To Die Is Gain?
By Shawn Thomas
Philippians 1:21 is a well-known verse to many Christians. In it, Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Someone might think, ok, well, maybe to you, “to live could be Christ, if that is your faith. But to say “TO DIE is to GAIN?” Now that’s a different thing! Not too many people really think that way. Most people think of death as the worst possible thing that can happen to someone. But Paul says, no: “to die is GAIN.”
The word “gain” here is the Greek Bible word “kerdos,” which means “profit.” In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 Jesus says the slaves invested their master’s money, and they “made a profit” with his money. That is the word that is used here. It is a business word; it means to make a profit. So Paul is saying here: Hey, death is not something I am afraid of; he says, I will actually PROFIT if I die. It will be better for me if I die, than if I live.
In fact, he elaborates on that in the next verses of this passage, where he talks about the tension between whether he would rather stay here and continue serving, or if it would be better for him to die. And he says in:23, I have “the desire to depart from this life and be with Christ, for that is VERY MUCH BETTER.” We need to look closely at this expression because it is incredibly strong. It stacks two adjectives and an adverb right on top of each other: “VERY, MUCH, BETTER.”
—The first word, “pollo” means “many, much, a multitude”
—The second, “mallon” means “more than, better rather than something else”
—And the last, ”kreisson” means “better, stronger, more excellent”
So Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) just STACKS these comparatives one upon the other, to just emphasize this: to die and be with Christ is “a multitude, more excellent, better than” than life! — “pollon, mallon, kriesson” — “MUCH, MORE, BETTER” to die, than to live here on this earth. He says it is “gain;” it is “profit” for him.
I was studying this very paragraph this week when I got word that a faithful member of our church had passed away from COVID-19. My first thought was for US: “Oh no; we are going to miss Jana’s smiling face and sweet spirit, greeting at our front door!” But then I glanced back at what I was working on: NO! She is “MUCH, MORE, BETTER” than she has ever been!
That is the Christian attitude towards death. Honestly, I don’t think most people have this attitude. It goes against our “natural” inclination. And indeed, God has instilled within mankind a powerful desire to live, which is a good thing. But our FAITH in God’s word tells us that there is something “much more better” waiting for the Christian person after death, than anything we know here on earth. And that “something” that is so much better, is God Himself!
Notice Paul doesn’t just say “I want to die and go ‘to heaven,’ because that is so much better.” He doesn’t say “I want to go see the streets of gold or the pearly gates” because that is much better. He doesn’t say, I want to go and ride the perfect horse, or play the perfect golf course up in the sky, because that is much more better. He says I want to “depart and BE WITH CHRIST — for THAT is MUCH, MORE, BETTER!” See, it is JESUS HIMSELF who is the goal; it is the LORD who makes heaven “much, more, better.”
This goes back to the very heart of the gospel, which we have talked about before: that God made us specifically for Himself. As C.S. Lewis said, “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn.” Just like a solar-powered machine is designed to run off of the sun, so we were made to be empowered by the glory of the face of God! But we ruined that when we sinned against God, and a “shadow” fell across our relationship with God, that cut us off from Him and His glory. Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.” This is what that verse means: that by our sin we separated ourselves from the glory of God that we were made to thrive off of. But God still loved us, even though we sinned, and He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for our sins. So now, if we’ll repent of our sins and come back to Him, and ask Him for His forgiveness, we can be forgiven, and know the glory of God again. We can begin to “taste” that glory now, in our personal worship, and our worship with other Christians — and then when we die or Jesus returns, we will bask in the presence of His glory forever — with no sin; with nothing to hinder us from all the blessings of His glory face to face!
This is what David is talking about in Psalm 17:15 when he says, “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” David says, one day when I awake in heaven, I am going to be “SATISFIED” with Your likeness. He says I will fully be satisfied by the glory of the face of God. He says in Psalm 16:11 “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” The glory of the face of God Himself is what is waiting for us in heaven. And Paul says that glory and pleasure and joy will be “much, more, better,” than anything we have ever experienced here on earth!
Since I lived in North Carolina I decided I needed to read David McCullough’s book on the Wright Brothers, as their famous flight was accomplished on the beach there at Kitty Hawk. In the book, Wilbur Wright is asked by a journalist to describe what it felt like to fly that first plane (which had an open cockpit, and was a much more immediate and sensory kind of experience than the flying most of us have done). Wilbur Wright said: “the sensation is so keenly delightful as to be almost beyond description. Nobody who has not experienced it for himself can realize it. It is a realization of a dream so many persons have had of floating in the air. More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace, mingled with the excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost if you can conceive of such a combination.”
When I read that, I thought, that is like heaven. A billion times that; that will be heaven. It will be “keenly delightful”; it will be “perfect peace,” and it WILL be “beyond description.” None of us here have any idea of the glory and the joy of it. But God calls us to believe in it by faith in His word.
Sometimes God gives departing loved ones an early glimpse of it:
- When the great Puritan pastor Samuel Rutherford was dying, his final words as he approached heaven were: “Glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land”!
- S. Lewis said, “There are better things ahead, than any we leave behind.”
Richard Baxter, another Puritan pastor who wrote an amazing book on heaven, said he believed that every Christian should spend at least 30 minutes a day meditating on heaven; that it would totally change our attitude on life, our trials, our departed loved ones, how we spend our time, and so much more. We need that kind of perspective. We need to learn to really believe like Paul did, that as a Christian, “to die is GAIN!” It is “MUCH, MORE, BETTER”!
Shawn Thomas has been a Southern Baptist pastor for almost 35 years, he currently serves as Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Angleton, Texas. You can read more from Pastor Thomas Here.
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