The Profit of Death
For a person to declare that there is profit in death is to say a strange thing to the modern ear. I must admit to you my own discomfort with preaching on such an emotionally charged subject as death. And, in my own efforts to avoid the subject, I searched through this passage looking for a different theme, but I found none. And if I am to be a biblical preacher, I must preach what the Bible says and not what I want it to say.
The more I studied this passage, the more verse 21 became a magnet for my eyes: "to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
As I read this verse, my instinct was to shout, 'Paul, how can you say this? Surely death is loss. ' I thought about my own experience with my dad dying when I was eleven years old. 'What profit was there is his death?', I asked myself. Many of you here have endured the death of your parents. Some of you know what it is like to lose your spouse. Some of you have lost brothers, sisters, and best friends. Some of you even know the pain of losing a child.
'Where is the profit in their deaths?', we ask. How can Paul say that "to die is gain"?
Charles Spurgeon calls this verse "one of the Gospel riddles which only the Christian can truly understand."
The plain truth is that death is not gain for us who tarry on. For us who live on, death is a very painful experience. And, it is not uncommon, I am told, to mourn the death of a loved one for decades. Long after the funeral has ended, when most everyone has forgotten those significant dates associated with our deceased loved one, many of us suffer in silence.
How then, shall we understand the verse, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain"? We understand this verse by recognizing that death is gain for the one who dies. Death is gain for the one who trusts in Jesus Christ. We should not weep for the one who has died in Christ--death is gain for them. Weep for yourselves. Weep for those who carry on with a void in their hearts.
If Philippians 1:21 is a Gospel riddle, then here is the explanation: The profit in death is that the person who loves Jesus Christ actually has 2 lives. The first life is here on this earth. It is temporary. It is filled with adversity and sorrow. The second life is in heaven. It is not temporary, but eternal. It is free from sin and pain. And for the Christian, we enter this second life through death.
In this framework the phrase, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain", begins to make sense. We may greatly cherish this world with all of its imperfections, yet what awaits us in heaven is of far greater value. The apostle John tells us that in heaven, God will be among us in a very special way, and that "He will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain"(Rev. 21:4).
This is what Jesus promised when He said, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die"(Jn. 11:25, 26).
Do you believe this? If you do, Paul's statement, "to die is gain" will not sound strange to you. Yet, at the same time, I don't want you to get the impression that Christians are to be people who are in a hurry to die. There is good reason why we try and stay alive; why we exercise, why we eat nutritious foods, and why we fight harmful diseases with every means available to us.
Paul recognizes that God keeps us alive for good reason, writing, "if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labour for me"(v.22). Paul recognizes the value of his earthly life to those around him, but he also recognizes the value of what his death will bring and he is wrestling with which to choose at this present time.
Paul writes, "I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake"(v.23, 24).
Notice, first of all, that Paul identifies death as the more favourable of the two options. And it is not that Paul is being morbid here, it is just that he recognizes that his death means departing to be with Christ. In other words, Paul is saying, 'My dear Christian friends in Philippi; I have told you how much I love you and pray for you. You are great company, and I enjoy my ministry with you, but at the end of the day, I'd rather be in heaven with Jesus.'
Paul says much the same in 2Corinthians 5:8 when he states his preference "to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."
I want us to be clear on why death brings us to a more blessed existence. Above all the benefits of heaven, the greatest joy of heaven is that we will have face to face fellowship with our God. In addition, this fellowship will be perfect, and without end.
And for those of us who struggle to fathom how sweet our fellowship with God will be in heaven, consider those friends and family that you will be reunited with forevermore. For the Christian, one's death day is a sweet reunion day. For some people have more loved ones in heaven than on earth.
O how we love our imperfect relationships on this earth, and yet, how much more we will adore our relationships when they are perfected in heaven!
I fear that the average person sitting in church pews today has not comprehended the fact that heaven is better than earth. I fear that the average Christian has yet to grasp Paul's statement, "to die is gain".
While death is preferable to Paul, he also says that "to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake". That is, God wants Paul to remain alive so he can continue his ministry to the Christians in Philippi.
And here is our application: until our death, we should always endeavour to be serviceable to God's kingdom. The only reason Paul wants to be alive is because it "is more necessary for (the sake of the Philippian Christians)".
We are alive for a reason. The chief end of man is to what? Is it to be self-sufficient? Is it to see that our children make it to college? No. Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
In the same manner, our Lord's prayer is concerned about whose kingdom? It's not your kingdom. It's not my kingdom. It's our Heavenly Father's kingdom that we are to be concerned with.
Let us never lose site of why we are here. We exist on this earth to glorify God. The One who makes death gain for us asks only that we would live for Him.
As we consider all that God has done for us, and, as we consider the command of our Lord, "Follow Me", may this be your response: 'Lord Jesus, living for you will be my pleasure.' Amen.