To Die is Gain
December 8, 2019
To Die is Gain
If you have your Bibles this morning, please go ahead and open with me to Phil chapter 1, verse 21.
As Pastor Jesse referenced, we have some “Worship Notes” for the children. Young people, when I preach, I want you to be listening, too. These notes are a way to help you stay engaged. If you look at the sheet with me, you’ll see a couple of categories. The category that I will pause to talk about is this “Words I don’t Know” category. You see that? Right at the bottom. During the sermon, I will have two words for you to write in that box. The way I will address you is I will call you, “Little Theologians.” I will say, “Little theologians, write down this word.” Okay? When you get home, tell you mom and dad about the new words your learning. Mom and dad will be able to help you understand what these words mean. So here’s the first word. Write “theologian.” “Theologian.” The second word will come later. So, be listening.
We continue our study this morning of Paul statement found in Phil 1:21. Look with me there.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
This verse is the verse that has captured our attention for last week and this week. Last week we unpacked the first part of this statement, “To live is Christ.” I argued last week that what Paul means by this statement “To live is Christ” is that if Paul continues to live this will mean that he sacrificially and selflessly continues to labor for others.
This week I will unpack what Paul means by this statement, “Death is gain.” It is quite a strange matter for Paul to say that “death is gain.” That tends to rub against our natural sentiments. “Death is gain?” Well, how could that be? How is it that Paul could view death as something advantageous to himself? Isn’t Paul say elsewhere that death is the ultimate enemy? What is it that led Paul to think this way about death? And, what are the implication of Paul’s own thoughts about death as gain for our lives? What’s it mean to me? These are the types of questions I will answer in this morning’s sermon. Three points for you this morning.
What is Death?
What we must first do this morning is unpack what this notion of death means. What is death? That is our first point and first question this morning. If you’re taking notes, write, “What is Death?”
The notion of death is a large biblical topic. It is dealt with in the first pages of Scripture, is one of the final enemies conquered in the book of Revelation, and looms large in every page of Scripture in between. We can spend many weeks talking about what Scripture teaches regarding death. This morning I won’t say everything that could be said regarding death. Rather, my intent is to speak of death as it relates to our passage.
Death is Judgment
There are three building blocks to Paul’s understanding of death in this passage. The first building block is the idea that death is judgment. Death is judgment. Go ahead and turn with me to the Gen 2:15. Moses writes this,
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Here we have a preview of what God will do if Adam fails to obey God’s commandment. If Adam eats of the fruit, he will be cursed with death. Now look at Gen 3:19. Here, God is speaking with Adam after he has eaten of the fruit. What does God say to Adam? It says,
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
This is the passage that specifies the actual judgment of sin. In Gen 2, it was previewed. In this Gen 3 passage, it is enacted. Death is the just punishment that God has pronounced upon mankind due to Adam’s sin. Death is a judgment of God upon sin. Contrary to what much of secular society believes, death is not a natural part of life. Death is not natural. Pain, suffering, death, cancer, sickness, misery—these are not just natural parts of life. Death is not natural. Rather, death is supernatural. The Bible interprets death theologically. The Bible interprets as not some random occurrence but as God’s punishment upon humanity
because of sin.
Death is a Separation of Soul from Body
That’s one element of death. Another element of death is that death is the separation of soul from the body. Death is the separation of the soul from the body. For this idea, turn with me back to Phil 1:21. I will read through v. 24.
For to 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.
Paul mentions “life” and “death” in v. 21. In vv. 22–23 he defines both life and death. “Life” in these passages is “to live in the flesh” (v. 22) and to “remain in the flesh” (v. 24). “Flesh” in both passages refers to the earthly body. It’s the life I have now; it’s the life you have now. It’s bodily, earthly life. “Death” is mentioned in v. 23. Paul mentions there that his desire is to “depart and be with Christ.” Paul reference to “departing” here is a reference to Paul departing from earthly life by means of his soul.
