For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith.
— Philippians 1:23-25
Have you ever been so exhausted from the never-ending problems of life that the thought of dying and going to Heaven sounded like a wonderful dream? Maybe you imagined what it would be like to close your eyes, fall asleep, and wake up in the Presence of the Lord, never to awake again in this world. Have you ever had a moment when such thoughts seemed so wonderful that you wished the Lord would immediately call you home to Heaven?
Judging from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we can see that his heart was being heavily tugged toward Heaven while he was a prisoner in Rome. Paul was tired. He had already done more than anyone else could claim to have accomplished. He had suffered endlessly for his ministry. It would have been very easy for Paul to say, “Lord, I’m tired. I’ve done enough. I’m ready to go to Heaven. Please take me home!”
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he made it very clear that the temptation to leave life and to join the Lord was before him. His choice of words in Philippians 1:23-25 make it very evident that a choice was before him: to continue in the flesh so he could completely fulfill his ministry to the saints, or to depart this life and to be with the Lord. After thinking through these options, Paul made the choice to abide in the flesh and to continue his ministry a little longer.
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Paul tells us about the inward struggle he felt as he decided whether to keep living or to die and join the Lord in Philippians 1:23. He writes, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.”
When Paul writes that he is in a “strait betwixt two,” he uses the Greek word sunecho, which expresses the idea of a pressure being applied to a person from two different directions. This is a force that pulls a person first one way and then another, as if his arms are being pulled in two different directions by opponents in a fierce tug-of-war contest. However, the Greek word indicates that the person in the middle is the one who has the deciding vote as to who will win this tug-of-war.
Paul felt two different forces pulling at his heart. On the one side, he was pulled “…to depart, and to be with Christ….” On the other side, he was pulled “…to abide in the flesh…” a little longer in order to help other people and to totally fulfill the part of his calling that remained undone.
The strength of the pull toward Heaven is evident in Paul’s words in verse 23, where he writes that he has a “desire to depart.” The word “desire” is the Greek word epithumia, which is a compound of the words epi and thumos. The word epi means for or over, and thumos is the Greek word for a strong passion or urge. It usually denotes a swelling or growing emotion. But when the word thumos is compounded together with the word epi, forming the word epithumia, it depicts a person who is excited about something. This person is passionate about this idea; he is consumed with this thought! Because Paul uses this word, it emphatically lets us know that the prospect of departing from this world and going to Heaven to be with the Lord was a thrilling and exciting thought to Paul!
When Paul thought of death, he didn’t even think of dying as we think of it. Instead of thinking of the cessation of life, he looked upon death as nothing more than a departure that signaled the beginning of the next part of his journey in eternity. The word “depart” is the Greek word analusai, a Greek word which pictures a ship that is being loosed from its moorings so it can finally be free to sail.
No wonder Paul was excited! When he thought of death, to him it meant being set free from the human limitations and physical restrictions that had been imposed on him in this earthly life. The prospect of being set free was a glorious thought to Paul. Once liberated from this realm, he knew he would really be able to set sail in the Spirit and soar to spiritual heights he had never before attained. To Paul, death was not the end. It was an exciting beginning, the next leg of his journey — a phase of his walk with God that he was excited and enthusiastic to experience!
But wait — there’s more to this word analusai (“to depart”) that is very important to this text. The word analusai was also a military word, used when a decision was made that it was time for an army to break camp, pack up their tents, pick up their gear, gather up all their other belongings, and move onward to conquer new territory. This gives us another view of the way Paul viewed the prospect of death.
As a soldier who had fought many battles on earth, Paul was ready to break camp and to move upward into new spiritual territory. He had fought long and hard, and the expectation of moving onward to heavenly territory was a thought that captured his heart, his mind, and his imagination. Paul’s “desire to depart” and to be with Christ was so strong that he felt as if he were in a “strait betwixt two.” He was pulled on one side to depart from this earthly realm and to be with Christ. But he was also pulled from the other side to abide in the flesh a little longer.
