Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Absent From The Body--Present With The Lord

Recently I was with fellow Christian when his wife died. One of the first things he said was that she was now with the Lord. He paraphrased 2 Corinthians 5:8 which says, “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

Christians are in a win/win situation. Check out the following passage:

Philippians 1:20-26.

Phil 1:20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but {that} with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
Phil 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Phil 1:22 But if {I am} to live {on} in the flesh, this {will mean} fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
Phil 1:23 But I am hard-pressed from both {directions,} having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for {that} is very much better;
Phil 1:24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
Phil 1:25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,
Phil 1:26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.

Paul was in prison for the cause of Christ (Philippians 1:12-16) and he was telling the Philippian believers about his situation.
· (Paul) I want Christ to be glorified in my body either by life or by death (Philippians 1:20). Why? You might ask. Paul’s response,
· My life is about Christ and if I die it will only be gain (don’t worry about me because I am in a win / win situation. If I live—I am living for Christ, if I die that will only be to my advantage). Let me explain:
· If I get to live, it means fruitful labor for me (1:22) and I can continue for your progress and joy in the faith (1:25).
· Paul was hard pressed between the two situations as he said “I am hard-pressed from both {directions,} having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for {that} is very much better (1:23); yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake (1:24), in order that he might “continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith (1:25).

Why is “dying” a gain for Paul (1:21)? Because, “to depart and be with Christ, for {that} is very much better” (1:23). Paul was hard pressed, because he desired to remain in the flesh (body in this context) (1:22) in order to minister to others, yet on the other hand—departing to be with Christ would be “far better” (1:23). For the Philippians’ sake it would be necessary (1:24) to stay and minister to their needs as it relates to their progress and joy in the faith (1:25). This passage is not hard to understand. Paul’s goal in life was to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. He loved to minister to others in the name of Christ, and if he died, it would only mean that he would get to be present with Christ. It is simple. Paul was in a win win situation and he couldn’t lose. He was in prison for preaching the gospel and while he was in prison he preached the gospel (1:12-16). If he lived he would minister to others (1:24-25), but if the ultimate happened, Paul would “depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (1:23). Why is it better to die? Because it ushers Paul into the very presence of Christ. Take your Bible out and read chapter one and see for yourself that this was clearly the mindset of Paul.

The consistent teaching throughout church history is that when a believer dies, his body goes into the ground and his soul goes to heaven to be in the very presence of Jesus.

I have been with precious believers who have been told they have a serious surgery to face and I let them know that they are in a win win situation. If it is God’s desire that they remain on for more years on earth then that will mean they can continue to minister to their family and others, but if that is not the outcome, then they are still winners because they will be present with the Lord. This has brought comfort to many that have been faced with such circumstances. I have been on mission trips out of the country and have prayed that God would allow me to return safely, if it would be his will, because I can continue to minister to my family, church family and others. You see, my wife’s first husband died when she was six months pregnant and I have been mindful of such situations and know how hard it would be if I departed to be with Christ since we have two school-aged children and one in college. Now we have talked about this passage as husband and wife and my desire is like Paul’s. As a matter of fact, my wife has told me many times that she is putting Philippians 1:21 on my tombstone because for over eighteen years now, it has been one of my favorite texts in the New Testament: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” If God allows me to live it will mean fruitful labor for me and will be more necessary for others in their progress and joy in the faith which I truly love, but if death comes knocking it will only mean that I will depart from this life and will be present with the Lord—which is far better than anything I can comprehend.

Praise be to Jesus—when death comes knocking and comes in to snuff out this earthly body, as a Christian I will depart and be with Christ my Lord. This one fact is truly exhilarating to meditate on. Oh, may you understand this great truth!

***See also http://alwaysreformingtoscripture.blogspot.com/2009/07/christian-view-of-deathabsent-from-body.html     for Scripture relating to the believer's resurrected body.
audio sermon here http://alwaysreformingtoscripture.blogspot.com/2011/06/memorial-day-beyond-death-for-christian.html

Therefore we also have as our ambition,
whether at home or absent,
to be pleasing to Him.
2 Corinthians 5:9