The Good and the Better
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”- Philippians 1:21–23
Jonathan Edwards, who is widely regarded as the most important theologian and philosopher America has ever produced, once remarked that too many Christians live like distracted travelers who stay at a hotel on their way to a destination but never move on to the place they are heading. His point was that we have such an attachment to our present lives and the pleasures we enjoy today that we can, without necessarily meaning to, live as if heaven does not exist. We can act like the newlyweds who sit in the lobby of their hotel for hours, waiting for a ride to the airport to catch their flight to their honeymoon, and who then refuse to get in the cab because they have had so much fun waiting around.
We can be so enamored with the comforts and joys of this present life that we find it hard to believe that heaven will be better than the most exquisite pleasures this world has to offer. This is a particular danger for Christians in the Western world given the wealth that even the poorest among us enjoys. Material prosperity and riches, of course, are not sinful in themselves. God often blesses His servants with wealth (Deut. 28:1–14). However, wealth can distract us from looking forward to our heavenly home if we are not careful. To help us remember the joys of heaven, we need look no further than to the Apostle Paul, who had no inordinate attachment to this present life.
In today’s passage, we see that the Apostle knew and looked forward to the blessed hope of heaven. There is a tension in Paul’s mind evident in this text. Although he enjoyed his fellowship with the Philippian Christians and saw the necessity of remaining on earth to teach them more, his true desire was to see Jesus. Paul understood that heaven is far better than the best this world has to offer (Phil. 1:23–24). He makes it clear that death is not finally a tragedy for believers. In fact, to die is to be in the presence of our wonderful Savior (v. 21).
Here we have a contrast between the good and the better. Our lives on earth are not entirely fraught with peril, for “to live is Christ.” But heaven is “far better.” It is better to see Jesus face-to-face than to see Him by faith on this side of heaven. Yet though heaven is better than our present existence, it is not the best. The best is the new heaven and earth that we will receive at the resurrection when God completes our glorification (Rom. 6:5; Rev. 21). Heaven is a taste of the final state, and as we contemplate its glories and those of the new creation, we will be far less attached to those things that distract us from Christ.
How strongly do we believe that heaven is far better than our lives on this side of the grave? It is easy to get distracted from the blessings of the life to come, so we must take special care that we do not forget that as good as our lives can be now, life in God’s unmediated presence is far better. The joys we experience in the here and now cannot compare to what is in store for those of us who know Jesus. Let us be conscious of that fact today and always.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 2:1–14
2 Corinthians 5:1–10