The prospect of death can cause an array of responses from people. Those in the throngs of youth, seemingly laugh at death with an air of invincibility. The ambitious push aside thoughts of death as a nuisance or a barrier to their far-reaching pursuits. Thoughts of fear pervade our conscience. What lies behind the veil of death? It is an unknown phenomenon to those who have not quite figured out their purpose in life and their relationship with God.
For one man, the prospect of death did not bring fear. He embraced death as an opportunity to finally come home — a place where he truly belonged. The only drawback was that he knew his absence would be a hardship for people he loved.
“If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” (Philippians 1:22-26)
The Apostle Paul was not going to pieces over the prospect of death. He was not attached to this life. He was ready to depart this life and be with Jesus at any time. The basis of the Christian hope is the assurance that we will be with Jesus forever in heaven.
The Greek word used for “to depart” was a military term meaning to “strike camp.” After months, perhaps years of fighting a fierce battle and living in tents, a soldier certainly welcomes the order to “strike camp.” It meant that you’re finally going home. Paul was ready to strike camp, if that was the order from his Commanding Officer. Our life on earth is just a temporary shelter. A Christian’s citizenship is in heaven and we all long to go home. By placing our trust in Christ, we receive total forgiveness of our sins. We can be assured that Jesus has prepared a room for us in heaven.
Even though Paul expressed his desire to strike camp and go home, he let that decision fall into the hands of God. Never shy to use bold words, Paul was “convinced” that he was going to continue his work on earth so more people could go to heaven. His time of service was not over yet. He recognized his value to the young churches and knew they needed more encouragement and instruction to guard against spiritual dangers and their own weaknesses. Like a young sapling, they needed Paul to be a stake tied to its base so they may grow strong roots. Even though Paul longed for heaven, he continued to rejoice in the work ahead.
Paul was able to overcome two issues in life that probably cause us the most problems — difficult circumstances and the opinion of others. God will use circumstances to show us His will and his mercy. When God allows times of suffering to occur in our life these become opportunities to deepen our trust in Him. We also have opportunities to learn that God’s opinion of ourselves becomes far more important than another person’s opinion. Too often we find grief by allowing other’s opinions to dictate our words and actions.
Sometimes words hurt, even when they come from concerned Christians. We need to remember that God’s opinion is what matters the most. Not only in showing us what to do, but also to know that our status as forgiven saints is secure.