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Better Off Dead?

We must understand that God has not kept us on this earth by accident, but in His providence, He is building up His church, one body made up of uniquely gifted members, all integral for His purposes. So the questions we ought to be asking ourselves are “where has God made us ‘necessary’ for His purposes? In what areas can we have a greater impact?

The Bible is a book that is full of radical, provocative statements, so it is no small claim to contend that perhaps the most shocking of them all is found in Philippians 1:21-23:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
 
Philippians 1:21 is such a well known, popular verse among Christians, that it is quite possible that the shock of this statement may be lost on us.To die is gain? I do not know whether I will choose to live or die? It is far better to be dead? Have we thought through the radical claims and implications of these verses? In these few sentences, the inspired apostle turns upside down the world’s conventional wisdom regarding life and death; and he tells us much about the way Christians ought to look at our lives here in the flesh.
 
Christians understand that all human beings are created uniquely in God’s image, and by virtue of that fact, every life is immeasurably valuable. Clearly Paul is not disputing that fact. Indeed, to minimize the preciousness of human life flies in the face of the entire Christian worldview. Human life is so precious that God Himself took on the life of a man and died so that we may have abundant life; the message of Scripture is life-affirming and life-preserving! But what Paul is addressing here to the Philippians is not the value of human life, but rather the quality and purpose of it.
 
It does not take very deep thought to understand what Paul claims about the quality of this life—he writes plainly that the life which awaits God’s people when our sojourn on earth ends is “far better” than what we currently experience. How could it be otherwise? We will be in the direct presence of the Lord Himself, completely free from sin and its curse, able to worship our God perfectly for all eternity.
 
Paul makes this same point in 2 Corinthians 5:8 when he writes “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” All Christians affirm and rejoice in this; however, in our joy and hope for our eternal destination, we may be prone to overlook what this passage from Philippians teaches us about the purpose of our lives here and now. We understand that God is sovereign; He is orchestrating history, carrying it along for His purposes, according to His design.
 
God could have directly and immediately received all of His chosen people into the Kingdom of Heaven, judged the earth, and restored all things, but that was not the council of His wisdom. God has chosen rather to use individuals—fallen, flawed, and yet called human beings—to accomplish His work in the world. He has let us remain in this cursed creation for a purpose. It is God’s revealed will to bring all of His chosen people, throughout all of history, to Himself (Jn. 6:38-39Eph. 1:4-6), and this He has chosen to accomplish through His church.
 
Jesus, with the authority as King over all things, has sent His people on a mission to conquer the earth, not by sword, nor by military power, but with the gospel, the good news of the Kingdom (Acts 1:8Mt. 28:18-20). We, as individual Christians, and as the church collectively, have been appointed by God as ministers of this good news, commissioned as vital instruments of God Himself to bring people made in His image out of rebellion and into the light of salvation (Acts 26:17). What an honor to know that God has determined to use us in this great, redemptive work (Rom. 10:14-17)!
 
Paul writes to the Philippians that it is necessary for him to remain and continue to minister to them. This does not mean that God is dependent on Paul, or any other individual, regardless of how much they may accomplish in spreading the gospel. God does not need us. But He chose to use us as instrumental actors in calling His people to Himself, and in accomplishing His purposes is history.
 
What is taught here in Philippians is that God has not called us to simply wait around to go to heaven. Our purpose for this life is made clear in verse 21, “To live is Christ.” Our purpose is to glorify Him, to do His work, to show Him to the world in the things we way and do; to be builders of His Kingdom, magnifiers of His name. We are called to display Jesus in every aspect of our lives.
 
This is a call to action for the Christian. We ought to be looking for areas in our lives where we may more clearly honor Christ, and more effectively advance His Kingdom. We must understand that God has not kept us on this earth by accident, but in His providence, He is building up His church, one body made up of uniquely gifted members, all integral for His purposes. So the questions we ought to be asking ourselves are “where has God made us ‘necessary’ for His purposes? In what areas can we have a greater impact? How must we be faithful over what God has entrusted to us?”
 
This passage is a great comfort to Christians, and has been throughout the ages; it assures us that when the Lord does bring our lives here to an end, we have immeasurable gain and glory to look forward to. However, it also challenges us to consider the purpose for which God has given us this life. We are here to be vessels for Christ’s grace and mercy, and if we are not fulfilling this, then what are we doing?
 
To live is Christ. If we are not faithfully living as bearers of the name and message of Jesus Christ, then in a sense, we may as well not be here at all. We are like the faithless servant, who out of slothfulness buried what was entrusted to him instead of multiplying it (Mt. 25:24-30).
 

As Christians, we are so blessed as to never need to question the purpose of our lives, for God has made it clear! A life spent in faithful service to Christ the King, regardless of the scope or reach of our labor (as far as we can tell), is a life well lived—obediently lived. Let us all seek to more faithfully live as Christ, more diligently labor for the advance of His Kingdom, and as Paul writes elsewhere, “fulfill our ministry.”

 
 
Luke Griffo is a member of leadership at Redeemer Church of South Hills in West Mifflin, PA. Click here for more RCSH Blog posts.
 
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