Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ The gain of death: Phil 1:21

We’ve been in this verse for a while, and we haven’t gotten to the second half of the verse yet.

There’s good reason for that. The comfort that we all look for – and surely we look for it especially in the hour of death – the comfort that we get in the second half of this verse in Paul’s affirmation that “to die is gain” is reserved for those who know the truth of the first half of this verse. In other words, the second half of this verse makes no sense and holds no hope out to those who have not realized the grace in their experience of the first half of this verse. It is for those who to live is Christ that to die is gain. And so we are now finally to the second half of this verse.

Thomas Boston once said that as the believer’s life is different from the unbeliever’s life, so also the believer’s death is different from the unbeliever’s death. For the unbeliever, death is a loss – the greatest loss; but for the believer, death is the greatest gain.

Now how can that be true? Despite that natural and appropriate grief and mourning and sense of loss that we experience even as believers when loved ones die, yet for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ death is the greatest gain. And that’s what Paul is saying.

How can he say that? For four reasons, and you’ll find them in and around Philippians 1:21.

I. To die is gain.
Paul says in Philippians 1:21: “…to die is gain.” What kind of gain? You might think of stanza 4 of “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation”:
“Here vouchsafe to all thy servants what they ask of Thee to gain…”
“…What they gain from thee forever with the blessed to retain…”
“…And hereafter in Thy glory evermore with Thee to reign.”

This hymn is singing of the gain that Paul is talking about in Philippians 1:21, as he goes on in verse 23 “…To depart and to be with Christ.” The gain is to be with Christ, the greatest gain because our greatest prize is Christ and being with Him, and in death we are united with Him. We are brought into fellowship with Him. I love the way Paul puts this in II Corinthians 5:8: “…I prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” The prime longing of every Christian is to be with Christ, to fellowship with Christ because we prize Christ more than anything else. We immediately enjoy fellowship with Christ at death.

II. Made perfect in holiness.
Believers approach death as gain because in death believers are made perfect in holiness. Paul wrestled all his life with the reality that sin has worked its way into every part of us because of Adam’s original sin. It deeply grieved Paul that though he was redeemed by the blood of Christ and had been called into His service, yet he still struggled with sin, and he writes about it in Romans 7:24:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

He answers that question in Philippians 1:20. In Philippians 1:20, he says:
“I will not be put to shame in anything, but with all boldness Christ will even now as always be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Paul knew that in death, Christ was going to be exalted in his perfecting of Paul so that he would never ever sin again. That’s why Paul will say in Romans 7:25, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ!”

III. Pass into glory.
In death believers pass into glory. Paul says in Philippians 1:23, that he’s hard pressed from both directions. He has a desire to depart and be with Christ, because “it is very much better.” When a believer passes through death, he passes into a place of glory, and into a company of glory, and into a state of glory.

Jesus says in John 14:2. “I go to prepare a place for you. In My Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you.” It is a glorious place with glorious company: there we will be with all the saints, including those loved ones in Christ for whom you are awaiting a reunion, and the angels, but above all, the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a glorious state! “Rest,” Hebrews 4:9 says. Rest! In this overly busy life that we live: running around chasing our own tails. But there: everlasting rest.

In death we begin to taste for the first time the fullness of the glory to come. Though in our death we do not immediately taste all of the fullness of the glory to come – that awaits the resurrection – but in death, more than we have ever before, we will taste glory.

IV. United to Christ
In death believers are still united to Christ. What does Paul say in Philippians 1:23? That to depart is to be with Christ. We are enjoying being with Christ because we are united to Him. This is the fulfillment of what Paul says in those so familiar and beautiful words in Romans 8:38

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And then the Apostle Paul, when he says that to depart is to be with Christ, when he says that to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord, is affirming the truth of Romans 8 for believers. Though our bodies are still in the grave, we’re united to our Savior and our souls fellowship with Him. That’s why one Christian said, “Christians outlive and out die pagans.” Are you prepared for your dying day? Only if you understand the first part of Philippians 1:21 can you know the comfort of the second part of Philippians 1:21. May God grant that you are prepared now by the gospel for that great day!

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