Two impossible choices for life

What do you want said about you at your funeral? If I have the sobering opportunity to ask someone who is dying that question, I’m genuinely curious to know what they want to share with those who come to mourn. I’ll tell you that very few people ever think about this, and those who are asked are usually without an answer.

Perhaps because I’ve asked this question to others so often, I have figured out what I want said about me when God takes me home. I want whoever does my funeral to say, “It is far better for him to be with his Lord than to stay here, even though it causes sadness to those he’s left behind.”

This is my answer because Paul’s letter to the Philippians resonates strongly with me. In his first chapter, this imprisoned apostle writes about two impossible directions for his existence. He says, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 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. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

To live is Christ, to die is gain. He is pulled in two directions, and both are noble and good. He eagerly desires to “depart” from this temporary, sinful, painful existence to go be at home with the Lord who lives him and perfects his nature. In that day, he gained everything — a home, a family, a future, a purpose, and a lasting love. Why wouldn’t he want to go as soon as possible?

Because the other force pulling on Paul was the work of the gospel in this world. “To live is Christ,” meaning that every day he spent doing ministry, he was bringing glory to his Lord and being used as a vessel for God’s grace to flow to the people. Paul knows that there are many people that he’s been called to help and minister to, and so in selfless love, he’s content to stay alive as long as God needs him for this mission. It wouldn’t be easy, nor painless. But it would bear fruit.

And, I should mention, that Paul’s willingness to continue to live for God continues to bless us today. The epistles of Colossians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus were all written at or after the time that he wrote to the Philippians. If he had departed for heaven early, we would be deprived of these precious scriptures.

You have a purpose and a mission in this world, and if you love and honor God, you’ll want to stay here to get the job done before you are called home.

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