Desiring Death: a look at Paul's words in Philippians 1

February 7, 2019

Often I have found myself frustrated with the burdens of life, and the complications of growing up. As a Christian, the thought has crossed my mind plenty of times: death would be better.


As quickly as that seemingly dark thought comes, I brush it away. Christians are supposed to be joyful, and death just isn't! In American culture, death is not usually a socially acceptable topic of conversation. When someone dies, we don't know what is best to say. When friends open up about their suicidal thoughts, we shy away. 


But as believers, we know where we are headed when this life ends: Heaven, a place of eternal joy and promise. We will be in the presence of the Almighty. Certainly this will be better than where we are now. So, is it wrong to desire death?


Paul's words in Philippians 1 shed some light:


"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again." 


Philippians 1:21-26


So, let's unpack. 


Paul does affirm my seemingly dark thought: "Yet which I shall choose, I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two." At this point, his transparent thoughts on death express the reality that living here on Earth is challenging for Christians, who know something far better awaits them in Heaven. "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." Paul is suffering greatly in prison at his time of writing this letter -- which is significantly worse than any circumstance I have faced -- and so his heart is firmly fixed on the glory of Christ that he'll experience one day when he is called home. 


So, it it wrong or sinful for us to desire death?

I dare to say not. In fact, if we are not longing for the day we are called permanently into the presence of God, we are not focused enough on God. If our earthly desires are of more significance, we simply don't desire Him enough. 


That being said, our desire must include an addendum: "I desire to die and be with the Lord, BUT, I am here now by His Will." Paul continues on to say, "to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account." He acknowledges his personal desire to die, but also acknowledges that at the moment God has put him in a position to minister to the church at Philippi. Paul is saying that his time on Earth is not for him. Directly, it is to point the Philippians to Christ, and ultimately, to glorify the Lord and obey His Will. 

Paul so bravely trusts the Lord, too, evidenced by verse 25: "Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith." Though he admits to them his desire to be relieved of the suffering he faces in prison, he confidently says to the Philippians, "I stay for your sake, because God has called me to." What a powerful witness of the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart!"


What can you or I take from this?

Odds are, as you read this, your struggles are nothing like Paul's. I know that mine aren't. However, regardless of the magnitude of what we face in this life, the calling is the same, dear Christian: we are here purposefully, to proclaim the Gospel. Our existence and placement where we are on Earth is not by chance, nor is it useless. The Lord has very intentionally saved us and made us His own, for a larger purpose: proclaiming His gospel to the souls around us with every ounce of our being.


In short, we may desire death, and that is okay. It is good to desire to be in Heaven with Christ for eternity. However, you and I are not yet there. And while we are not there, we must obey the Lord by boldly speaking and living in a manner worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).

Let Paul's words resonate in your heart:

"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."



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