By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
We have all undoubtedly stared in the agonizing face of death, feeling (to one degree or another) the heartache that the separation can bring.
I still remember when I was very young, receiving the news that a school friend had drowned over the weekend.
We were so young (so young, in fact, that I cannot remember what school grade that I was in), and I began to understand that death is no respecter of person.
Age doesn’t matter-one way or another, one day we will all leave this life.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul had similar questions when he became a Christian.
I have often wondered what it would have been like for him as many of his close friends in Christ had been taken and killed for their faith by an unbelieving and hostile world.
Indeed, I have often wondered how it must have been for him, worshiping with some of the saints whose family members he had no doubt haunted off to be imprisoned (maybe even killed)!
Without question, Paul had a unique viewpoint of death.
To the brethren at the church in Philippi, he wrote:
Philippians 1:21-23-21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.
23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
It is what Paul wrote in verse 21 (i.e., “to die is gain,”) that I would like to consider with you in this article.
What Pauli Is Teaching Us About His Death
The Apostle makes it clear that he has a difficult choice to make: to stay in the world, or to go on.
Is it possible that the Lord Jesus could have given Paul an option?
Could the Lord have actually appeared to Paul and said, “Paul, you have been very faithful to Me, but I know that the road ahead is going to be increasingly difficult and painful. If you want, I will let you come Home now. Or, you can stay and continue to carry out My work for your life.”
The circumstances of this passage should surely be considered.
When Paul was writing this, he was in a Roman jail cell, awaiting trial (Philippians 1:7, 17; 4:14).
Speaking of the lessons that can be drawn from the original Greek of this passage, Fee has pointed out:
“The term translated “palace guard” (praetorium) is one of the cruxes of this letter and impinges on the question of Paul’s location at the time of writing. 32 At issue is whether he is referring to a place or to a group of soldiers, and where it was/they were located. The word originated to denote “the general’s tent” or “the headquarters within a camp,” evolving over time to refer to a governor’s palace. 33 But by the first Christian century it was frequently used also to denote the Praetorian Guard, the emperor’s own elite troops, stationed in Rome. 34 If Paul is in Rome, as is most likely, then he is referring to this guard, since there was no Praetorium (= “governor’s palace”) there. Although they would have guarded Paul around the clock, they would also have given him access to visitors, to the writing of letters, and to other routine matters. Since they would rotate on a basically four-hour shift, Paul would have had access to several or many of them, from whom eventually “the whole 35 guard” would have known the reason for his bonds.” (Golden E. Fee, The New International Commentary On The New Testament: Paul’s Letter To The Philippians, 3563-3579 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans’ Publishing Company)
Paul describes his death with the word “departure” (Philippians 1:23; cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-8).
The word is very fascinating in the Greek New Testament:
“The Greek word for departure has nuances of taking a tent down, analogous to the soul leaving the body in death, since the earthly body is like a tent, not a permanent dwelling. Another nuance is that of letting go the anchoring lines of a ship as it leaves the dock. After many journeys, it is upon just such a long voyage that Paul was now setting out. Accordingly, death was not desperately viewed as an end but simply a departure from the flesh to dwelling with God. Calvin had a distinctive interpretation of this passage: “The time of my dissolution is at hand,” suggests that “death is nothing else than a departure of the soul from the body—a definition which contains a testimony of the immortality of the soul” (p. 259). “This mode of expression… beautifully lessens the excessive dread of death by pointing out its effect and its nature” (Calvin, p. 260). He is talking about his departure from life. He understood this as being released, the release of his life from his body in death. He does not seem to have a grim or defeated or inwardly despairing picture of himself. He sees himself as having lived a purposeful life, now living out a purposeful death, in another of many events of witness (marturia). As if already ticketed for a journey, he stands waiting for the hour of departure, ready for the anchor to be hoisted.” (Thomas C. Ogden, First and Second Timothy and Titus INTERPRETATION A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching170-171 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press)
Paul had complete confidence that his death would simply be the final voyage that would lead him to his home in Paradise, awaiting the resurrection from the dead.
How could he have such confidence?
How could he face death which such courage and conviction?
In Philippians 3, Paul provides three answers to these questions.
Death Is Gain For The Christian Because Of Our Relationship With Christ
In Philippians 3, Paul discusses the many things which he has suffered for the Lord. It is then that he writes:
Philippians 3:8-Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
Look at the phrase “the knowledge of Christ Jesus.”
It is a very interesting phrase in the Greek New Testament, and suggests the idea of a close and personal relationship.
The Amplified Version brings this out:
Philippians 3:8 (Amplified)-Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One),
To Paul, he is willing to trade anything and everything for his relationship with Christ.
