The Ultimate State of Mind
Robert Wurtz II
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:21–24 NKJV)
“Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8 ESV)
“Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8 ESV)
I have selected three passages in Paul’s writings to demonstrate a pattern of what I call, “The Ultimate State of Mind.” That is to stay, it is the best possible state of mind and cannot be improved upon. Paul’s ultimate desire and focus were on Jesus Christ. He said it most succinctly when he stated, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It was not death that Paul sought it was being with Christ in the literal and final sense. Matthew Henry once said that “death is a great loss to a carnal worldly man; for he loses all his comforts and all his hopes: but to a good Christian it is gain, for it is the end of all his weakness and misery and the perfection of his comforts and accomplishment of his hopes; it delivers him from all the evils of life, and brings him to the possession of the chief good.”
The “chief good” is that Eternal Life — to know Christ in His very presence. Since the Garden of Eden man has been estranged from God. The Gospel makes it possible to be reconciled to God and to return to know His manifest presence. It is our final and most blessed inheritance of which the Holy Spirit is the guarantee (2 Cor 1:22, 5:5, Ephesians 1:14). In modern language we would say that receiving the Holy Spirit is the down payment or deposit; it is to secure an eventuality: when “we shall see Him as He is” or in Paul’s words to be “at home with the Lord.”
For me, the true test of my spiritual state is the strength of my longing to be with Christ. Do I love the Lord enough to long to be with Him? This is more than being loving a doctrine or concept. Most believers seem content to express their faith along these lines. But do we love His appearing? That’s the question. I have preached along these lines before and have wondered if the hearers grasped what I said. It is unnatural to want to leave this earth. I get that. But at the same time, it ought to be our deep-seated desire — our constant longing — to be with Christ. How do we know that? Because Paul implied as much when he spoke of receiving a crown of righteousness as a consequence of “loving Christ’s appearing.” The Greek tense demonstrates that the crown of righteousness is for those who love, who have loved and still love his second coming (A. T. Robertson).
If we consider that 2 Corinthians was written in 58 CE and 2 Timothy in 66 CE then we know that Paul felt this way at a minimum of eight solid years. In fact, prior to going to Jerusalem, he gave this testimony… “I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:22–24 KJV). Nothing moved Paul because he knew that the worst that could happen to him was that he die: and to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
How do you frighten a man like Paul? He can’t wait to get to Jesus. Again, he stated, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy. Generally, modern translations omit the word joy (charas). Commentators rarely pass comment on it. I suspect that it’s because they can’t see how it fits into Paul’s remarks. Yet it’s clear that he was simply saying that if he was worried about dying all the time, how could fulfill his ministry joyfully? Fear of death has a way of hindering our joy. But Paul didn’t fear death. He longed to be with Jesus and in that state of mind he could face anything with joy. He could look physical death in the face as if to say, “Death, don’t do me any favors because I can’t wait to get to Jesus.”