“But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.”
In verse 21, Paul gave his outlook on life and also his perspective on death. He had an excellent viewpoint on both. The apostle had a win-win view of both life and death. If he lived, he lived for Christ. If he died, he would meet Jesus face to face. Jesus not only changes your outlook on life, but He also changes your perspective on death.
We look forward to death with anticipation (not masochism). Only those who have come to Christ and are looking to see Him again have such an outlook on death. In verses 22-24, Paul gave his assessment of which of these two alternatives was more critical.
“But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor”
Now Paul looked at the alternative of his continuing to live physically. “Live on in the flesh” means to continue to live in the body. This is the first part of verse 21: “For to me to live is Christ.” Very few Christians can say, “My life is living for Christ.” That was Paul’s definition of life. With most of us, Christianity is just a hobby. It merely occupies the fringe area of our spare time. We will not let our Christianity interfere with our life! We practice Christianity on Sunday morning but make it marginal the rest of the week. We use the church as a religious country club: it is fun to be there once in a while.
“yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.”
Paul was in a quandary. If he lived, he won; if he died, he won. This was a quandary between two wins! It is like someone giving you a BMW or a Mercedes, the choice being up to you. The two alternatives were whether he should continue his work in time or see Jesus in eternity. A person who is not deeply in love with the Lord Jesus would view “to die is gain” as odd. But a reflection of the quality of our spiritual life is how we anticipate eternity. There is probably a correlation between how we live for Christ and our anticipation of eternity. On a descending scale, if we do not live for Christ, meeting Him in eternity is of little value, as well. Living and dying in Christian values are linked together.
Dying will be gain to those Christians who do not live for Christ, but they will not be able to appreciate that until eternity. Faith enables us to participate in the future.
A spiritual Christian with the right sense of expectancy always faces a quandary between two positive alternatives.
Do you fear death? We always fear the things we do not know. We have not experienced death; therefore, we fear it. The more real Jesus is to us in time, the less fear we will have of eternity. If we know Jesus in time, knowing Him in eternity is just an extension of fellowship with Him.