I think every person comes to a point in their life that life is not near as appealing as death might be. There can be a ton of reasons why a person thinks about the peacefulness we know is waiting for Christians at the end of life on this earth. Sometimes our lives are so difficult due to illness or circumstances that we long for our own death. Other times it comes as we age that we simply begin to think about our own death and hope it will go well and we won’t linger in poor health and pain. We see far too often where people commit suicide because they just don’t want to deal with their life any longer, so sad and such a selfish act. I just want to point out to all of you that it’s normal to think about our eventual death but we need to have the Apostle Paul’s attitude because his is healthy. He had a good grasp on what is important.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Philippians 1:21-26, (New American Standard Bible 1977 or NASB77).
The Apostle Paul is in prison in Rome and most likely knows he will never be a free man again. He is getting older and while in prison has many visitors who come to encourage him and he writes several letters during this ending time in his life. He has been a busy man since he converted to be a follower of The Way. He has been on several missionary trips and has helped establish many churches throughout the non-Jewish world. Paul has also been beaten and left for dead many times as well as having survived a ship-wreck and no doubt his body shows the effects of such abuse. He is tired and getting older and feels the natural longing for going to Jesus and leaving this earthly body behind. As I age I sure can understand this passage so much more. I saw my grandparents, and then my parents all go through this period of life and I am heading down the same path towards the end of life stage. I love how Paul dealt with these feelings and attitudes. He didn’t give up; he purposefully decided to keep going as long as God would give him breath and a good mind. He knows and acknowledges that to die and go be with Jesus would be such a great thing for him but not for the people he would be leaving behind. He had been involved with so many church plants and he cared about these new Christians as a father cares for his children. I love that attitude! How does he make this choice, death or keep on living? He draws up a pro vs con list and analyzes the two choices.
But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. If Paul chooses to live then he wants to be useful not to please himself but to benefit the kingdom of God and the furtherance of the Gospel. Paul says that if he lives he wants to be of use to the young churches and the teachers and preachers who are working with them. Can you imagine what a great resource of knowledge and encouragement Paul was to those young churches and pastors? I wish we could call him up today and talk to him about things that happen in our lives and get insight from such a wise and compassionate man, don’t you? He had to have been a tremendous advocate and a teacher who taught with great knowledge and passion. I can think of a few men and women who have passed on to glory that I loved to learn from so I think that I can understand how those young churches must have leaned upon Paul for encouragement. Yes, Paul wants to be useful or in his words fruitful.
But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Oh but aching muscles, a tired and worn out body that has had years of abuse piled upon it, and aging is catching up with the old Apostle. He must feel the end is coming soon to his life and yet he has so many more people who need to be taught, so many young preachers that are not quite ready for the full responsibilities of carrying the load of the Gospel. In some ways I can identify with Paul. I am nearing old age, some think I am already there, and I would love to simply go to sleep and never awaken on this earth again because I don’t delight in all that old age holds for me. But I have a thirteen year old son who counts on me to wake up each morning and to help him to become the man who God intends him to be. I have a granddaughter that loves Grandma and looks forward to spending time with me and I have much to continue to teach her and to encourage her parents in how they are doing such a great job in rearing her. I have daughters and their families to be there for when or if they ever need my help. I have responsibilities not near as large as Paul’s but never-the-less this is where God has placed me and the responsibilities He has given to me. I can understand what Paul is saying here and I bet you can too. You also have an area of responsibility that God has given to you to carry on with and so we must keep going! Paul can see the need for his advice and so he has to make a choice and does.
And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Yes the old Apostle has analyzed his options and has decided that life is the better option for so many reasons. Paul is deciding to not give up and die but rather to fight the effects of aging and to maintain a fruitful life, a useful life, a purpose for living. Notice how he chooses to live for others and puts his personal feelings on hold. I have been in such a position in my own life where I had to choose to live or choose to die and I chose to live because I knew that my family needed me. It was many years ago when my health completely collapsed and I had to work at living, work at eating, and work at gaining strength and return to full health. This is what Paul is doing and he makes this choice for the good of others. He now lets them know that he is making plans for the future, to come and see them. Of course we know the ending of this story and know that he never got to go there but the point is that he made plans to go. In making plans for the future he did not lose hope in his hopeless situation. That is an important point that we all can learn from.
If you are struggling with this same dilemma, to live or to die, I hope you will choose life because there are those who truly need you. Maybe it isn’t you adult children, maybe it isn’t your own children or grandchildren, but someone needs you. Perhaps it is a child in another country who is cold and needs the blanket you can make and send to a mission. Perhaps it is someone in a hotel room who needs to find the Bible that your money given to the Gideon’s puts one in that hotel room. Maybe it is the prayers that you are praying for your pastor and his family. There are many things that you can do to be fruitful in uplifting the Christians you know in prayer. I need your prayers too. Be like Paul and choose to stay here a little longer because we need you!