Paul uses a beautiful picture to illustrate what death means for him. His death will be a departure, like a ship leaving harbour for another destination. He is not expecting a rough journey, instead he is anticipating a calm sail towards the heavenly harbour. (Of course, his voyage would not last long, a fraction of a second.) Further, when he left his earthly location, he would never return to it.
Paul uses a very strong term to describe his desire. For him, heaven is better than enjoying spiritual success on earth because it means that he will be with Christ. There are many suggestions that can be made as to why his heavenly experience would be better.
For example, heaven will be better because there will be no sin there. Paul was very much aware of indwelling sin as well as the sins of others. Its absence from heaven makes heaven very attractive.
Also, heaven will be better because there will be no suffering there. Paul was currently suffering for the faith as he was under arrest for being a Christian. He also had acute physical problems and weakness. His body had been through the mill for many years. Paul knew that all kinds of suffering are absent from heaven. There is not a hospital in heaven because it is not needed.
Further, in heaven there will be no separation. Sadly, even in his prison experience he had known separation from some of the Christian preachers in Rome whom he mentions earlier in the chapter.
These three reasons – the absence of sin, suffering and separation – as well as others are causes why heaven will be better than earth. Yet they are not the reason Paul gives as to why Heaven will be better. The reason that he gives is that he will be with Christ. At least, his words indicate that he will enjoy the companionship of Christ. They also teach that heaven is a conscious experience.
Heaven would be better, death would be gain, because of Christ. Heaven is a development of what Paul had known on earth. There, Jesus will not only be his eternal Companion, he will also be the goal of Paul’s heavenly experience as he aims to discover more and more about the attributes, attitudes, and aims of Jesus. And as he progresses in these wonderful discoveries, Paul will find that Jesus continues to empower him throughout the endless ages.