For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. (NLT)
We sometimes hear reports about how good it is that we are living longer. Whether it is all that good may be dependent on the state of our health. Sheer longevity is not the only measure of quality of life.
And for followers of Jesus, death is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to us. Sure, our dying leaves terrible gaps and ongoing sorrow in the lives of those we leave behind. But a Christian death is merely the doorway to a new life, the beginning of another chapter in what is a never-ending story.
While most of us don’t go around longing for death, nor should we see it as a threatening enemy. Jesus has overcome it and in him so do we. Paul offers us a helpful perspective. Death actually has its gains: we go to be with Christ which is far better for us. Yet we are in relationship with others here in this life so we can’t just selfishly pursue our own interests.
In a world where people fight against death till the very end, where every last minute of life is to be squeezed out, Paul’s attitude is a healthy corrective. It allows us to have a ‘win-win’ perspective. If I live, I win in that I have opportunities to love Jesus and others. If I die, I win in that I am in a place of no tears or frustration or weakness. I really can’t lose.