If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.
Paul continues his explanation of how he is processing his current situation. He is in jail and he is unsure of the outcome, but he knows that in life or death it will be for the glory of Christ. Paul is confident that if the Lord spares his life, he will do so that he may continue to use Paul in ministry. Paul understands his life is one of service to his King and Savior. He was appointed as an apostle to the Gentiles. If he continues to live in the flesh, his work and the fruit thereof will continue. God will not deliver him through life merely for his earthly comfort, but for further service to King Jesus.
Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed bewtween the two.
Paul is not here implying that life or death is somehow his choice. Rather he is wrestling with what he wants. Why is this a hard decision? Isn’t continuing to live the obvious choice? Not for one such as Paul who so loves and prizes Christ. Paul knows this life is not lived for fleshly enjoyment, but for Christ, and death is a departure to be with Christ. The choice for Paul is continuing field service for the advancement of the gospel of his King, or going to his King and resting in his presence.
My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Here is the struggle of the issue. Eternal rest in the presence of the King is actually far better than the best we can come up with in this life. Paul, we will find out later, has seen life from both sides. He has lived in riches and in poverty. Paul is quite aware of the truth of this world taught by the preacher in Ecclesiastes:
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclisiastes 1:2-3 & 12:13-14).
Paul understands what the Sons of Korah sang in their Psalm,
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God…
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness (Psalm 84:1-2, 10).
Paul has seen the realities of life from every angle and knows that life on earth is for service to the King in a fallen world and life with Christ in heaven is far better.