To Live Is Christ; To Die Is Gain
Christians do not desire death, but neither do we fear it. Oh, we pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” and desire wholeheartedly our Lord’s return, but not because we hate this life. We pray this way, first because the Scripture enjoins it upon us, but second because we desire to see our Lord’s vindication when his invisible reign is made manifest for all to see and marvel at in the world, when he shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. Prior to that great day, why yes, there are times when we especially feel ready to go—when in public worship or private meditation and prayer as our hearts are lifted up in praise and adoration, when through the Spirit’s power we experience freedom from the sin which so easily beset us for so many years, or perhaps those times when we just look up and thank God for all the blessings and most especially the display of His matchless grace in our salvation—indeed, there are times when we are so ready to depart this life and be with him that we might even weep as a widow for her beloved. We agree with Paul: To depart and be with Christ is far better.
But at the same time, the believer knows that he is not alone even in this vale of tears. We know that here we are pilgrims, sojourners, and aliens—and we wholeheartedly embrace these words. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and engage in fruitful labor. There are people around us who need our attention for the gospel’s sake. And we desire that above all, “Christ will be honored in [our bodies], whether by life of by death.” For the servant does not care where he is as long as he is serving his lord and master, just as the beloved cares not where she is as long as her lover is near.
And what is the reason for all this? How is the Christian able to endure both life and death and be content in any and all circumstances? Paul answers this question in one of his most memorable lines: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (a very literal translation of the Greek). For the believer, be it life or death, it is all about Christ. Thus, he may be content wherever he is, be it home or abroad, here or there, on earth or in heaven. Of course, heaven is far better; indeed, there is no comparison. But this is not because heaven is so much more wonderful than this world in and of itself, but because our being with him will be all the closer, sin no longer impeding. In the meantime, we are still with him, in the heavenlies, though walking on the earth, for to live is Christ. That’s one of those truths I don’t think I can unpack; nevertheless, it is one of those truths every believer understands deep within though he cannot express: To live is Christ, but oh to depart….