“In the OT knowledge signifies ‘living in a close relationship with something or somebody, such a relationship as to cause what may be called communion’. 1982 To know God was regarded as of paramount importance (Ho. 6:6; cf. 4:1, 6) and meant to be in a close personal relationship with him. Here at Phil. 3:8 Paul is speaking about ‘his own personal relationship with Christ’, something that is absolutely basic and fundamental to his being a Christian. It ‘includes the experience of being loved by him and loving him in return’. 1983” (Peter T. O’Brien, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle To The Philippians, 9733 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans’ Publishing Company)
Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew word that is the basis of this Greek word denoted intimacy of relationship:
“PAUL has already spoken of the supreme value above all else of the knowledge of Christ. He now returns to that thought and defines more closely what he means. It is important to note the verb which he uses for to know. It is part of the verb ginōskein, which almost always indicates personal knowledge. It is not simply intellectual knowledge, the knowledge of certain facts or even principles. It is the personal experience of another person. We may see the depth of this word from a fact of Old Testament usage. The Old Testament uses to know of sexual intercourse. ‘Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain’ (Genesis 4: 1). In Hebrew, the verb is yada, and in Greek it is translated by ginōskein. This verb indicates the most intimate knowledge of another person. It is not Paul’s aim to know about Christ, but personally to know him.” (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letter To The Philippians, Colossians, And Thessalonians, 74 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press)
Paul was willing to face everything the world could throw at him because his relationship with Christ was paramount.
He longed to be with the Lord, to see him ‘face to face,’ and to be with Him for eternity (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1-8).
I often think about what it would have been like for Paul and his “sojourn” in Arabia. Recall that when he became a Christian, he soon took a “sabbatical:”
Galatians 1:17-18-17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.
We are not told specifically WHY Paul to Arabia, or how long he was actually there.
However, from the context, it is logical to believe that he went to Arabia to spend time with the Lord, possibly in seclusion.
For example, notice how his pilgrimage to Arabia is set in contrast to his not going up immediately to confer with the Apostles.
Was Paul on some kind of special training from the Lord?
Was he spending his time in Arabia to grow in the ways of Jesus, perhaps since he was not present with the Apostles after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, when He instructed them in the mysteries of the coming kingdom of God for forty days (Acts 1:1-3)?
Was the Lord speaking to him of all the hardships that he wold face as a Christian?
Unfortunately, we may never know the answers to these questions, as this is the only record in the New Testament of Paul’s journey to Arabia.
Yet one thing we know for certain is that death would be gain for the Apostle because of his relationship with the Savior!
Death Is Gain For The Christian Because Of Our Righteousness In The Savior
After discussing his relationship with the Lord, Paul then described the righteousness that he has in Him:
Philippians 3:9-and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
One of the main themes throughout the writing of Paul deals with the way that mankind can be made righteous with God through Jesus.
The Jews tried to attain right-standing (i.e., righteousness) with God by keeping the Law of God as perfectly as possible. However, this will never work! The Law can only show us that we fall short and cannot justify us before Him.
Romans 3:19-20-19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:19-20 (ERV)-19 What the law says is for those who are under the law. It stops anyone from making excuses. And it brings the whole world under God’s judgment,
20 because no one can be made right with God by following the law. The law only shows us our sin.
The Law was given to show people that they could not be saved by law-keeping.
Ray Comfort has provided a great illustration of this:
“All the Law does is show them their true state. If you dust a table in your living room and think it is dust-free, try pulling back the curtains and letting in the early morning sunlight. You will more than likely see dust still sitting on the table. The sunlight didn’t create the dust; it merely exposed it. When we take the time to draw back the high and heavy curtains of the Holy of Holies and let the light of God’s Law shine upon the sinner’s heart, the Law merely shows him his true state before God. Proverbs 6: 23 tells us, “the commandment is a lamp, and the Law a light.”” (Ray Comfort, The Way Of The Master, 49-50 (Kindle Edition))
If someone says, “Mark, we can’t be saved by keeping the Old Testament Law perfectly, but we can be saved by keeping the New Testament Law perfectly,” then they have not yet learned the lesson that Paul is elaborating upon.
Oh, there is most definitely a New Testament Law:
James 1:25-But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
Romans 8:2-For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
1 Corinthians 9:21-to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;
However, if we think we can be saved by keeping a law perfectly, Paul says that we still have not learned the reason why God gave the Old Testament Law!
Galatians 3:21-Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.
How then, can we have any hope of being forgiven?
How can we stand before a perfectly holy and righteous God?
The way-the ONLY way-is to be found in Jesus, covered with His righteousness.
The righteousness which God extends to His people is through “faith.”
If I am trusting in my own righteousness through perfect law-keeping, then my “faith” is in myself.
