“I know that the outcome of all this will be my release, through your prayers and with the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And this will fulfill my earnest expectation and hope; that I will have no cause to be ashamed, but with unfailing courage Christ will be honored, whether by my life or by my death. For me, living means Christ and dying means gain. If I live, I can harvest what my labors have sown. Which to choose, I cannot tell, for I am in a dilemma between these two choices. My strong desire is to depart and be with Christ, which would be better for me; but to stay alive is more necessary for you. However, I am convinced I shall remain to help you develop your faith, knowing Christ will give us fresh joy as we look forward to being together again.” (paraphrased)
Although affliction can embitter and harden one’s heart, Paul sees the positive side. The cumulative total of his enemy’s activities only stimulates the Philippians zeal for God and leads them to pray more fervently. Note Paul’s submission, confidence, faith, trust, enthusiasm and deep desire to glorify God. Paul’s foundational hope is that he is bravely doing his best for Jesus.
Paul knows his incarceration will somehow help to spread Christianity. Therefore, he views persecution by his enemies as something potentially advantageous. The term “salvation” here does not refer to the born-again experience, but to the promotion of the Gospel message. Neither does the “salvation” Paul mentions here refer to being saved from jail, but rather to turning a bad situation into a good one. In their attempts to hinder him, his enemies actually promote the Gospel. Paul is sure he will emerge from his fiery-furnace trials and not even smell like smoke (Daniel 3:27).
Paul seems certain the prayers of the Philippians on his behalf will be answered. Paul is convinced his circumstances will be turned around for God’s glory “through the supply of the Spirit.” This is not blind optimism, for he feels his incarceration will stir others to work harder to win souls. He is sure God will completely equip them with everything necessary to enrich the lives of others.
The term “earnest expectation” conveys the idea of watching with an outstretched neck and straining to see, as if one is attempting to look over a wall on tiptoes. It bespeaks attention concentrated on one object to the exclusion of all others. Although Paul does not know the outcome of his trial, he has great confidence “that Christ shall be magnified.” We find a similar mindset in the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
The choice whether “to live or to die” is easy for most humans, for life is usually preferable. But in Philippians chapter one, we are challenged to think differently. If God will be glorified, either by his life or by his death, Paul is content.
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” is Paul’s motto. The way he views his death helps us picture the life he determines to live. Paul considers his time on earth valuable only insofar as it brings glory to God. If he can be used as an instrument to magnify Christ, he is ready for either execution or evangelism. Paul calmly calculates and contemplates whether to live or die is better. Either way, he knows he will win.
Paul is neither suicidal nor cynical as he ponders the good that lies beneath the evil. This outlook is a real-life application of the phrase from The Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10). For the Christian, death means a closer union with the risen Christ. To die might be somewhat self-centered, whereas to go on living is Christ-centered. The spirit of Christ is selflessness. John Calvin translates this phrase, “To me, Christ is gain both in life and death.”
Paul echoes this concept in his other letters as well:
Galatians 2:20 – “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live”
II Corinthians 5:8 – “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”
Romans 6:11 – “Recon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive into God through Jesus Christ”
Paul compares and contrasts whether life or death is better, and then compares the two ideas:
If Paul lives, he knows he will face persecution, hard travels, the care of all his churches, further beatings, indignities and torture. He might experience a slow, painful death in prison. But Paul is not factoring these things into his equation. He believes his life will result in fruitful ministry, but understands his life is incomplete until he is physically present with Jesus.
If Paul dies, there will be rest from his trials, weariness, suffering, responsibilities, persecutors, conflicts, temptations and health issues (II Cor. 10:10). To be with Jesus immediately will be “far better,” for he will enjoy heaven and finally rest from his labors (v. 23). For Paul, the desire to be in heaven seems selfish, knowing the Lord has work for him to do on earth.
