For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Those are Paul’s words to the Philippian church. It’s a simple statement with massive meaning: while we are still alive here on the earth, our single and solitary affection should be to live for Christ and Christ alone.
Our reward for such a life of devotion?
To finally experience the pleasure of being in the presence of the glory of Christ. And to experience that forever.
This hope of reward is what Paul says should give us courage to live on the earth in service to him:
We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:8
But how do we know we have this reward? What is God’s proof to us that what he says is true?
The answer is the Holy Spirit living inside of us. “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
Think about it.
By the Spirit who came to dwell in you.
Why We Should Desire to Remain
And if you have the Spirit dwelling in you has not God fulfilled one of his promises? Through the prophet Ezekiel God says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
And is God not faithful to fulfill his other promises? Paul is convinced.
Don’t get me wrong: Paul treasures living here on this earth. “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.”
But not for the things of the earth. He treasures being on the earth for the satisfying responsibility of sharing the gospel and growing believers. He treasures it because it pleases God.
But being here on the earth is not easy:
For in this tent [body] we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 1 Corinthians 5:1-4
Yet, Paul is still indecisive about which he prefers more: laboring here on the earth or being in the presence of God. “Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.” He says, “I am hard pressed between the two.”
But then he declares the superior choice: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
Why Is Departing and Being with Christ “Far Better”?
That’s almost a stupid question.
Unless we don’t believe in the reality of the promises, purpose or presence of God. If we don’t believe in the reality of the promises, purpose or presence of God–or our faith is so small as to be a nuisance to our carnal walk–then this world and what it has to offer will appeal to us and ultimately seduce us.
If that is the case, then we do not serve God. Nor do we truly love him.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15
However, if we DO believe in the reality of the promises, purpose and presence of God, then we will naturally have an appetite for God, his presence and his people. His people are the only things worth loving in this world.
Paul says in Philippians 1:24-26:
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.
Sustaining their “progress and joy in the faith” is the labor Paul loves so much about this world. It’s the only thing that justifies his separation from Jesus Christ.
And it is the only thing worth loving in this world because it is the closest thing in this world we have to gaining Christ.
But it is not the ultimate thing. We don’t gain that until our death.