This is what Paul means in his Letter to the Galatians:
Galatians 3:12-Yet the law is not of faith, but “THE MAN WHO DOES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.”
Those who tried to be justified by their own good works could NEVER meet the standard. They would always fall short.
So, in the Old Testament, God showed another way for mankind to be justified in His sight: through FAITH.
Romans 3:21-26-21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,
26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
It is only in placing our compete faith in what Jesus has accomplished that we can be justified before God.
Does this mean that we are saved by “faith only” apart from any kind of obedience?
Of course not!
After all, Abraham is the main example that Paul uses to illustrate how we are made righteous (Romans 4:22-25, although he also references David-Romans 4:5-8).
So, what about Abraham? What was his faith like?
Genesis 15:6-And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Hebrews 11:8-By faith Abraham OBEYED when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
James 2:17-26-17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS ACCOUNTED TO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” And he was called the friend of God.
24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Our obedience is what brings our faith to completion.
Thus, when we humbly submit to God and obey His plan, we accept His gift of salvation and forgiveness.
Truly, it is only IN HIM that we are made righteous:
Colossians 1:19-23-19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,
20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled
22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—
23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
For the Christian who is trusting in the Lord and His righteousness, death is gain!
Death Is Gain For The Christian Because Of Our Resurrection With The Savior
Paul now explains that it is in the resurrection from the dead that we will ultimately triumph over death itself!
Philippians 3:10-11-10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a “firstfruits” of our resurrection:
1 Corinthians 15:20-But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Paul says that because of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), he is viewing death as “gain!”
In describing the importance of the resurrection of Christ Jesus to believers, McDowell has well written:
“When Christ was on the cross, it seemed that all had been lost. Death had won. But after three days in a rich man’s tomb, Jesus appeared alive again. The news was so shocking the disciples refused to believe it until he presented himself to them personally and let them touch his wounds with their own hands. Then Jesus made an amazing claim to his disciples: In the future they too would have resurrected bodies like his. Bodies that would never deteriorate, age or perish. They would realize the one great hope that would bring meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence. They would have new life without death or pain in the presence of a loving God forever. That is the great hope Christianity offers to a hopeless world—an afterlife with God, free of pain and suffering, and filled with boundless joy. This, as we will explain more fully later, is exactly how the Bible describes heaven. Heaven is a place of unimaginable blessing. It is a place of ecstasy and fulfillment. When we reach heaven we will all say, “This is what we were made for!” The Bible refers to the afterlife with anticipation and joy. Christians eagerly look forward to the day when all tears will be wiped away. This belief in heaven is not a mere pie-in-the-sky idea designed to make us feel good in a hopeless world, like Utopia, Arcadia or El Dorado; it is a belief built on rock-solid evidence. We will explore this evidence in the third section of this book. When we consider our present pain and struggles in light of eternal life in heaven, we will be able to transcend our seemingly hopeless circumstances….The promise of the resurrection is this: What happened to Christ can happen for us. Like him, we will die, but his resurrection is a promise that death is not the end. His resurrection is the prototype for our own. He blazed the trail through death to eternal life, and he tells us that we can follow in his footsteps with his hand leading us the entire way. The resurrection gives us hope for a glorious, pain-free, death-free future. The dreams of paradise, Arcadia, Utopia, El Dorado and Camelot can be realized in all their imagined perfection. Our most outlandish dreams of peace, love and harmony can be fulfilled.” (Josh McDowell & Sean McDowell, Evidence For The Resurrection: What It Means For Your Relationship With God11-14 (Kindle Edition); Ventura, CA; Regal)
Thanks to our future resurrection with Christ, Christians can view death as gain.
When I consider the terrible power that death has in our mortal world, I am so thankful that because of our relationship with Jesus, our righteousness in Jesus, and our resurrection with Jesus, we-like the Apostle Paul-can view death as “gain.”
Jesus came and went to Calvary to save us friends. He died to pay the price for our sins (1 Timothy 2:4-6), was buried (Matthew 27:57-66), and arose from the dead on the third day (John 20:1-10).
Those who believe on Jesus through His Word (John 6:44-45; 11:25-26), repent of their sins (Acts 17:30-31), confess their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Acts 8:37), and are baptized into Him (Romans 6:3-4) will be saved and added by God to His church (Acts 2:37-47).
If we are faithful to the Lord, then we will one day enjoy the crown of righteousness which the Lord has prepared for those who love Him (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
When we sin against God after becoming a Christian (1 John 1:8; Hebrews 12:1-2), we will be forgiven by Him as we repent of that sin and confess our sins to Him in prayer (1 John 1:8-2:2).
Why not obey the Lord today?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.