It is often the case that we learn more about what a person really thinks on a topic by how they approach a discussion about the topic than when there is a direct assault on the subject. Such is the case when the apostle Paul discussed death. I want to focus on three different occasions when he went into such a discussion. There are some other times we could look at but I think these are sufficient. Let’s start with the last time he mentioned the topic before he actually faced death. In 2 Timothy 4:6-8 we are in the final chapter of the final book Paul ever wrote. He said, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.” Paul here uses two very different pictures of what happens to one on that day. He first pictures his death as a time when he is poured out as a drink offering to God. On one other occasion he spoke of being poured out as a drink offering in Philippians 2:14-18. There he said, “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from you faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” Notice in this text his being offered as a drink offering was on the sacrifice and service coming from their faith.
The other word that he used in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 was “departure.” He saw his death as a time for getting things together for a trip. The word used here in the Greek text literally means the tent pegs are being pulled up so you can move on to the next spot where you will set up camp. This picture removes completely the notion that death is the end of the road and at this point everything of importance will have ended. Obviously this fits with the picture Peter painted of Christ followers as “Strangers and pilgrims on this earth.” We are sojourners in this land that we pass through on the way to our final destination with God in heaven.
In Philippians 1:21-24 Paul was again talking about the subject of death. He felt it might be near at this point. He prayed that if death came he would magnify Christ by how he handled death. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” The question to Paul was whether he would continue living in the body, or would he lay the body aside and depart to live with Christ in glory? Either way he considered it he would continue to live. In this life he would continue to live in the body, if he died, he would continue to live out of the body, in the presence of the Lord.
The third time Paul gets into such a discussion is in 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:10. To begin with in the last verse of chapter four he discussed getting old. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Notice the difference he makes between the outward man or the physical body and the inward man which is the soul or spirit of the man. Our outward man is getting older and decaying. But inwardly we continue to be renewed every day. We haven’t found a fountain of youth for the outward man, but the inward man can truly stay young forever.
Then in chapter five he moves on to discuss death and what happens when we die. “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” Notice the idea again of a departure. While we are at home in the body we live in this world. But the day is coming when we will leave this body behind and will be clothed with eternity when we will receive the full reward awaiting in heaven. It isn’t that we groan to be unclothed but to be furthered clothed from heaven.
In Verses 6-9 Paul concludes this discussion. “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” Notice how he compared living in this world and leaving this world to live with God. While we are at home in the body, that is living down here bodily, we are away from the Lord. But when we die, we leave this body and go to be with the Lord, where we are further clothed with garments of immortality. Paul in all these passages sees himself as the same person whether living in the body or living outside the body in the presence of the Lord. It isn’t the marks of the body that make us alive. It is what is inside, that is the real person or personality.
Are you prepared for the departure when it comes?