I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.
In Philippians 1:21, Paul said his Christ-centered purpose in life presented him with a unique dilemma. He said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That was the dilemma Paul was facing. He was saying, “I am in prison, awaiting the verdict of my trial. I don’t know whether I will live or die, and I’m not sure which is better.” In verse 23, he said, “I am hard-pressed from both directions.” So he weighed his options. He first talked about the advantages of dying. He had “the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (v. 23). Paul said, “The advantage of dying is that it allows me to me to depart and to be with Christ.”
That word “depart” was used three ways in the Greek language. Sometimes the word “depart” was used as a military term. It referred to soldiers who strike their camp and march to a new location. In 2 Corinthians 5:1, Paul said, “We know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” When you die as a Christian, it is as if you are folding up the tent of your body so that you can depart to a new location.
Sometimes the word “depart” was used in a nautical sense. It referred to loosening a ship from its moorings so it could set sail to a new location. Paul used that illustration 2 Corinthians 5:8: “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” What happens to a Christian when he dies? He departs. His spirit is loosened so he can go immediately into the presence of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes the word “depart” was used in a political sense. It referred to setting a prisoner free. That also describes what happens when Christians die. In 2 Corinthians 5:2, Paul said, “Indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven.” If you live long enough, there will come a time when the deteriorating circumstances of your health will cause you to groan and say, “I’m ready to be set free. I’m ready to depart to be in the presence of Jesus Christ.” Paul said, “I am hard-pressed . . . having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.”
How could Paul know with absolute certainty that what awaited him in the future was better? He had already experienced heaven. In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul wrote about a time he was “caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” That’s why Paul could say, “Trust me when I tell you what awaits us in heaven is far beyond anything we could imagine.” That was the advantage of dying.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “The Joy of Not Caring” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2007.
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.