You see, Paul knew that part of his ministry remained unfinished. If he left at this time, the entirety of his vision would not be fulfilled. So although he was “pulled” to set sail, to break camp, and to move onward to be with the Lord, he could not allow himself to do that yet, because he knew there was still work for him to do for the Kingdom. That is why he wrote in verse 24, “Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”
Although Paul would have loved to enter the heavenly realm, it wasn’t yet time, for he had more to accomplish before he finished his race. Therefore, he wrote that he had made a decision to continue a little longer in the flesh. Although it seems Paul actually could have chosen to let his life slip away, he chose instead to press onward to fulfill his call and to take others higher with him.
In Philippians 3:14, he wrote, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The words “press toward” are from the Greek word epekteinomai, a word that pictures a foot racer. It is the image of a racer who is pressing forward so hard and is so stretched out that his entire body is arching forward as his arms reach ahead to grasp the goal before him.
The word “mark” is the Greek word skopos, which describes the finish line for a runner. Like a runner, Paul was straining toward the finish line. At that time in his life, he was on his last run around the track before the race concluded. Rather than slowing down, taking it easy, or resting, he had chosen to put forth all his efforts and push harder than ever before so he could finish first, knowing that he had given his very best to the very end of his life.
Paul then wrote that he was pressing toward the “prize.” The word “prize” is the Greek word brabeion, describing the rewards given to those who won their competitions in the public games. This means Paul had his reward on his mind. When it was finally time for him to depart to be with Christ, there would be a reward waiting for him. With this in mind, Paul chose to shove all obstacles and hindrances out of the way and to strain forward as he ran around the track for the final period of time in his life!
How does all of this apply to you today? When you are exhausted from the never-ending problems of life and the thought of dying or going to Heaven sounds like a welcome relief, stop to ask yourself:
- Have I done everything God has asked me to do?
- Can I say that I have run my race and finished it all the way to the finish line?
- Are there others who are depending on me and who still need me?
If your answers to these questions reveal that your job is undone and that others are still depending on you, then it’s not time for you to go! One day you can set sail and soar out into eternity. There is a day coming in your life when you will break camp from this earthly realm and move onward to heavenly territory. But that day isn’t now. Instead, you need to grab hold of the power of God and run fiercely to finish the race that is still left undone and that is before you. Don’t stop running your race until you know you have done EVERYTHING Jesus has asked you to do.
So pull yourself together. Muster your strength. Draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit. Get ready, get set, and start running your race — and keep running until you can say without any doubt that you have finished your course! Until you can say that with confidence, you need to quit thinking about Heaven and start thinking about how to run your race to the end!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I want to run my race victoriously all the way to the finish line! I don’t want to quit, give up, or die until I can say I’ve finished everything You have ever assigned for me to do. Forgive me for allowing thoughts of death to dominate me. I have too much living left to do to dwell on these kinds of self-defeating thoughts. Please help me shove aside my exhaustion, grab hold of Your power, and press forward to do what You have called me to do with my life.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I have a lot of living left to do before I die and go to Heaven! God has given me a huge assignment for my life, and I’m only getting started in fulfilling what He has asked me to do. Death is not an option right now. Life is my only choice. I am needed and wanted, and God is not calling me home yet. Therefore, I will live a long and prosperous life — and I will run my race with all my might so I can finish my race with joy and victory!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Is it true that you’ve had moments when you wished you could pack it up and move on to Heaven? Did you feel that way at a time when you were exhausted and feeling worn out?
2. Once you were refreshed and feeling better again, weren’t you glad that you didn’t go to Heaven? Don’t you still have a great deal to accomplish for the Lord before you break camp, pack up your bags, and move onward to be with Christ?
3. How many people are depending on you and really need you? Since these people still need your personal presence in their lives, don’t you think you need to dwell on living a full life on this earth and finishing your spiritual race?