In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher (most likely King Solomon) wrote, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Except for the generation still alive when Christ returns, every person’s journey will end at the same place: death. The color will pass from our cheeks, and our limbs will make their final movements. The synapses that fire in our brains will ignite no longer, and our hearts will cease their steady rhythm. This life will be over.
Since the moment when our first parents sinned in the garden, death has been our common enemy. He stalks each of us, no matter where we go. He’s unrelenting, never growing tired, never losing his pace. He is coming, and we cannot escape him. But in the book of Philippians, death is no longer fearsome. He doesn’t even look scary. Paul talks about dying as if it were just a change of location, no different than moving across town: “Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. I am torn between the two. I long to depart and be with Christ—which is far better—but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (Philippians 1:22–24). You can almost hear him weighing the difference between life and death the way one considers items on a dinner menu.
The gospel has freed Paul from the tyranny of death’s pursuit. The apostle is no longer running. Death has lost its power over him. He knows where he will go when his heart stops beating. He will find himself in the presence of the Lord, where there is abundant joy (2 Corinthians 5:8; Psalm 16:11). In the same way that the gospel has transformed the meaning of death, it has also transformed the meaning of life. Our time in this world can no longer be about mere pleasure or self-preservation. Against the backdrop of eternity, it is instead an opportunity to allow Christ to live in and through us, to worship Him and to serve others in His name.
Death is still our great enemy. It’s still appropriate to mourn when a loved one dies. We should still fight for life in every arena. And it is still a tragedy when an innocent life is cut short. Nothing in the gospel would deny any of that. But death is coming undone, and we who know Christ have no need to fear it.
Written by John Greco