“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I have to live in this world, it means for me to work to give fruit. So what should I choose, I have no idea. I was urged from two sides: I wanted to go and live with Christ that was much better; but it is more necessary to stay in this world because of you.” Philippians 1: 21-24
J.I. Packer was an Anglican church member who spent the first half of his life in England and the second half in Canada but who is perhaps most popular in the United States. He is widely recognized as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. Pastor and theologian Packer went to see God on July 17, 2020. He was 93 years old. One of his many writings is “God’s Plans for you”. He wrote in the book “Only when you know how to die can you know how to live”. His writings underline the Christian way of life that must be adapted to the fact that he will meet a holy God in the end. Therefore Christians should be aware that they must be prepared at all times to face death.
Perhaps, in writing the verse above, Paul felt the same way for himself. His advancing age and the house arrest he endured certainly made him think about what might happen in the future. As a man who believed in God and was confident in his salvation, Paul certainly had no doubts about where he would go at the end of his life. He will go to heaven. Thus, the worst situation that many other people who experience life struggles think of, is actually the best situation for Paul. Death will bring him to an encounter with Christ.
Paul wrote that death is gain. Why is that? As a believer, Paul believed that because of his faith, he had received the salvation that comes through the blood of Christ. However, as long as he lived on earth, he could only imagine the beauty of heaven. Only through the death of his physical body will he receive an immortal spiritual body in heaven. Imagining the moment he would be able to meet Christ face to face, Paul said that he would feel lucky if it happened right now because it would be so much better than living in this dark world.
The belief that life in heaven is better than life on earth is probably owned by every believer. Indeed people believe that in Christ there is a resurrection that will enable them to live with Christ forever. However, perhaps no Christian would choose to die quickly. Most Christians may admit that the time to leave this world is determined by God; however, they would choose to live a long life on earth if that was possible. In this case, no one knows when they will be called by God.
The Bible says that human life is like a vapor that appears for a moment and then disappears (James 4:13-14). We cannot prolong our life for a second. But that does not mean that we should expect the encounter with Christ to come as soon as possible. Why is that? Paul explained that although life in heaven is much better, there is a need to live on earth to work and bear fruit, that is, for the glory of God. In this case, what should we do in the community around us while the opportunity still exists?
Those who are ready to die are believers who believe that their faith is not in vain. They will welcome death fearlessly because they are ready to meet their beloved God and want to live in His glory in heaven. However, people with true faith are people who also believe that while living on earth, they must strive to live well in order to glorify God. Indeed we are saved, but if we do not use our lives as if tomorrow is the time to meet our Lord, our faith may still be dominated by worldly desires.
“Therefore, just as a body without a spirit is a dead body, so faith without works is a vain faith!” James 2: 26
This morning, the question for us is: “Are we ready to die?”. Are we really ready to meet God in heaven? If we are ready to die, it means we are also ready to live in this world as God wills. We must continue to believe, that even though the current situation is not good, we must still be eager to live to carry out His commandments to be an offering that is pleasing to God.
“Therefore, brethren, by the grace of God I exhort you to offer up your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God: this is your true worship.” Romans 12:1