INTRODUCTION: A certain preacher once asked his congregation, “How many of you are anxious to go to heaven?” Every hand in the room went up. But when he said, “How many want to go right now?” their hands dropped so quickly it seemed as though someone had pulled a switch!
I. THE STRUGGLE (verses 22-24)
As Christians, we all want to go to heaven, but we are pulled in two directions because this life also has its joys and opportunities. We are like the youngster in Sunday School who listened intently while the teacher told about all the beauties of heaven. She concluded by saying, “All who are glad you are going to heaven, raise your hands”. Every hand shot up immediately except one. “Why don’t you want to go to heaven, Johnnie?” “Well”, he replied, “when I left home, mom was baking an apple pie!” Now we should not feel guilty for having a strong desire to enjoy life with all its goodness. But if the delights of our earthly home are so attractive that we lose sight of God’s purpose for putting us here, something’s wrong. A poem puts it this way:
We do not know when Christ may call
By death or with the trumpet sound,
So as we serve Him day by day
Let’s be prepared to go, but glad to stay.
The Apostle Paul had mixed feelings too. Although he believed he would be released from prison, he also knew that he could be killed by the Emperor Nero of Rome. This created a conflict. He longed to be with Christ, for that would be “far better”, as he says in verse 23, than anything this world had for him. But he also wanted to live, not merely to enjoy life, but because he was needed. We find this in verse 24. So Paul was torn between his desire to be with Christ and his calling to minister to people.
If you have trusted Christ as your Savior and Lord, you can understand Paul’s dilemma. You look forward to being with Christ, yet you realize that God has a reason for you to stay on this troubled planet. To stay or to go?
II. THE SOLUTION (verses 25-26)
Paul discusses the solution to his dilemma in verses 25 and 26. Think of it! Heaven was such a reality to Paul that he could not wait to see Christ face to face, to be in His presence and enjoy the glories of heaven forever. Yet he was willing to remain in his human body, though personally this would be his second choice. What a man of God the apostle Paul was, by the power of the Spirit of God! He was willing to postpone heaven in order to help Christians grow, and Romans 9 tells us that he was willing to go to hell if God would allow him to win his fellow Israelites to Christ.
Many people feel no need to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. They live in prosperity, enjoy good health, and live an upright life. There have been no difficult trials in their lives to force them to reconsider the direction they have taken. They are on the broad way that leads to destruction but they have no idea that at some point their journey will bring them to the brink of eternity. What then?
There was an American Indian chief who heard the gospel but would not accept Christ. “This Jesus road is good”, he said to the missionary, “but I have followed the Indian road all my life. I will follow it to the end.” Later, when the chief lay dying, he sought a way through the darkness. He asked the missionary, “Can I turn to the Jesus road now? My road stops here. There’s no path through the valley.”
Life’s highway may be smooth for us, and it may seen to stretch on indefinitely. But beware! There’s a barricade ahead marked “death”. Will your road end there, with only the blackness of eternal separation from God before you? Receive Christ and take the highway to heaven.
Astronaut Shannon Lucid had been on the Russian space station “Mir” for more than four months when hurricanes and equipment trouble forced NASA to delay her scheduled ride home. She had to wait another seven months before the space shuttle “Atlantis” could be launched to bring her back to earth. Christians are waiting for a ride home in the other direction, from earth to heaven, to be with Jesus. When death seems needlessly delayed for ourselves or someone we love who is terminally ill, we wonder why God leaves His children here on earth with a lingering illness instead of quickly taking them to heaven.
In verses 25 and 26, the apostle Paul understood his purpose for staying here on this earth. But even when we can’t understand God’s purpose, we can choose to trust in His wisdom. Christ’s understanding and His love are unfailing. He cares for His suffering children, as well as for their friends and family.
To us, the departure from this earth may seem delayed. But from God’s perspective, each of His children is brought to his heavenly home right on time. The time for you to leave this world is God’s decision. Make the most of your life while you’re here.
Years ago an elderly Christian lady was crossing the Atlantic Ocean to visit her daughter Martha in New York. A terrible storm arose which threatened to sink the ship. The captain, trying to quiet the passengers, came by the cabin of this old saint and heard singing instead of moaning and crying. Thinking her to be mad with fear, he said, “Madam, do you know our ship may sink at any moment? How can you sing?” She replied, “I have two daughters. One, Martha, lives in New York; the other, Mary, lives in heaven, where she went fifteen years ago when death took her. If the ship does not sink, I’ll be with Martha in the morning; and if it does sink, I’ll be with Mary in Glory. Either way it will be a happy meeting!” Would you have the same confidence if this were your last hour?
There is no denying that death is an enemy. But it is a defeated enemy. Until we are saved, death holds out no glimmer of hope; but after we are saved, death becomes a door which closes upon our earthly life and opens into the eternal glory of heaven. So let’s live for our Lord Jesus Christ with joy each day and leave our lives in God’s loving hands.