According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 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. I do not know which to choose, and am hard-pressed from both directions: having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is so much better, yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:20-24)
Whenever someone says, “It’s a matter of life and death,” we know he’s talking about something life-threatening, a danger to be avoided at all costs. But when Paul spoke of life and death, he was rather ambivalent about it. This interesting word perfectly defines the apostle’s dilemma: he had simultaneously contradictory feelings about his future, causing him to fluctuate between one thing (going to heaven), and its opposite (staying here a little longer), resulting in uncertainty as to which to prefer and seek. Paul was so excited about seeing Jesus face to face that he was willing to endure whatever it took to bring him there – and the sooner the better! But what he couldn’t endure was the possibility that he was being hasty at heart. Maybe his mansion wasn’t ready yet – that is, maybe God still had more work for him to do on earth before his graduation to heaven. If so, he’d better dig in and get back to it, and stop daydreaming about glory! Paul was no doubt strongly suspicious that this was indeed the case, but as we eavesdrop on his intimate personal testimony, we detect anything but gloom. As he analyzed his prospects he saw only a “Win-Win” proposition, which filled him with a joy he had difficulty hiding. “For me to live is Christ” – what could be better than having the knowledge of God filling him and the joy of the Lord strengthening him? Only one thing: having the very presence of Jesus embracing him, for “to die is gain!” It was this same man who coined the phrase, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). Is he speaking only of himself? No! Anyone coming to God through Christ can make that same confident claim. But we admit that since this life is the only one we know, there is some trepidation about the trip to the next. While visiting a very alert 102 year old man in a nursing home our conversation naturally drifted to the subject of heaven. I was amazed at something he said: “Though I’m anxious to be well on my way, I’m not desperate to be there right now.” That’s it! That’s the “sanctified ambivalence” that both haunts and upholds every saint today. But let this be our wonderful consolation: it’s a Win-Win all the way!
Bits & Pieces from Japan
7 years ago