On Monday, I attended the funeral of one of my wife’s lifelong friends. Karla’s death was a surprise as she was only 59. Karla was a pastor’s wife and had served The Lord for many years. A few days ago she was out shopping, today she is in Heaven. If we could speak with her right now I am sure that she would tell us that to “die is gain”.
I can understand Paul saying that for him, and for us, “to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21a). But how is it that death can be seen as anything but a horrible end to a wonderful life? How can death be anything other than the end of our hopes and dreams and the finish of one’s life work? How can it possibly be viewed as “gain” (Phil. 1:21b) over life?
I think that we can be certain of this: Paul is not saying that he is unhappy with life, or that he desires to be finished with the troubles of his earthly ministry . Paul is not suggesting that he is thinking of suicide. As he will later tell us, if I had a choice in the matter I’d probably prefer to be executed and immediately enter into the presence of Jesus. But the fact is I don’t have a choice. God alone is the one who determines and decides whether we live or die. It is never a decision that we should make. But if I had my own choice I’d choose to be with Jesus!
Paul can say “to die is gain” because in death he will behold more of Christ than he could ever experience in life.
Right now, He is only present in spirit; but in death in person. In dying he trades earth for heaven. In dying he goes from unending labor to rest. In dying he changes from imperfection to perfection. In dying he no longer lives by faith alone but also by sight. In dying he moves from tears, sorrow, grief, pain, and persecution to the unending joy of unbroken, unending intimacy and communion with Jesus.
The reason the Christian can with assurance say that death is “gain” boils down to a simple, two-word phrase in Philippians 1:23: “with Christ”! For all the glory and opportunities and blessings that life may bring, death brings one that is better than all of them : we get to be “with Christ”!
Paul saw all of life as an opportunity to magnify Jesus, to show Him as great and good and worthy of His trust. His life was energized by His beauty and empowered by His grace. Even the smallest of his daily tasks, the most routine of his responsibilities were undertaken for the glory of his Savior. Everything in his life served to the honor and glory of Christ.
But having said all that, “to die is gain”! I know some of you are wondering how a sane person can possibly say that death is “gain” over life. For a Christian, it’s easy. Death is gain over life very simply because death provides the Christian with more of Christ than life ever could!