Would You Prefer to Die?

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Rather shocking words. Death, according to the apostle Paul, could actually be a good thing.

Some people feel this way because life is so bad that they want escape from it, but that’s not what Paul was thinking at all.

He was not tired of life, and he had no morbid fascination of death. Instead, his desire for death was based in his firm belief that death would bring him closer to Jesus. He loved Jesus so much that he could say that being closer to Him would be “better by far” (1:23).

Paul’s thinking may seem rather strange to you. Why would anyone think this way?

In order to understand his thinking, let’s ask this question: what makes life worth living at all?

Let me suggest that it is primarily one thing: relationships. Whatever else we may enjoy, without relationships, they are pretty much worthless. We desperately need people.

However, people can never satisfy us. Even at their best, they cannot supply the love we truly need. This points us to a more fulfilling relationship with our Creator.

Jesus Christ is a human being, born 2,000 years ago, but He also claimed to be the eternal God and proved it by His resurrection from the dead.

Because Jesus is no mere man, we are not talking merely about devotion to an historical person. We are talking about a human who is also God. This is the basic claim of the Christian religion.

In light of that, here are a few reasons why someone might consider death “gain” to be closer to Jesus.

  • He is our Creator. He made us and wants to have a relationship with us.
  • He is the ruler of the universe. There is no one who can do more for us than Jesus Christ to whom “all authority and power in heaven and earth” have been given.
  • He loves us more than anyone else could. Every other love is finite. His love is infinite, fully able to satisfy all our needs.
  • He cares for us more than anyone else. When we had no interest in Him, He came into this world and suffered on the cross for our sins so that we might be brought back to God (1 Pet. 3:18).
  • He understands us better than anyone else can. Everyone else knows us a little bit. He knows us every thought and intention of our hearts. Amazingly, He loves us more than anyone else does in spite of that.

These are just some of the reasons why someone would say being closer to Christ would be better than anything this world has to offer.

I am one who believes this in my heart. But I have to admit: I have a hard time saying that dying would be better than living in this world.

Why is that? I don’t think it’s just because I’m an unsanctified Christian (though I’m sure that has something to do with it). Rather, I like the connections I have down here. I want to be with my children, wife, and friends, help them, and experience my children growing up and learning to do significant things in this world.

Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided” (1 Cor. 7:32–34).

And you know what? Even though Paul was probably single, he still had a similar struggle. He wanted to be with Christ, but he also loved the churches that God had used him to establish.

He writes: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (1:23–24).

Staying on earth meant that he could have “fruitful labor” among the people whom he loved.

From Paul’s meditation on the meaning of death and the meaning of life, let me encourage you to consider three things.

First, each one of us should prepare more thoroughly for death than we do. One day we will leave this world. Do we think about that? Do we meditate on being with Christ? This should be a regular practice.

Second, one day we will have to leave those whom we love and commit them to the Lord. They belong first and foremost to Him. Our mortality reminds us of this important truth. This is a crucial perspective in all our interactions with people.

Third, while we are here, let us make every effort to do all the good we can to those whom God has committed to our care. If leaving people behind bothers us, let us do good while have the opportunity. Let’s cut out the distractions that keep us from giving our attention to those whom God has called us to love.

I know that each of us needs rest and investments in ourselves in order to have something to give unto others, but we should always make those investments and take that rest with an eye to blessing others.

Why are we here, after all? Dying may be gain, but we are here. So, while we have the opportunity, let’s do our best to fill our time with with “fruitful labor” that glorifies Christ by investing in others (Phil. 1:22).

Living by Grace

In Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians that he prays to God that their love would increase (v. 9). This indicates that love is the result of God’s grace in us.

This is further confirmed by what Paul says at the end of the prayer. The fruit of righteousness “comes through Jesus Christ–to the praise and glory of God” (1:11).

In addition, they can be assured of the grace of God because “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:11).

This is more controversial than it should be among Christians. One reason for this, I believe, is that people take these truths out of the broader context of Scripture.

So, Christian A will say, “Did you work out your own salvation with fear in trembling, or was it God who was working in you?” Continue reading “Living by Grace”

Love Needs Wisdom

Wisdom without love is worthless. Love without wisdom is not quite worthless, but it may be fruitless.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, he told them that he prayed “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (1:9).

You often hear, just love people, and that’s all you need.

But that’s not all you need.

Sometimes people with the biggest heart are not as effective as they could be because they just move on emotions rather than thinking through what would be best. Continue reading “Love Needs Wisdom”

What the Church Can Learn from the Antichrist

In my previous post on the “end times,” I suggested that the church is going to make progress throughout history. This should provide some optimism about the possibilities for good in history.

However, this opinion needs to be balanced with a consideration of the possibilities of evil in history. This is what we can learn from the appearance of the Antichrist at the end of history.

Why is this so significant to the church? Because the power of antichrist is already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

I believe there will be a final manifestation of evil in history, the Antichrist, but I also believe that the spirit of antichrist is already present in history and relevant to each one of us. Understand that the Antichrist takes something that is good and makes it evil. When you realize that this evil is primarily about exalting self, then you realize that the spirit of antichrist is not nearly as far from us as we’d like to think. Continue reading “What the Church Can Learn from the Antichrist”

The Progress of the Church in History

What progress can the church expect to make in history? What are the prospects of the church before Christ returns?

