A Spiritual Dilemma

For I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. Philippians 1:19-26

To Live Is Christ And To Die Is Gain

Paul’s attitude in prison is incredibly optimistic. He refuses to see himself as a victim. From verse 15 to 18, he acknowledges those who considered themselves as his rivals and rejoiced at the fact that he is in chains. Yet is excited about the fact that the name of Jesus was being preached, notwithstanding the motivation for doing so. In verse 19, Paul relishes the prayer of the saints at Philippi as a vital source of encouragement along with the Spirit of Jesus Christ to sustain him during his imprisonment. Paul was confident of the support and prayers of his friends. Throughout his letters, Paul repeatedly asks his friends to pray for him. "Brethren," he writes to the Thessalonians, "pray for us." "Finally, brethren," he writes, "pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph" (1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2). He says to the Corinthians, "You must help us by prayer." (2 Corinthians 1:11). He writes that he is sure that through Phlippians' prayers, he will be given back to his friends (Philippians 1:22 ). Before he sets out on his perilous journey to Jerusalem, he writes to the Church at Rome, asking for their prayers (Romans 15:30-32). (William Barclay)

Paul also knows that the Spirit of Christ is supporting him. Thus, he assuredly maintains that all his trials—including his imprisonment and impending trial before Caesar Nero—will turn out for his deliverance. The Greek word Paul uses for deliverance is Soteria. It is the same word used in the Bible for salvation. The word Soteria can also mean health, general well-being. “Paul may well be saying that all that is happening to him in this very difficult situation is the best thing for him both in time and in eternity. "God put me in this situation, and God means it, with all its problems and its difficulties, to make for my happiness and usefulness in time, and my joy and peace in eternity." (Barclay) Paul was certainly not looking for salvation from his imprisonment or his many difficulties. He expected Christ to be exalted through his suffering. “The word he uses for expectation is very vivid and unusual; no one uses it before Paul, and he may well have coined it himself. It is apokaradokia. Apo means "away from," kara, "the head," dokein "to look"; and apokaradokia means the eager, intense look, which turns away from everything else to fix on the one object of desire.” (Barclay)

Verse 20—Paul admits he wanted Christ to be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. This suggests he accepts the fact that he might not be released from his chains, but instead, he may pay the ultimate price for his faith through martyrdom. Nonetheless, “Paul hopes that he will never be shamed into silence, either by cowardice or a feeling of ineffectiveness. Paul is certain that in Christ, he will find courage never to be ashamed of the gospel; and that through Christ, his labors will be made effective for all men to see. J. B. Lightfoot writes, "The right of free speech is the badge, the privilege, of the servant of Christ." To speak the truth with boldness is not only the privilege of the servant of Christ; it is also his duty.” Verse 21—Paul demonstrates high confidence in the eternal hope he has through Jesus Christ. So much so, that he is torn between his earthly existence and transitioning to glory to be with God. From his perspective, if he dies, he will be welcome in heaven to receive his martyr’s crown because death was not a defeat to him. It is merely his graduation to glory and a gain. If he lives, he will joyfully continue to proclaim the name of Jesus. Verse 22—Paul continues his didactic reflection about his circumstance and ponders about the benefits of remaining alive so that he can continue his ministry to the churches. Yet he is eager to receive his eternal crown from the Lord in glory. Though he struggles to decide the best outcome for him, he knows that he should remain in the body for the sake of believers like the Philippians who still look to him for spiritual guidance.

Thus in verse 24, he acknowledges that he should remain alive. “Paul understood that others still needed him; that his work was not yet done. So while allowing for the possibility of his martyrdom, he told the Philippians that he expects to be spared at this time (I know that I shall remain and continue with you).” Verse 25—Paul expresses confidence that he would not die yet. Indeed, he did not. He was martyred much later after his release from his imprisonment in Rome. Indeed, he did continue with the Philippians for their progress and joy in the faith, for a little while. Verse 26—He told them, “so that through my being with you again, your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.” What Paul is really saying is that if he is spared to come and see the Philippians again, they will have in him grounds to boast in Jesus Christ. That is to say, they will be able to look at him and see in him a shining example of how, through Christ, a man can face the worst erect and unafraid.

Application

Philippians 1:21 is my favorite verse in the Bible because it speaks to the godly attitude, an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ should cultivate. Indeed, a faithful disciple should desire to be with Christ to receive his or her eternal crown in glory. Yet, because of his or her effectiveness in ministry, there should be a sense that the loss of such a servant will be detrimental to the Church of Jesus Christ.

I also share Paul’s spiritual dilemma. I want to do as much as possible to advance the cause of the gospel on earth. At the same time, I long to be with Christ. I want to see my savior face to face and be in the presence of my God. Indeed, to me, death is a net gain.

We must all strive to develop a similar attitude and perspective about life and death, as Paul did. We are all God’s workmanship created through Christ Jesus for good works that the Lord prepared for us to do before the creation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). Our ministry is life-changing and soul-saving to the world. We are needed in our particular context to preach Jesus and be his hands, his feet, and demonstrate his love for his creation. Though some of us may long to go to glory, we yet have work to do on earth.

Despite the hardships we experience, we are to do God’s kingdom work with joy because our testimony is encouraging to others. We are to persevere in all circumstances, so the light of Christ in us can shine for others to see. And when it is all over, we will get our eternal reward from our heavenly father. In the meantime, we have to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Prayer

Blessed Lord, thank you for the eternal hope glory we have in Christ Jesus. Please give us the courage to do our assignment here on earth as we await our transition to glory.

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