Why Did The Apostle Paul Want to Die? #285

Hello friends and happy Wednesday to you! Tonight at 7PM Pacific, I’d love to invite you to join us for a Bible study discussion called “Worship as Warfare,” at VBC Salinas on Facebook. We will be discussing how worship in song is a tremendous weapon in spiritual warfare that can and will drive the darkness away. This week might feature some shorter episodes as my bride is in Alabama visiting family and I and the kids are holding down the fort in California, where there might be a few increased duties and a little less time for podcasting. Today’s Bible readings include 1 Kings 10, Psalms 91, Ezekiel 40 and Philippians 1, which is our focus passage.

I do apologize for the click-baity title…but I will say that a close reading of Philippians 1 will demonstrate that the title is true…I just may have dramatized it with a little bit of misdirection. Paul says a most astounding thing that I would venture to say that 99% of Christians would have a hard time agreeing with. Let’s read the passage, and see if YOU agree with what Paul is saying.

As a review, here is the key part of the text that we are discussing today:

but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,

Philippians 1:20-25

Lest anybody misunderstand what Paul is saying here in verse 23, He is saying that he DESIRES TO DIE so that he can be with Christ. I have talked to a lot of church people, but I do not believe that one in 500 expresses that same sentiment as Paul. Do you genuinely desire to depart? I honestly can’t say that I do…I believe wholeheartedly in Heaven and in Jesus, and I believe wholeheartedly without a doubt that being with Jesus is better than being on this fallen earth, but the idea of leaving my wife and family and friends is quite difficult to swallow. I imagine most of you feel the same way. What makes Paul different?

Let me say this upfront, but in a very delicate way. Some who wrestle with depression, tragedy or other dark things might find themselves sometimes desiring death in a hopeless sort of way, but that is not what Paul is expressing here. Yes, his life is hard, but I believe he is walking in abundant joy and peace from the Lord, so he does not seem to be expressing the idea that life here is so hard and he is so overwhelmed by tribulation that he just wants to go ahead and go to Heaven. Instead, he seems to be expressing the rock-hard conviction that he knows that being with Jesus is better and he wants with his whole will to be there…even though he is willing to do what is best.

So – getting to our somewhat provocative question, Paul did indeed want to die, but why? I think a big part of that answer is that Paul had seen a much clearer and closer glimpse of eternal life than most of us have. Consider 2nd Corinthians 12:

I know a man in Christ who was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. I know that this man—whether in the body or out of the body I don’t know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a human being is not allowed to speak.

2nd Corinthians 12:2-4

For Paul, Heaven was not some place that he could only imagine because he had seen it portrayed in a movie or tv show or cartoon – Heaven was a place that he had BEEN to (in the body or out of the body…) and his understanding of Heaven and eternal life was so concrete and assured in his mind that not only did death not bother him, he was actually longing for it in a non morose, non morbid, non-depressed and non-dissatisfied with his present life sort of way, and I’ll be honest with you – I am greatly challenged and encouraged by Paul’s attitude towards death, and hope to walk in it one day.

So to Paul, to live is Christ, and to die is GAIN. Isn’t that an incredible contrast with how most people view death? Paul saw it as winning – as a wonderful thing, a gainful thing, and lest you think that Paul wrote Philippians 1 while he was in a weird mood, he says the same thing in 2nd Corinthians 5:

 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

2nd Corinthians 5:8

Let’s close out with some insights from our dear brother Spurgeon on this blessed passage:

Chapter 1 Verse 21. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.*
“To me to live is Christ.” If he lived, he lived to know more of Christ, studying his person, and learning by his happy experience so that he increased in his knowledge of his Lord and Saviour. If he lived, he lived to imitate Christ more closely, becoming more and more conformed to his image. If he lived, he lived to make Christ more and more known to others, and to enjoy Christ more himself. In these four senses, he might well say, “For to me to live is Christ,”—to know Christ more, to imitate Christ more, to preach Christ more, and to enjoy Christ more.
“And to die is gain,” because death, he felt, would free him from all sin, and from all doubts as to his state in the present and the future. It would be gain to him, for then he would no longer be tossed upon the stormy sea, but he would be safe upon the land whither he was bound. It would be gain to him, for then he would be free from all temptations both from within and from without. It would be gain to him, for then he would be delivered from all his enemies; there would be no cruel Nero, no blaspheming Jews, no false brethren then. It would be gain to him, for then he would be delivered from all suffering, there would be no more shipwrecks, no more being beaten with rods, or being stoned, for him then. Dying, too, would be gain for him, for he would then be free from all fear of death; and having once died, he would die no more for ever. It would be gain to him, for he would find in heaven better and more perfect friends than he would leave behind on earth; and he would find, above all, his Saviour, and be a partaker of his glory. This is a wide subject, and the more we think over it, the more sweetness shall we get out of it…

Again I bid you [to consider] Paul’s devotion and self-forgetfulness. It seems to be a matter of no choice with him whether he serves God in life or glorifies him in death. The emblem of the American Baptist Missionary Union is an ox standing between a plough and an altar, with the motto, “Ready for either,”—Ready to spend and be spent in labour, or to be a sacrifice, whichever the Lord pleases.

C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ’s Poverty, Our Riches,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 47 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1901), 107.

C. H. Spurgeon, “Soul Satisfaction,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 55 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1909), 154.

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