Short Meditations in Philippians: 10. The End Game
Phil 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
When a dictator puts a Christian in front of a firing squad only a Christian can smile and say, “Your loss, my gain.” There is one characteristic of all world religions – except Christianity – and that is uncertainty. There is uncertainty about the type of ‘God’, uncertainty about that ‘God’s’ intentions towards you, and uncertainty about what happens after death.
This little verse from Paul is dynamic. It not only has eternal meaning, but it also applies to everyday life. I will explain. First of all, let us consider death in the most simple way possible: it means the end of physical life, except for the Christian it is not the end of life, just a transfer from one dimension into the next. The next, the Bible indicates quite clearly, is more glorious than the present one, and it is the inheritance of all believers. In the next world, heaven, there will be no more pain, no more illness, no more suffering, no more struggle, no more stress, just the wonder of knowing the fullness of God and all that He has on His heart for us – and that with no restraint!
The first Christian martyr, Stephen, (see Acts 7) saw heaven opening to receive him and he rejoiced in the face of death. Many other martyrs subsequently had similar experiences; it seemed it was one of the ways God gave them grace to face what was happening. We rarely get the grace before we actually need it, but it is always there when we do. When we grasp the wonder of heaven, it is not the fear of what happens after death but the means of death that troubles many people, yet when it comes to it, God’s grace will be there. The writer to the Hebrews wrote of Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) i.e. Jesus looked beyond the awful experience of death on the Cross, and saw the wonder of being reunited with his Father in the glory of heaven, and that sustained him and helped him face that trial.
But there is another usage of the word ‘death’ or dying. Jesus taught, “I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (Jn 12:24) There is a spiritual lesson here and it is that if we are to bear much fruit, all our natural, human, earthly desires, plans and schemes have to die so that Jesus can bring the Father’s will into being through you and me. Now in this present context, we can know the truth of this principle and that the outworking of it is ALWAYS good, but to face this ‘death’, to be willing to lay down our hopes, plans, ambitions etc. is naturally impossible. ‘Self’ survival instinct is so strong it is only as we pray and surrender and ask for, and receive His grace, is this possible.