The Living Bible renders it: “For to me, living means opportunities for Christ, and dying – well, that’s better.”
The J.B. Philips paraphrase reads, “For living to me means simply ‘Christ,’ and if I die I should gain more of Him.”
The Good news Bible says: “For what is life? To me it is Christ. Death, then, will bring more.”
So if Paul really loves Christ – if Christ is precious to him - getting more of him can only be better. And can there be doubt of Paul’s love for Christ?
But, should there be any doubt of our love for Christ if we call ourselves Christian - a love that would cause us to live for Him in this life and long to be with Him in the next life?
There is an old hymn written by Will L. Thompson which says:
Jesus is all the world to me,Paul could have written that. Is Jesus that dear and precious to you? Than is it Christ you live for? And will it be gain to die?
My joy, my life, my all;
He is my strength from day to day,
Without Him I would fall.
Jesus is all the world to me,
I want no better friend;
I trust Him now, I’ll trust Him when
Life’s fleeting days shall end.
Beautiful life with such a friend;
Beautiful life that has no end;
Eternal life, eternal joy,
He’s my friend.
Psalm 116:15 says: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” Just as we love God and long to go live with Him, He loves us and waits for us to come live with Him. “To die is gain.” It was for Paul. It should be for you. And this should be our life motto, as it was Paul’s.
But, this gets Paul to pondering. Wait a minute, if life is one trial after another, and if death brings an infinity of gain, why am I praying for deliverance from my imprisonment? That doesn’t make sense. Why shouldn’t I pray, “Lord, just take me home now?”
Oh, he knows the reason why. He’s still got a job to do. If God didn’t have something for us to do after we get saved, He could take us home instantly to be with Him. But he doesn’t take us home, not immediately, and Paul knows why. We still have a job to do.
So does Paul really want to live even if dying is better? That’s a quandary. Paul doesn’t really know which he should hope for. Philippians 1:22 says, “But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.” In effect, he’s saying, “I don’t really know what I’d choose. There is much to be said about both.”
Now we understand, Paul didn’t have the choice. The Roman judge would pronounce the verdict, and ultimately that verdict was under the control of God. But Paul is wondering what he would hope for and pray for - to live on in the flesh or to die and go to heaven?
Now, when he says, “if I live on in the flesh,” he’s not talking about our sin nature which often is translated as “flesh.” He is simply saying “If I keep on living in this body here on planet earth.” This simply means his physical life. If he goes on living, he can bear more fruit for Christ. More people can hear the Gospel and be saved. And that is a fantastic reason to want to go on living.
But, “Wouldn’t I really want to go to heaven more?” he ponders. That would really be better for me, but not for those whom I minister to. This is his dilemma.
Do you know who Adoniram Judson is? He was the first overseas missionary sent out from America. It was the early 19th century, and he and his wife set out first for India, and then were directed to Burma. Shortly after he arrived, he was thrown into prison for a year and half where he was routinely tortured and abused. It was horrendous, the depravation and abuse. And while he was in prison, his wife and children died of disease. Literally, he is losing everything he holds dear except his relationship with his God.
Yet, often he wished he could die and end the suffering, but he realized that his work for Christ was more important than his comfort. As he pressed on, he prayed that he would be allowed to live long enough to translate the Bible into Burmese and that he could establish a church there with at least 100 people. God granted that prayer of Adiniram Judson, but at great cost to him in suffering.
In His diaries, he wrote, “If I had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” Those could have been Paul’s words as Paul suffered more than almost any man, so he is pondering: “Living? Dying? Which should I choose?” He really was having a hard time deciding.
Quoting John MacArthur,
“It was not that Paul opposed the Lord’s will or wanted to be in heaven if God wanted him to continue his ministry on earth. He wanted to do both, and the two desires were equally strong and proper. It is like the dilemma of a wife whose husband has been working far from home for many months and asks her to visit him for awhile. Though she loves him deeply and longs to be with him, she loves her children and wants to stay near them.”So Paul really doesn’t know what he desires more: Philippians 1:23, “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”