When we die, prior to the return of Jesus Christ, our bodies go in the ground, but we continue living by means of our souls. There is a separation between our souls and our bodies upon death. That is what happens at death. When our physical bodies no longer sustain biological life, our souls depart from our bodies and go into the presence of Christ. This is an intermediate state between this life and the new heavens and the new earth. We do not become angels. We exist during this intermediate state without our bodies.
The resurrection of the body will occur when Jesus returns. When he returns, our souls will reunite with our bodies. But our bodies will be resurrected ones. They will be very different than the bodies we have now. That is not what Paul is talking about here, though. He’s talking about the intermediate state, the period when our souls will be separated from our bodies and our souls will be with Christ.
Death is the Final Step of Sanctification
So, death is a judgment from God, death is a separation of soul and body, and last death is the final step of the Christian’s sanctification. Death is the final step of the Christian’s sanctification. One of my favorite books of all time is Pilgrim’s Progress. The story is of a man by the name of Christian. Christian is journeying from the city of destruction where he used to live and is headed towards the city of destruction. All along the way, he encounters difficulties, trials, and hardships. One of the last episodes of Christian’s pilgrimage is when he is about to come into the Celestial City. In front of the gate to the Celestial City, there is a river. Listen to how the narrative describes this River,
Now I further saw, that between them and the gate was a river; but there was no bridge to go over, and the river was very deep. At the sight of this river the pilgrims were much stunned; but the men that went with them on their journey said, “You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate.” The pilgrims then began to inquire if there was no other way to the gate. To which they answered, “Yes, but there are only two, Enoch and Elijah, who have been permitted to tread that path since the foundation of the world. No one else shall do the same.” The pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to lose confidence, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the river. They, nonetheless, entered the water. Immediately, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend “Hopeful,” he said, “I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head; all the waves go over me. The sorrows of death have compassed me about, I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey.” And with that a great darkness and horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him. Hopeful responded, “These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters, are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.” Hopeful added these words, “Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole.” And with that Christian
broke out with a loud voice, “Oh, I see him again; and he tells me, ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overtake you.” Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian, therefore, found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. They got through the river and stood at the gates of the celestial city.
As John Bunyan states it so eloquently, death is the last step in our Christian journey here on this earth. And as Bunyan describes, it is a difficult journey. It is the ultimate test of one’s faith. Central to the Christian life is saying in difficult times that God is good and that God is faithful. Death is when our faith is pruned, tested, and proved. It is the final step of sanctification. It is the last push before the finish line. The last trial that we undertake in this life.
Why is it Gain?
Despite its difficulty, death is great gain for the believer. Death is the gateway to salvation. Look at Phil 1:23. Paul says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” The phrase “far better” is quite emphatic. Other ways to translate this phrase are “much more better,” “much better indeed,” “very much better,” “far, far better.” When Paul compares dying and being with Christ to continuing to live, there is not competition. The choice is clear. To be with Christ is far, far better.
Now, why? Why, Paul, is it better to be with Christ in heaven than to be alive here on this earth? Aren’t we “with Christ” here?
In order to answer this question, I want you to see how non-sensical the idea of purgatory is within this context. Purgatory is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Purgatory is the teaching that upon death there is a temporary holding place for some. The purpose of this holding place is for punishment. Supposedly, people who die and go to purgatory are cleansed of their venial sins through a time of temporary judgment. It’s kind of like “hell lite.” One of my friends calls it a “time out chair.” That’s a good way to understand it. If purgatory is real, if we must depart this life and go to a holding chamber where we must suffer for the minor sins we’ve committed, how on earth is that gain? That’s awful. If that’s the case, I would never want to die. I have so much sin in my life. I’d be in purgatory for a long time. Maybe a thousand years. I wouldn’t look forward to that at all. Purgatory would be a dread, not a joy.
Nevertheless, that’s not what Paul teaches. That’s not what the Bible teaches. You can’t find that in Scripture. Those are the traditions of men. That is not the teaching of Scripture. The reason why Paul being with Christ in heaven is far, far better is based upon the nature of heaven. The Bible speaks of heaven as “paradise.” The word “paradise” occurs only 3 times in the NT. Two times it occurs, it refers to “heaven.” The other time it occurs, it refers to the new heavens and new earth. To explore one of the passages where heaven is spoken of as “paradise,” turn with me to 2 Cor 12:2. The passage reads,
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. [Now skip to v. 7] So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations.
