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Philippians 1:18-30 NOTES

Philippians 1:21-30 - EXEGESIS


CONTEXT:  The first eleven verses of this chapter constitute the salutation (vv. 1-2) and Paul's prayer for the Philippians (vv. 3-11)-"that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that you may approve the things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offense to the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (vv. 9-11).

Beginning with verse 12, Paul tells of his circumstances as he writes this letter. He is in prison (1:7, 13-14, 17), but we don't know which imprisonment this was. Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years (c. 58-60 A.D.-Acts 23:23ff.)-and in Rome for another two years (c. 60-62 A.D.-Acts 28:11ff.). On another occasion, he faced a death sentence in Asia, probably in Ephesus (2 Corinthians 1:9; Acts 19:23ff.). While we think that Paul sent this letter from Rome, we can't be sure.

Paul takes pains to let the Philippians know that the Gospel has been well served by his imprisonment. He has been able to proclaim Christ to the guards, and the local Christians have been emboldened by Paul's example (1:12-14).

Paul's concern to assure the Philippians regarding the positive nature of his imprisonment stems, at least in part, from the possibility that they might interpret his imprisonment otherwise. They could regard his imprisonment as shameful-a stamp of disapproval by the Roman government-a sign that Paul is guilty of some sort of crime. They could also regard it as a sign that God has abandoned Paul-or even that God is powerless in the face of the Roman legal system. Paul wants to head off any such misinterpretations. He wants to insure that the Philippians understand that God is in charge, and all is well with Paul and the Gospel-his imprisonment notwithstanding.

Paul acknowledges that some people proclaim Christ out of impure motives, such as "selfish ambition," (1:16) while others proclaim Christ "out of love" (1:17). He doesn't let this bother him, because "whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed" (1:18)-a fact that causes him to rejoice.

Paul also acknowledges the joy he finds in the prayers of the Philippians for his deliverance (1:18b-19). He says that it is his "earnest expectation and hope, that (he) will in no way be disappointed, but with all boldness, as always, now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death" (v. 20).

This last verse, where he expresses his hope that "Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death," is the lead-in to verse 21, which begins our lectionary reading.



21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your pride in Christ Jesus may be abundant because of me by my coming to you again.

 "For to me to live is Christ (Christos) and to die is gain" (kerdos) (v. 21). Note the wordplay (similar sound) in the Greek that doesn't translate well into English. "To live is Christos, and to die is kerdos" (gain). That sort of literary artistry adds power to the written and spoken word. Depending on the preacher's skill and the congregation's sophistication, it might be possible in a sermon to do something with this wordplay, perhaps by explaining the meaning of the two Greek words and then using the phrase, "Living is Christos (Christ), and dying is kerdos (gain)" repeatedly.

As noted above, in verse 20 Paul expressed his hope that Christ would be exalted by his life and his death.

Paul's mention of life or death (v. 20) and living or dying (v. 21) suggests that he might be subject to capital punishment. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he says, "Yes, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9). However, we are uncertain how that comment is related to the imprisonment Paul is experiencing as he writes the Philippians this letter.

Paul is saying that he cannot lose. For him, to live is Christ (which is good) and to die is heavenly gain (which is also good). For another expression of this sentiment, see chapter 3 where Paul tells of his willingness to share Christ's sufferings so that he might "know (Christ), and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death; if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (3:10-11).

In saying that "to live is Christ and to die is gain," Paul demonstrates a Christ-centered single-mindedness that has characterized millions of Christians through the ages. As one example, I remember a story of a missionary and his family who were going by ship to a primitive part of the world where they planned to establish a mission. The ship's captain tried to dissuade them, saying that if they insisted on disembarking the ship they would surely die. The missionary replied, "We died before we left home."

As another example, consider Martin Luther King, Jr. From the time he got involved in the Montgomery bus boycott, his life was continually in danger. On April 3, 1968, he flew to Memphis to address a crowd at Mason Temple. He almost didn't get there, because his plane was delayed by a bomb threat. He alluded to that threat in his speech that evening, saying:  "Well, I don't know what will happen now.  We've got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn't matter with me now.  Because I've been to the mountaintop.  And I don't mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I'm not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God's will.  And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I've looked over.  And I've seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.  And I'm happy, tonight.  I'm not worried about anything.  I'm not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."  The next day, April 4, King was felled by an assassin's bullet. 


