“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” – Philippians 1:21-24
It seems to me that St. Paul is often misinterpreted in this passage as only longing to escape from this mortal coil to be with Christ. I suppose that is because most of us, even Christians, still struggle to live an authentic life while harbouring thoughts of escapism. For would it not be more wonderful to just die and be with God – free from all the suffering of mortal life? Ah, I used to think like that too at one point in my journey. But I think I understand St. Paul’s mind better now.
As sons and daughters of God, our final destiny is full union with Him. And it is true that though we can experience a foretaste of this union during our earthly life, that it can only come to completion when we have shed our earthly bodies. However, our destiny does not lie only in that – for just like Jesus who had a mission and purpose to be on earth, so too do we. That, just as much as our final destination, is also our destiny.
The reason we have no real love for life is because we have not yet discovered the mission for which we were created. “To live is Christ.” Christ lived in this world while remembering that He belonged to His heavenly Father above – He was in this world but not of it. His mission was love, pure and simple. He came to heal the sick, forgive sinners and comfort the poor. His mission was to reconcile all of us to God, and to remind us of our true identities as God’s children. To live a full life is to live the life of Christ – to continue the mission of Christ, in the specific and unique ways that we are called to do in different ways.
In the Gospel of John 21:15-17, Jesus had asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And each time Peter replied that he did, Jesus had responded, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.” If we live in Christ, we do not only attempt to simply obey His command to feed His sheep – we come to share in Christ’s love for His people and we will desire to feed His lambs and His sheep.
To live in the consciousness of our Sonship and Daughtership is be ‘hard-pressed in both directions‘ like St. Paul. To always long for the fullest union possible with God, but to also want to live out to the full the life that God created us to live so that we can be His hands and His feet in this world. For to love God is to share in His love for His people. And to know that God is more eager than we are to welcome us home to His side.
Yes to die is gain – but only if we have first lived in Christ. Let’s be patient and allow God to reveal to us our mission. He promised that He came to give us abundant life, and that is the life we can begin to live even now.