Summary: Though death remains the last enemy, the apostle Paul tells us that to die and be with Christ is "better by far."
Better By Far
April 10, 2011
Philippians 1:21-25 (ESV) 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. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
I have to admit something that some of you may think is a bit morbid, or at least weird. But the very fact that I have to explain my line of thinking at the outset of this sermon is a picture of one of the challenges we face as believers these days.
I have to admit that I’ve spent a lot of time in the past several months thinking about death and dying. It may be because I’ve been involved with the planning of several funerals. James Carpentier. Johanna Vesanen. Bill Sanders.
In fact, Jim Grinnell and I were talking about this the other day. I reminded him that I’ve sometimes referred to him as the weddingmeister. That’s because he seems to get asked to do a lot more weddings than the rest of us. And also because he’s very gifted in doing weddings – always does a great job.
I told him maybe I’m becoming the funeralmeister, because I seem to do a few more than the rest of us, at least recently. I’m not sure what that fact says about our respective giftings, but I’ll let you decide.
But, perhaps I’ve been thinking about death and dying because I was at the bedside of many of these people often, prior to their going home to be with the Lord. It may be because of the serious illness my mother’s experiencing, and my dad’s declining health. It may be because I’ve spent hours in the hospital with seriously ill people like Pam Buetow before she went to be with the Lord Thursday. It may be because I’m in the nursing home each week with Nette and some of her friends at the nursing home, many of whom have died.
I feel the need to explain why I’m thinking about these things because it’s not something many of us think about deeply, seriously, over a period of time. It seems strange, different, maybe morbid. It seems the only time we think of these things is when we have funerals. But many of us haven’t been to these funerals. Either we don’t have much of a relationship with the one who died, or our schedule didn’t permit us to take time off in the middle of the day, or perhaps just because we’re uncomfortable with the whole scene, but many of us just don’t ever think about death and dying, because we don’t want to.
However, when you look at the demographics of this church, that’s changing, or it’s going to have to change. It used to be we could go several years at TCF without a member passing away. Now, we have some people in this congregation in their 60s, 70s and 80s. More than that, we have a large segment of TCFers who have aging parents, making decisions about late-in-life care. In that large segment of TCF are many who already have parents facing debilitating illness, and many more who’ve lost parents in the past few years.
But it’s not just this segment of TCF that should be thinking about these things. It’s all of us. If you’re a teenager, or in your 20s, 30s or 40s, these thoughts I’m sharing with you this morning are things you should think about as well.
Because of what the apostle Paul tells us here in this passage, because of what we mark in the next few weeks – Jesus’ death and resurrection, and all that it means to us – it’s important for us to think about death and dying and all the related issues.
It’s important because, despite differences in individual circumstances, despite differences in medical decisions made in later life, there are some common themes that Christians have, throughout the centuries, thought about and taught about when it comes to death and dying.
Paul said to the Philippians that to depart, and to be with Christ, is far better. Far better than staying in our mortal bodies. The NIV says, “better by far.” We’ll take a closer look at this passage here in a minute.
But if it’s far better, why are we so distant from these thoughts? If it’s far better, then why when death appears imminent do we fight death so fiercely? Why are we so uncomfortable talking about these things?