I want to die.
That’s what Paul said in his letter to the church in Philippi, which he was writing from a prison cell in Rome. And mind you, death was a very plausible thing for Paul at that time. He was awaiting trial, and as far as he knew at the time, he could have been facing execution after the trial.
And yet, he said:
For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.
Philippians 1:21 (NLT)
If I even think of myself in a life or death situation, I start quivering and hoping and praying that I’ll survive it. And I haven’t even ever been in a real life or death situation! I can only imagine what would have been going through my mind had I been in Paul’s position. I wouldn’t have been saying that I wanted to die, that’s for sure.
There seems to be a common mindset throughout our culture (including within the Church) today that emphasizes our life on earth. Life is sweet, and even if we think Jesus is even sweeter, we prefer to have him right here with us on earth, thank you very much.
I mean, there’s so much to do, so many pleasures to have, so many people to meet and things to achieve here on earth. You Only Live Once. So why would we want to die?
What did Paul know that we don’t, for him to make such a crazy statement? Surely it was just because he lived in age before technology. They didn’t have the ability to travel worldwide, or the insane opportunities we all have in America. I mean, if Paul only knew how much good stuff we have nowadays, he surely wouldn’t say the same thing, would he?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, “Oh, yes, he would.”
Paul wasn’t ready to die because he was bored with his life on earth. Actually, he said just the opposite. Continuing from the verse above, he says:
But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. but for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.
Philippians 1:22-24 (NLT)
He knows that if he does live, his life is worthwhile. He’s looking forward to doing more work for the Kingdom of God if he makes it out of prison alive.
And the key, the key to why Paul says that he is ready to die, is tucked right there, in the sentence I just wrote.
Paul’s heart is set on one thing and one thing alone: Jesus Christ.
That is his reason for living: to do His work. Everywhere Paul goes, he spreads the Gospel. He even told some of his prison guards about Jesus!
The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling beofre Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household.
Acts 16:29-32 (NLT)
And the reason Paul is so set on doing God’s work, that he even tells his jailers about Jesus, is because he has experienced God’s insane, majestic, awe-inspiring love and the Holy Spirit has prompted him to follow through with the only logical response: complete and total devotion.
It is because of that realization of God’s complete awesomeness that Paul has dedicated his entire life to Jesus, and it’s also why Paul says that he wants to die.
When he dies, he gets to be with Jesus, forever, face to face, without any sin or any worldly corruption to stand in the way. Death is the only thing standing between him and eternal worship of his incredible God.
And man, is he ready for that eternity.
When I look at myself and my own hesitations about death, I realize that there are a few lies I’m believing that lead to this hesitation:
- I believe the world has too many good things in store for me to leave behind.
- I have a flawed view of heaven.
- God isn’t the only thing that matters to me, above everyone else.
Let’s address these one by one, shall we?
1. I believe the world has too many good things in store for me to leave behind.
Sure, the world is full of fun, good things. There’s no doubt about that. But scripture tells us that all good things come from God, so think how much better heaven will be? If all good things on earth come from God, and God lives in heaven, which is his perfect, sinless domain, heaven must be a pretty awesome place.
2. I have a flawed view of heaven.
I kind of talked about this above. But heaven isn’t just some place we go to play harps and sing the same worship song over and over again, like a watered down church service. No, heaven is literally paradise. It’s our opportunity to finally be with our Creator, the perfect, eternal King of the universe. It’s bound to be anything but boring.
3. God isn’t the only thing that matters to me, above everyone else.
God should be our number one. He should be at the forefront of our minds, above and beyond all worldly pursuits, and – get this – all other people. That’s right. God should be prioritized over our relationships with our friends, parents, siblings, and spouses. Yes, of course love them, but don’t put them before God. God is the reason we’re all even here in the first place, and He deserves total, primary devotion, over all people.
If we love God, love for others will surely follow. It says just that in 1 John 4. But the primary longing of our hearts should be for God. The love for others should come as a result of our love for God.
And then, if God is our number one, we can be ready to meet Him face to face when He’s finished with us on earth. Yes, we can love others and have good and wonderful relationships with them on earth, serving them and talking about Jesus with them, but when God has used us and is ready to call us home, we should be ready for that. We should be eager for it, in fact.
Just as Paul loved serving others here on earth, he realized that it was actually better for him to die and be with Christ. Could we say the same? Could I say the same?