Philippians 1:21 (ESV) … “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
We are all familiar with situations that are so dreadful that death is a relief. But Paul is not saying that death is better than the worst of life. He is saying death is better than the best of life. In other words, he was not longing for death as the way out of unbearable circumstances. He was longing for it as the way into unspeakably glorious circumstances.
We can be sure that Paul would have readily agreed with these lines:
Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this thy grace must give.
If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short—then why should I be sad
To soar to endless day?
This is not some sort of blind idealism or heroic optimism on Paul’s part. It is all rooted in Jesus Christ. Why would Paul not desire to be with Christ? It was the Lord Jesus Christ who had delivered him from the kingdom of Satan and from eternal ruin; it was Christ who had sustained him through his trials and afflictions; it was Christ who promised him eternal life without the possibility of trials and afflictions.
If we cannot share Paul’s desire, it is because we have not seen as clearly as he has the wonder of what Christ has done.