Living and Dying

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). To live, and to die; they are only a comma apart, and the comma is the punctuation mark suggesting the shortest possible elapse of time. Life and death; the systole and the diastole; the beat and the throb of the pulse; the swing of the pendulum. Everyone of us daily stands where this comma stands.

Hamlet weighed the evils of life and the evils of death. He weighed the sorrows of life, from which death could relieve him, over against the terrors of death, from which life as yet delivers him. "To be or not to be," that is the question. Weighing all the evils - the wrongs, the oppressions, the pains, the disappointments of life, he thinks it is better to escape them; but when he considers what unknown death may bring, he turns back to life as preferable. He does not know whether to choose between the wretched present, which is sure, or the perhaps far worse unknown that lies ahead.

Paul was in a dilemma, too, but not for the same reasons. He knew what lay ahead, and it was far, far preferable to the present. Death was no unknown quantity to him. Infinite grace had opened the door of glory to him (as it has to us) and let him look in.

Had he considered himself alone, there would have been no hesitation whatever. To be with Christ was far better, but it was the Lord's people he was thinking of, not himself. They needed him still, he felt, and so he reluctantly turned his back on the inviting prospect of departing to be with Christ and decided to remain here, in this vale of tears, a little longer.

It was not Rome, whose prisoner he was, that decided upon his release from imprisonment; no, the prisoner himself decided his fate. Since he saints needed him a while longer, he was going to live and come back to them, as he tells us in verse 26.

Paul had a problem: to live was Christ; to die was to be with Christ. It was Christ all the way. Mr. Darby is said to have remarked once, when asked how he felt about dying: "There is little to choose between life or death for me. Here Christ is with me; there, I shall be with Christ." So thought Paul.

Paul chooses, and death wins out. It is far better, say he, to die than to live in this world of sin and departure from Him. "Yes," says Paul, "death is far better"; yet ... he chooses life. He does not choose the easy path, but the hard one. Love, love for others, depresses the scale in favor of life down below.

How like his Lord, who made the exact same choice. Turn to Luke 9, and you see your precious Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, clothed in dazzling beauty and majesty that are His because of who He is. How inviting was the prospect for Him to go back to heaven, as He sees Moses and Elijah return there.

He had a perfect right to do so, but He turned away from it (and only He knows what it cost Him) and went back down to Jerusalem and the awful horror of the Cross. Luke 9:51 tells us that He stedfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing all that shortly awaited Him there.

Paul, too, chose the suffering of life on earth and a martyr's death, to the infinite joy of heaven. How unlike ourselves usually! We so often want to go to heaven to get away from our trials, not specially because we long to be with Him.

I knew a dear old Christian who really loved the Lord. He was quite ill for months; and, when feeling real bad, he would say: "Oh, if the Lord would only come to take me home!" But several times, when feeling temporarily much brighter, the first thing he would call for was his pipe. He clung to earth, as most of us do, so don't feel superior. Most of us aren't much better - there are not many Pauls.

But not so Paul. He turned his back on the longed for departure to be with Christ, and remained on earth, with its pains, loneliness and sorrow. So...he decides to abide and continue with the Lord's own. Praise God, the believer does not need to be in a hurry to go to heaven to be with Christ. It is a wonderful privilege to live for Him here below and to suffer for His sake.

During the last world war, it was often very difficult to get seats on trains, since they were so crowded with servicemen, and since many, who otherwise drove their cars, now had to ride the train, due to the shortage of gasoline. I always tried to book passage on a streamliner, and thus get a reserved seat. Otherwise, one would have to come to the station sometimes an hour or more ahead of time and stand in line to get aboard at all, let alone get a seat. With a reserved seat, one did not have to run or push; the seat was there waiting for you.

So, praise God, we believers do have a reserved seat in heaven. There is no need to be in a rush to get there. It is a very precious privilege, as Paul says, to abide here and to serve the Lord a little longer. We have the honor here of serving where He is rejected, which we shall never have again when we have gone to be with Christ.

"To me to live is Christ" is Paul's motto. Can you and I say that? I can say indeed that "to die is gain", but how about "to live is Christ"? For some believers, to live is seeking wealth; sometimes it is to be somebody; sometimes it is to preach, or to sing, or to write. But to Paul, to live was Christ.

A dear servant of Christ was taken ill, and was told by his physician that his days of active service for Christ were over. His heart would never again permit him to be physically busy. He was confined to his home and oftentimes to his bed. At first, he wished the Lord would take him home, for what good was he since he could not be at the Lord's service, which he had enjoyed so much? But then, one day Philippians 1:21 came to his heart with special force. The verse did not say "to me to live is to preach"; or "to me to live is to comfort the saints and to visit them in their afflictions"; no, "to me to live is Christ." He could still live; and, in living, Christ was to be seen in him, and heard, felt, known and enjoyed-not he. Let Christ be all, and all will be well!

Article taken from, Spiritual Meditations, by August Van Ryn. The book was recently published by John Ritchie, LTD. For more information write to: Mr. Carroll Van Ryn, 1 Bradford Blvd., Frostproof, FL 33843