Sitting on a Suitcase
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. …I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Phil. 1:21–24).- Philippians 1:18b–26
A newly married couple found themselves needing to be picked up from their hotel and driven to the airport in order to catch a flight to Bermuda for their honeymoon. After calling a taxi company, they sat on their suitcases in the hotel lobby, watching and waiting for the driver to come. The husband was forced to call the company once more an hour later because somehow their reservation had become lost in the shuffle. Finally, the cab came, and they were able to get to their airplane and their final destination.
What do you suppose we would say if the couple refused to get in the car because they were having such a good time sitting on their suitcases? Would we not think that they were crazy? Yet how often are we like this couple, so attached to our present life that we live as if heaven does not exist? As Jonathan Edwards once said, so many of us live like the distracted traveler who takes up residence in a hotel along the way instead of pressing on to his destination.
The apostle Paul suffered no such attachment to this present life. As today’s passage demonstrates, he was well aware of the blessed hope awaiting him. We can detect a certain tension in his life. He enjoyed the fellowship he had with the Christians in Philippi, and he knew it was necessary for him to remain on earth and continue as their teacher. But what he really wanted was to see Jesus, for he also knew heaven is a far better place (Phil. 1:23–24). He knew that death is not finally a tragedy for the believer, because though we live in Christ, dying and being able to see Him face-to-face is gain (v. 21).
The contrast is between this life and the life to come. This life is good because “to live is Christ,” but heaven is not the “best” place to be. The “best” is yet future even for those in heaven now. Our glorification will not be complete until our physical bodies are resurrected (Rom. 6:5). The contrast in today’s passage is between good and better. Heaven, the place where believers go between death and resurrection, is not God’s final end for us, but it is better than this present life. Setting our hope on heaven will make us less concerned with our comforts and more desirous to help grow the Lord’s kingdom.
When a believer dies, it is natural for the friends and family of the deceased to feel a profound sense of loss. But the deceased, if a Christian, feels no pain since he is ushered immediately into the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Have you come to the place where you understand that death is a great victory for all those who follow Jesus? If you fear death and are a Christian, remember that to live is Christ, but to die is gain.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 2:1–14
2 Corinthians 5:1–10