“For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”
Paul was on the horns of a dilemma. He had a desire to be with Christ in eternity, the better of the two options. He also had a desire to continue to have an effective ministry in time. In this verse he gave the first side of the dilemma.
“For I am hard pressed between the two,”
Paul was in a squeeze. He was pressured in his mind. His was the pressure of two (v. 21) excellent options: to have full fellowship with the Lord Jesus and to have a productive ministry. He perceived death from two viewpoints: (1) a departing and (2) being with Christ.
“having a desire to depart”
The word “depart” is used as a nautical term—a loosing of the anchor prior to setting sail. A term with the same root is used in 2 Timothy 4:6: “The time of my departure is at hand” (his death was imminent). Death is an embarking upon a voyage; it is to leave the body. So death is more than leaving this life; it is a separation from the body: “I have a desire to leave this body.” The soul and spirit do not remain in the body at death. They leave the body. When a Christian goes to a graveside service, he takes only the “remains” of his loved one. His loved one is not there; he has loosed the anchor of his soul and departed into the presence of the Lord Jesus.
“and be with Christ,”
This is the second description of death. It is one thing to visit a friend; it is another to live with him permanently. It is one thing to fellowship with the Lord Jesus; it is another to fellowship with Him perpetually! Heaven is to be with Christ. That was Paul’s “desire” (yearning, longing). He wanted to be “in conjunction with” Christ (cf. 3:10).
“which is far better.”
It is far better for a Christian to die than to live, although few of us believe it. In this verse Paul said that the “gain” of verse 21 (“to die is gain”) is “far better”—not just “better” but “far better.” To be absent from the body for the believer is “to be present with the Lord,” not present with the worms in the grave! It is better because the soul departs the body at death and goes into the presence of the Lord.
Death for the Christian is no bleak, black terminus of existence; it is a separation from the physical body and an entrance into fellowship with Jesus Christ.
Do you look upon death with dread or as a “departure” from planet earth into the presence of the Lord Jesus?