When Loss is Gain

It’s been well over a month since the funeral for my father-in-law. This is the sermon I preached that day.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” (Philippians 1:21–26 ESV)

As you might know, I am not only the officiant for this funeral, but I am also his son-in-law. That means He was my father-in-law. And when I say that, the emphasis, for me, is in the word father. He was my father…in-law.

I have never grieved the way that I have with his death because no one in my life has died who was this close to me before. And so I have never experienced this kind of loss, this kind of emptiness, this kind of grief before. I have never cried the way I did when I heard he had died, the way I did at his deathbed. I have never experienced this sense of incompleteness in my heart.

I realize that when he died, something in my heart died because he had a significant place in my heart, and with him gone, those places in my heart died with him. It is a terrible emptiness.

As you may know, he was a tool guy. His garage is full of tools that I would often borrow in my attempts in being handy. In all honesty, I looked forward to inheriting some of those tools. But as I walk through the garage and look at the tools now, I can only hear his voice telling me how to use the tools, what to do, what not to do. And so now, the tools are an echo…of his absence.

And when I hear those echos, I feel a terrible heartache. It feels too soon, too sudden, and it feels as if the void would never be filled. Life without him is a terrible loss.

How Can This Loss Be Gain?

Today’s scripture says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” How could it be gain? How could death be gain?

For him, it is gain. He lived his life in Christ. And now…he is home…with Christ. His body is dead. But his spirit is alive, in everlasting joy, because he is in the presence of his creator, of his redeemer, of the one from whom all goodness flows. The one who knows him best, loves him most, died a humiliating death on behalf of his sin, called him in his adult life to come to him and find rest for his weary soul, sustained him, and used him to be such a blessing to so many people through his inventive and willing service, and unique personality, planned his entire life, and will never leave him nor forsake him, has brought him home to be in everlasting joy with him forever.

For him, it is gain. We not only say he is in a better place. He is simply better. Better than we could ever think or imagine. There are no words to describe the joy he is experiencing other than to say that every joy that he experienced in this life was but a foretaste of the eternal, unending joy he is experiencing now and forever in communion with the goodness of Jesus Christ.

This means his entire life was not in vain. God knows how he lived. His labor in the Lord was not in vain. He fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith, and for him, he is wearing a crown of righteousness.

But what about for us? It seems it is always easier to leave….harder to be left. For us, how could his death be gain? It only feels like loss.

Gain in Love

Well, the first thing I realize is that I have never felt this much love for him than I have in his death. There is a close relationship between pain and pleasure. And I realize all of the pain that we experience because we have lost him is because of the pleasure he brought to us. His death is gain because now, I realize how much he meant to me, what an impact he had on me, on so many others. Through this loss, we realize how much we love him.

He had his quirks. He had a strong personality. Some stubbornness some might say that created friction at times. But all of this, we now miss, because we realize how much we miss every part of him, and the void we feel in our hearts tells us what a significant place he had in our hearts.

Perhaps, this loss was the only way we could truly come to appreciate, recognize…and thank God for all of him.

And so whenever we feel pain because of the losing him, let that pain be transformed into joy, into celebrating his life, and the mark that he left upon all of our hearts.

Gain in Hope

I believe today’s scripture describes his life. The scripture says: “My desire is to depart and to be with Christ, for that is far better… [but] I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.” He was a man who preferred to go to heaven to be with the Lord, but he was also a man who remained here, for others.

Whether you knew it or not, this was the purpose of his life, for your progress and joy in the faith. He wanted you to know the joy in this faith, to have the hope that he had, the hope that the death of Jesus Christ has overcome the grave so that you would not have to fear death, could anticipate it, look forward to it even, because in Christ, death is the door that opens the way…home to the kingdom of God.

And so this is the second way our loss can be gain. His death, to me, seemed to be a premature death. Yes, he was 73, but he was a strong 73. To many, his body seemed to have many more years in him. To us, that is a reminder, even if he had 10 more years, life is short. It is like a morning fog, so thick in the morning, but gone by the afternoon. And so his death is gain because it is a reminder that there is more to life than just staying alive.

Life is for loving…the people who will very soon leave you.

Let the people you love know that you love them today. Because you may not have tomorrow. Don’t let the little things that might annoy you get in the way of showing your love now. Death has a way of making those things much smaller. Life is for loving. But most of all, life is for loving…the One who created you, the one who will never leave you, not even in death because he is the one who died, and conquered death because he conquered sin; the one who will love you for all eternity, and can bring us all together again.

In this way, our loss can become the greatest gain when we see that we were created for glory. The unimaginable fullness and splendor of the eternal glory of God.

I pray for all of you who have experienced the pain of this loss, that it may truly become gain, and that you may know the hope of glory that he is experiencing now in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: O Creator, Father, Savior, and Lord, we thank you for the life and the death of our beloved. May the pain that we feel lead us to joy, and above all, may it even lead us to glory, to see your glory, your infinite beauty working all things together for good. Amen.

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