But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I know not.…
The last sentence touched his more personal life; but now he think's of his official relation to others, with its large promise of blessing to the world. This thought creates his dilemma. He does not know whether to choose life or death. Let us mark the two sides of the dilemma.
I. THE CHOICE OF LIFE. This had no relation to himself. It had exclusive relation to others.
1. His life would be more fruitful in labors for others. "But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor. That is, his life would be fruitful through his unceasing labors. "The life of a pious minister is far more profitable for his people than his death." The Church wants him, the world wants him, his family wants him. There was no leisure in the long career of the apostle. His life was brimful of labor to the last.
2. His life would be more advantageous to others than his death. "Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful on your account." On the shoulders of this apostle rested the care of all the Churches; he was in the front of battle all his life; the Christians everywhere looked to him for help and guidance; while there were still many dark spots of earth to which he might carry the glad tidings of salvation. The apostle was not one of those men who live too long alike for their reputation and their happiness; he had not outlived his power of work; he had shown no signs of failure, for he was still abundant in labors and in consolations and in the strength which inspires confidence.
II. THE CHOICE OF DEATH. "I am hemmed in on both sides, having a desire to depart, and be with Christ, which is very far better."
1. The desire of death is not sinful, but rather commendable, as a sign of faith and fearlessness. There is a longing for death on the part of the miserable, who are "weary of their life," and only anxious to escape from its evils. The longing sometimes deepens into the madness that leads to suicide. This longing is sinful, because it is selfish, and seems to argue a weak trust in the Divine hand which supports our life. But there is a longing without any selfish element, that springs out of the desire to escape from sin into a state of perfect holiness. Such a desire for death argues our belief in a future state, our faith in the Lord's mercy, our love to him, and our interest in his manifested glory.
2. Death involves our immediate translation into Christ's presence. "Having a desire to depart, and be with Christ." There is no ground for the supposition of a long sleep of the soul between death and the resurrection, however difficult it may be to conceive the conscious existence of a disembodied spirit. "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." To be with Christ implies:
(1) That we shall see him as he is.
(2) That we shall enjoy him when we see him in the fullness of joy that is at his right hand.
(3) That we shall never be parted from him. It is the glory of the heavenly state that believers "shall be for ever with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
3. Presence with Christ is far better than anything life can give. It is better
(1) in respect of exemption from sin and sorrow;
(2) in respect of honor and dignity, for the saints shall reign with him;
(3) in respect of profit, for they are joint heirs with him;
(4) in respect of the perpetuity that is stamped upon all the realities of heaven. - T.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.