There are several places in Scripture that indicate a progressive growth in the kingdom of God before Christ’s return. For example, Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed: “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Mt. 13:32).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel envisions a kingdom that breaks all other kingdoms. It “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (2:35).

I believe that it is very hazardous to predict the future, even with the images that the Bible gives us of the future. Most who have tried to do it in any detail have been totally wrong. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons.

That being said, I predict that Jesus will return on October 25, 2134. Just kidding. Not going to make that sort of prediction.

However, I do think that history has shown us enough for us to believe that these images of progressive progress do tell us something about the direction of history. The movement of history seems also to teach that the kingdom will continue to make progress throughout history before the consummation.

Consider the early church. It grew from a small group in Jerusalem to a multitude of congregations throughout the world.

From there, the church continued to grow until it overran the Roman Empire and displaced the pagan religions there.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian missionaries went out and brought the Gospel to those who had overran the Empire. The conversion of “barbarian” tribes continued throughout the Middle Ages. Continue reading “The Progress of the Church in History”

Easter: Think Bigger!

The are several problems with the common perception of life after death. Here’s what people think: when we die, our souls go to heaven to float around there forever. This is only partially true.

When we die, our souls do continue to exist (Phil. 1:21), but our ultimate hope is in the resurrection of our bodies. Our hope is that Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). With the ancient church, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (The Nicene Creed).

A second problem is that people think it is only our individual bodies and not the whole creation that will be redeemed. But the vision of our destiny in the Scriptures is one of a redeemed world (e.g., Is. 65:17–25). As the Apostle Paul says, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21). Continue reading “Easter: Think Bigger!”

When Evil Seems to Triumph

Few things can cause us more consternation than the seeming triumph of evil.

The prophet Habakkuk expressed to God a very human complaint against evil’s triumph: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (1:3-4).

When people abuse or oppress others, when an evil person gets rewarded or promoted, the cry goes up, “Where is God? Where is justice?”

It’s amazing how many people walk around with unresolved past injustices weighing them down. Just sit and listen to folks for a while. You will hear the cries of their hearts against betrayal, abandonment, abuse, and injustice.

What answer does the Bible give to all this? Continue reading “When Evil Seems to Triumph”

Beyond Illusion & Despair

No matter how many times it happens, I still have hope. I believe that my seven children will all love the meal I make for them. When I said that in my sermon Sunday, one man shouted out, “Then, order pizza!” Nope! That won’t work. One of my daughters doesn’t like tomato sauce! Another child complains about too much cheese! In spite of that, I hope beyond hope that everyone will like the meal.

I suspect I’m not the only one that is looking for a perfect meal. We are all looking for a perfect something. We think our marriage or vacation or job or church or children will fulfill all our hopes and dreams. The reality is generally far different. Everything disappoints.

One of the key promises of the Bible is that Jesus will come again. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Why is Jesus coming back? To bring to completion what He started. He will bring in perfection, the restoration of all things.

An important corollary to this truth is that there will be no completion in this life. There will always be something lacking. Every hobby will have its boring moments. Every relationship will have its hard moments. Every church will feel unwelcoming at times.

It is important to recognize this for two reasons. Continue reading “Beyond Illusion & Despair”

Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed

I would highly recommend to you Richard Sibbes’ classic The Bruised Reed based on Is. 42:3–4.

It is one of the most edifying and encouraging of the Puritan Paperbacks. I would like to provide here a brief sample of his insights.

  1. It points us to a merciful and compassionate Savior. “If Christ had stood upon his own greatness, he would have rejected him that came with his ‘if.’ But Christ answers his ‘if” with a gracious and absolute grant, ‘I will, be thou clean'” (21). He points us to the graciousness and glory of the Gospel:

    What is the gospel itself but a merciful moderation, in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed ours, and our sins laid upon him, wherein God, from being a judge, becomes our Father, pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, though feeble and blemished? (36)

  2. At the same time, he does not want us to use Christ’s graciousness as an excuse for not repenting. I find that he is particularly good at calling us to this in a challenging way consonant with the tenor of the Gospel:

    There are those who take up a hope of their own, that Christ will suffer them to walk in the ways to hell, and yet bring them to heaven; whereas all comfort should draw us nearer to Christ. Otherwise it is a lying comfort, either in itself or in our application of it. (67)

  3. Continue reading “Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed

How Do We Pursue Peace?

Peace should be a high priority for all believers. We should do all that we can to make sure that the church is a harmonious and pleasant place in which to worship. Each Christian should be peaceable. But what does it mean to be peaceable?

Wilhelmus à Brakel in his Reformed classic The Christian’s Reasonable Service gives this definition of peaceableness:

Peaceableness is a believer’s quiet and contended disposition of soul, inclining him toward, and causing him to strive for, the maintaining of a relationship with his neighbor characterized by sweet unity—doing so in the way of truth and godliness. (4:91)

Continue reading “How Do We Pursue Peace?”