Paul shows no signs of defeatism as he continues to inspire others to mature in Christ. If the choice is between living and dying, it is not really a hard decision. The choice is between immediate rewards or extensive opportunities to win souls. As long as he is alive, he can be used of God to spread the Gospel. Yet even as he wrestles with it, Paul knows the answer to his dilemma. While claiming to be in a quandary, he seems sure of the solution. Paul gauges the value of his life on earth in the light of his usefulness. To many self-centered Christians, living one’s life for the betterment of others is a difficult concept to grasp.
Older men often tire of fighting life’s battles but not Paul. He contemplates death, knowing he may face it very soon. Looking death in the face is a sign of fearlessness, not fatalism. Given his present circumstances, these two alternatives are disconcerting. It is not the hope of escape from misery that leads him to ponder life and death. Paul’s self-dialogue in this passage has helped thousands of Christians wrestle with this question throughout two millennia.
To die and be with Jesus immediately is to forever “be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17). To “depart” (analusai) is a term used of a ship being released from its moorings or the hauling up of an anchor. It can also refer to taking down a tent. For Paul, death is simply breaking camp for the last time. Although to be with Jesus is “far better,” his desires are perfectly balanced. He may have tottered on the brink of indecision for a while, but his spiritual equilibrium causes him to conclude it is better to live and mentor others.
Anticipating his extensive ministry opportunities, he has good reasons to stay alive. Paul is looking forward to his future, not his funeral. If he lives, he will help congregations in Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Rome and Galatia. If he survives, he can mentor men like Titus, Timothy, Barnabas and Luke. Millions will ultimately benefit, for Paul survives to write a dozen New Testament epistles. This passage echoes Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Paul’s happiness is directly connected with discipleship training. “I am sure that I will continue with you in your joy and furtherance in the faith.” His use of the phrase “I know” indicates he is convinced he is not going to die soon. He determines to walk the path God sets before him, even if it leads to execution. Because God still has work for him to do, the Holy Spirit gives Paul the assurance he will survive this imprisonment. He seems to view his incarceration as a providential detour on the road to heaven.
Paul’s happy conclusion is that everyone will benefit by his survival. Even in the dungeon, Paul does not shy from using the words “joy” and “rejoicing” (v. 25-26). He knows his strength is the joy of the Lord (Neh. 8:10). Had Paul given up and told the Philippians he was ready to quit, few would have blamed him; but even fewer would have remembered him.
CONSTERNATION – STUDY QUESTIONS
1. According to verse 19, Paul has a firm reliance upon:
A. the financial help pf the Philippians
B. the Holy Spirit
C. his preaching ability
2. Paul desires to live for Christ, for he knows: (v.23)
A. no one will dare to kill him
B. long life is a blessing
C. he can avenge himself
D. he can prove he is innocent
E. it will be beneficial to the Philippians
3. According to I Peter 3:14, what must we be willing to do for Christ?
B. pray for our enemies
D. feed the poor
E. disciple others
4. According to verse 26, Paul expects:
A. to be beheaded
B. to suffer further indignities
C. to be crucified
D. to see the Philippians again
E. never to see the Philippians again
CONSTERNATION – REFLECTION
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR COUPLES:
1. Paul is confident he will continue to live and further the cause of Christ. Imagine that you or your spouse died yesterday. What things can you list that you have accomplished for God as a married couple?
2. Paul has an earnest expectation and hope that Jesus will be magnified. What are your long-range goals in serving Christ together?
3. How can Paul’s optimistic outlook inspire you as a couple to deal with marital challenges?
ESSAY QUESTIONS FOR INDIVIDUALS
1. Paul is confident he will continue to live and further the cause of Christ. Imagine that you knew you would die tomorrow. What specific things can you list that you have accomplished for God?
2. Paul has an earnest expectation and hope that Jesus will be magnified. What are your long-range goals in serving Christ? What would you like to see accomplished for Him?
3. How can Paul’s optimistic outlook inspire you to serve Jesus Christ?