Philippians 1:21 For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
My Puritan devotional hit me square again today in its discussion about our reluctance to look at death with anticipation. There was a time in my life, not that long ago, that I truly looked forward to heaven. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t contemplating suicide. Certain circumstances in my life were very difficult so, yes, heaven was appealing. Did I want to actually go through the process of death? No, but I did think about heaven much more than I do today.
I think it’s like Kenny Chesney who sings, “Everybody want to go to heaven, but nobody want to go now.” My Puritan writer, Richard Baxter, is right when he says, “If God enacted a law for the continuance of our life until we are truly willing, heaven might be empty, and our lives on earth would be very long.” Ouch.
Why is it that the words Paul says make sense but are so foreign to us?
v. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
Well, does that sound like Paul is convinced? Not at first glance. It would seem that he, too, liked this world, but we must be very careful so that we understand his motive for staying.
v. 23-24 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.
Ok, we see that he would rather be in heaven, but there is reason he would desire to stay – for our account. What does he mean by that?
v. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
Ouch. He would stay for purely unselfish reasons. Our faith. Why?
v. 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Paul’s primary concern is our faith in Jesus so that we, too, may relish in his glory and joy. Is there anything about my desire to prolong my life on earth that resembles Paul’s? Or, am I more like Kenny Chesney? Ouch. From here, I am going to let Richard Baxter speak.
Consider what unfaithfulness lurks in the heart of this sin. Either we do not believe the promises given in Scripture, or we doubt our interest in them. O if we would believe the promises of glory, we would be impatient with living! Is it possible that we can truly believe that death will remove us from misery to such glory, and yet be loath to die? If a man in despicable poverty today had assurance that he would arise a prince in the morning, would he be afraid to go to bed? The truth is, though there is faith in our mouths, there is infidelity and paganism in our hearts. The things we delight in – some garden, a walk, or books – we pour over with delight. We love food, clothes, and recreations. Can I love God above these and have no desire to be with him? I do not say that we have no love at all for him, but if we love him more, we would die more willingly. Our knowledge is dark, our faith exceedingly feeble, and our love but little. Christ came from heaven that we might go to heaven. (Voices from the Past, p. 311)
Does that resonate for you like it does for me? I haven’t been longing for heaven for the simple fact that I desire to be with Jesus. Yes, my focus has been on this world but not for the reason that Paul’s was. His reason was for our sake so that we might be saved. Mine is far more selfish. Yes, I have some of what Paul has, but the cares of this world are far more captivating for me – so much so that I seldom think of heaven anymore.
Father, please forgive me. Re-arrange my priorities. Set my focus on what truly matters. Please deliver me from that which John warns me: “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world.” Gulp. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Scott Powers