When a person passes from this life (especially if that person was a notable figure), we often hear the expression, “Rest in peace,” and in print it is often abbreviated as simply “RIP.” The expression is, no doubt, designed to give comfort to those who knew, loved, and appreciated the deceased. If the deceased has been sick and in suffering, we will often hear that the person is in a “better place” or that he is no longer suffering.
For one who lived and died as a Christian, those statements are indeed true. John wrote: And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, “Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13).
Christians will “rest” from the work they have done in living the Christian life.
There was a certain beggar named Lazarus. When he died, he was “carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). Abraham stated that Lazarus was now being comforted (v. 25). Lazarus was certainly resting in peace and was in a much better place than earth afforded him.
While in prison in Rome, Paul wrote at least four books (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon). Paul expected to be released. Whether or not he was, his aim or purpose was to bring glory to Christ: “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (Phi. 1:20).
Thus, either way, whether he lived or died, Christ would be magnified. Next Paul stated, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). We are concerned at this point with his death’s being “gain.” Why would Paul’s death be considered “gain”? He answers that question by saying, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (v. 23). Depart is a word expressing the idea of going out to something better; it would be the fulfilling of one’s purpose. Paul lived his life magnifying Christ, and when death would come, he would be able to go and be with Christ. Thus death was gain to him; he would be in a better place—he would be able to RIP!
However, being in a better place and being able to “rest in peace” is only true of those who “die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13) or those who magnify Christ in this life (Phi. 1:20). What about those who are not “in the Lord” or magnifying Christ in the body? If we return to the historical account of Lazarus, we are also introduced to “a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). When the rich man died, Jesus simply said he “was buried” (v. 22), as opposed to being carried into Abraham’s bosom, as was Lazarus. Jesus then reveals to us that, while Lazarus was being comforted, the rich man was being tormented.
As Christians we should refrain from saying a person is in “a better place” if the person was not a faithful Christian. To give others false hope is wrong, and to lie about the one who has died is wrong. While we should be tactful in our comments, we dare not leave a false impression.