“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” Philippians 1:21-24
As Christians, we are in a strait betwixt two and, if the choice were ours, it would be hard to choose. On the one hand, we long to leave this life and be with Christ Jesus, our Savior, where there will be no more sin, sorrow or death (cf. Rom. 7:18ff.; 8:22ff.; Phil. 3:20-21; Rev. 7:9ff.). On the other, there is work to be done in this world that others might hear God’s Word and come to know Christ and that believers might be preserved in the true faith in Christ Jesus as our Savior (cf. Luke 24:46-48; Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).
The apostle Paul was in that same strait. He was in prison because He preached Christ crucified as the only hope for sinful mankind, and he faced the very real possibility of being put to death for His faith and testimony concerning Jesus being God the Son and the promised Messiah and Savior of lost sinners. If he were to live on in this world, it would be Christ living in Him and through Him and calling upon all to repent of their sinful ways and look to Jesus and His cross for eternal salvation. If He were to die for His faith, it would be for Christ’s glory and the apostle would be taken from this sinful world to be with Christ Jesus forever.
The apostle had a desire to depart and be with His God and Savior because that would be far better. But, he also knew the churches in Philippi (cf. Acts 16) and other places needed the strengthening and encouraging he could offer and give by his letters and by visiting and teaching them God’s Word. Therefore, Paul was confident he would be delivered from death and be able to visit the churches again and encourage believers in their faith with more teaching from the Word.
Why do we, as Christians, live on in this world? It’s not so we can enjoy this world or relax in retirement. Knowing our own sinfulness and having seen through the Word a glimpse of what Christ has in store for those who trust in Him, we desire to depart this life and to be with Jesus where we will no longer be sinners and no longer suffer the evils of this world. We know it is far better to be with Christ. But we also know that God leaves us in this world a little longer for one purpose – to live is Christ – that we might bear witness of the truths of God’s Word and point people to Christ Jesus, whether that be our children, grandchildren or others around us (cf. 2 Peter 3:9; Psalm 71:14-18).
O dearest Jesus, we long to be with You forever. Help us to live for You in this world – to bear witness to You and the salvation You won for all by Your death upon the cross – until that day You call us home to You in heaven. Amen.