.
And so, as Paul sat in a Roman prison surrounded by an imperial guard (Php. 1:13), he would live for Christ but was so aware that to die is gain. That to depart and be with Christ would be far better.
Far better. That’s “better” with multiple exclamation marks after it. Paul seemingly struggles to emphasize enough the “better-ness” of departing. While he would embrace God’s will for him here below, he knew that what God had waiting for him there above was “better beyond all expression.”
Far better. Paul knew that the life that he now lived “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20), he would one day live face to face–and that which was now known but in part would be known fully, with the same fullness with which God knew him (1Cor. 13:12).
Better by far. Paul knew firsthand that to live for Christ would require times of being under incredible pressure while not being sure what to do about them. That to stand for Christ would invite times of opposition and persecution (2Cor. 4:8-10). But he also knew that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). To live is Christ, to die is gain.
We can only imagine the gain as, by faith and with the Spirit’s illuminating enablement, we try to envision the experience of those who are now with Christ, before the throne, the One who sits on the throne dwelling among them. And the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne is, Himself, shepherding them, leading them to living fountains of water (Rev. 7:15-17). We can but speculate of what it is like to walk in that place where there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. Where there shall be no more pain. Where the former things have passed away . . . and behold, He has made all things new (Rev. 21:4-5).
What a day that will be for us. What a day that currently is for those who have already departed. Who have realized the gain. Who know experientially that truly, it is far better.
Because of grace. For His glory.