This is an odd passage. The reason why it is odd is Paul’s use of the third person. Who’s Paul talking about? The other reason it is odd is related to Paul’s reference to the “third heaven.” What’s that? Also, Paul keeps stating, “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know.” What does he say that? What Paul is talking about here is his own visit to heaven. Paul uses the third person for the purpose of humility. The “third heaven” is the highest heaven. The “first heaven” refers to the sky. The “second heaven” refers to the stars and the planets. The “third heaven” refers to the place where God dwells. The place where Christians will go when they die. Look how Paul speaks of heaven here. In v. 3 he speaks of it as paradise. One NT dictionary
describes it as A transcendent place of blessedness.
This word “paradise” is a reference back to the Garden of Eden, where man and woman walked with God. There was no suffering then. No sin. No pain. Verse 4 speaks of “things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Another translation translates the first clause as, “things too sacred to be put into words.” I don’t know why Paul cannot speak of what he saw and heard. We’re not told. Verse 7 speaks of “the surpassing
greatness of the revelations.” Whatever Paul experienced it was “surpassingly great.” So great that he cannot put it into words. And then look at v. 7 again. Paul mentions the surpassing greatness of the revelations. This is a reference to what he say, heard. This experience he had was extraordinary, unbelievable, glorious. It exceeded his wildest imagination. It wasn’t just great; it was surpassingly great. That’s what heaven will be. We don’t have much description of it other than it was be exceedingly glorious. There will be no more pain, sickness, of misery. It will be joy, peace, love, and happiness that we have never experienced before. It is such a wonderful experience, that, as Paul states, words are inadequate to express its reality.
What does “To Die is Gain” mean for me?
How should we respond to Paul’s idea of “death is gain?” What’s it mean for me? I think there are four takeaways from this passage.
The first is that as Christians we have hope. Hope is so important. So important. Remember again what Phil 1:21 says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” That “and” there is very important. It links the two thoughts. What it means is that as Christians either alternative, either life or death, offers us hope. If we continue living, then we have the hope of living a meaningful life in which we build others up. If we die, we have the hope of heaven. We have hope. You have hope this morning as a Christian. As Pastor Jesse read during the Scripture reading, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. And because Christ has grip on our lives, we have hope.
The second point of application is that it’s okay to want to die and be with Christ. It’s okay to desire that. Paul himself expresses this desire in Phil 1:23. He says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” This life can bring us down so low sometimes that our depression rises to the level of we want to depart this earthly life. That’s okay. Sometimes all we know is pain, despair, sadness, and sickness. In situations like this, we as Christians have this hope of heaven. It’s natural and okay to want that. It’s natural and okay to want to depart form the pain and suffering here and to be with Christ. As Christians, though, we never take our own lives. Suicide is never an option for Christians. We don’t do that because God determines when we leave this world.
Nevertheless, it’s okay to want to be with Jesus. If your suffering, if you despair of life, tell Jesus how badly you want to be with him. Tell him how you so desperately want his eternal embrace. Confess to him your despair. Confess to him your hope and love for him. One day you will be with him. In the meantime, remember that it’s okay to want to leave this earth.
The third is that we must remember that for the Christian the life to come is better than the life to come. The reason why Paul longer for the next life was because the next life is better than the current life. Listen to this quote from Jonathan Edwards. He states,
God is the highest good of the mankind. The enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations and pleasures here on earth. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean Death is gain because death ushers us to eternal joys forevermore.
Fourth, and final, don’t live for this world. There is this tendency in life to live in the moment, to live for the moment. There is the temptation to focus on the pleasure one can have in the present, without concern for the consequences one may face in the future. Don’t do this. Contrary to what Joel Osteen says, don’t seek your best life now. Don’t do that. Seek your best life later. James 4:14 says, “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Don’t live for the moment. Live for eternity. Live for heaven. Live a life that is oriented to future, not to the present. Deny the pleasures of this world for a better and greater pleasure—the pleasure of heaven.