I’ve been thinking a lot about Paul’s words in Philippians 1:24: “To live is Christ...to die is gain.” To me, this affirmation echoes what he earlier stated in Acts 20:24: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me -- the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” A bit later in Acts, Paul further explained that he was “ready to not only be bound in Jerusalem but to die for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
Friends, I am no theologian. In fact, I know precious little.
But I recognize great faith when I read of it.
Paul loved our Lord Jesus Christ so much that he BOTH wished to do His will here on earth AND be present with Him in heaven. What an internal conflict. To know that one must bless others and tell of Jesus’ wonders, grace, and salvation. And to know that one wishes to above all else “be absent from the body and home with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8).
Early church father, Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397), intimated similarly to Paul in his writings wherein he stated, “Death is not only an evil but also a good thing...For we see that death is advantageous and life is a penalty...Our remedy is the grace of Christ...Therefore, let us be like strangers to our body, lest we become strangers to Christ.” It is clear that Ambrose likewise longed to be absent from the body and present with Christ.
Friends, when I was little, I did not understand the whole “To live is Christ; to die is gain” idea. I do remember my mother praying so fervently, though, that the Lord would not tarry His return any longer. She wanted nothing more than to be present with Him in Glory. And now I feel the same way. To die is gain, after all.
But you see, here’s where Paul’s words factor into the matter. We, as spirit-filled followers of the Most High God, have an obligation to go forth and preach the gospel. To share of God’s grace. To tell of our hope in the resurrection. To be love to all. To be His light in a dark world. To bless people. Paul did all of those things after having been saved by Jesus Christ and whilst still present here on earth.
Friends, let us commit to living our life in Christ. Because to live is Christ. We are yet here on earth, so let us finish the race and complete the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. In our deeds, speech, and thoughts. For His glory, honor, and praise. Because then, once we die, we gain.
September 4, 2016