"For to me to live is Christ" (v. 21a). Paul has already given one example of what this means. His imprisonment has provided him with an opportunity to spread the Gospel. Through his witness, the imperial guard and others have learned about Christ-and Christians, emboldened by his witness, have spread the Gospel without fear (1:12-14). He will also tell the Philippians that for him "to remain in the flesh is more needful for your sake" (v. 24)-meaning that, if he lives, he will have an opportunity to give additional pastoral support to the Philippian church.


"and to die is gain" (v. 21b). The traditional interpretation of this verse is that Paul expects that death will usher him into Christ's throne room. This is reinforced by his comment in verse 23, "having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better."

Paul expresses this same sentiment in his second letter to the Corinthian church, when he says, "We are courageous, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Paul has lived a purposeful life, but not an easy one. His life has been characterized by hardships of various kinds (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Once he has died, those hardships will be behind him, and he can expect to experience only glory.

But Ralph Martin, in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on this verse, says that Paul had something else in mind as well. If Paul were to be martyred for his faith, he believed that his martyrdom would enhance his witness for Christ.

There is no reason why both of these interpretations can't be correct.

"and to die is gain" (v. 21b). If Paul anticipates being ushered into Christ's throne room upon his death, that raises another question. Can we expect to find ourselves in Christ's presence immediately upon death, as this verse implies, or will we have to wait for the general resurrection that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15?

That question has pastoral significance. At funerals people often say, "Now he/she is with the Lord" or "Now he/she is in a better place"-reflecting their belief that an immediate transition to the heavenly realm has taken place-but how does that accord with a belief in the general resurrection.

Before addressing this question further, let me stop to say that a funeral is no place to set the grieving person straight by saying, "No, he/she isn't in a better place yet-not until the general resurrection." Give the grieving person space to grieve in peace.

Having raised this question, I find myself unable to answer it definitively. However, I will make these observations:

  • The Old Testament tells of two people who didn't die, but went directly from earth into God's presence-Enoch (Genesis 5:24; see also Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11).
  • Paul describes the general resurrection as follows: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible" (1 Corinthians 15:52b). He is describing an end-of-time event.
  • At the time of the general resurrection, "We who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together in the clouds with (those whom Christ has raised from the dead) to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
  • Jesus promised the penitent thief, "Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43)-an immediate translation into paradise. However, in saying this, Jesus establishes a one-time exception rather than a general rule.
  • Jesus presents eternal life as having a present dimension. He said, "This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ" (John 17:3). His prayer in that chapter is very "now" oriented. Jesus is saying that eternal life is a matter of relationship with the Father-something that will be fully realized only in the future, but that has its beginnings in our lives now.
  • Jesus incorporates both the "now" and the "future" dimensions of eternal life in a single sentence when he says, "'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life (now), and I will raise him up on the last day' (to come) (John 6:54)" (Myers, "Immortality," 520).
  • Jesus also said, "Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn't come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24), which is "now" oriented and could point to an immediate translation to heaven. However, Jesus then said, "Most certainly, I tell you, the hour comes, and now is, when the dead will hear the Son of God's voice; and those who hear will live" (John 5:25), which is clearly future oriented.

As nearly as I can determine, Paul's writings support both the idea of an immediate transition into the Lord's presence at death-and the idea of the general resurrection at the end of time. These two ideas live in tension with each other, and I am unable at the present time to resolve them to my satisfaction.


"But if I live on in the flesh, this will bring fruit from my work" (v. 22a). In verse 21, Paul outlined two possibilities: (1) "to live is Christ" and (2) "to die is gain." He is at present a prisoner awaiting trial, which is a life-and-death proposition. At best, he will be acquitted and freed. At worst, he will be found guilty and executed. As Samuel Johnson would later say, the awareness of impending death "concentrates the mind wonderfully."

Now Paul enlarges on the meaning of "to live is Christ" (v. 21) by saying, "But if I live on in the flesh, this will bring fruit from my work." He doesn't explain what he means by "fruit," but that would have been obvious to the Christians at Philippi-and should be obvious to anyone today who has studied Paul's life. After his Damascus road experience (Acts 9), Paul has traveled widely and has suffered many hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) so that he might proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Even in prison he has rejoiced in the opportunity to preach Christ to his guards (1:12-14). If he is acquitted and freed, he will have the opportunity to continue his travels and preaching. He will have further opportunity to serve Christ.


"yet I don't know what I will choose. But I am in a dilemma between the two" (vv. 22b-23a). The second possibility outlined in verse 21 was "to die is gain."

Paul expresses his dilemma. While the Roman authorities have not given him the option of choosing life or death, he would find such a choice difficult.


"having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better" (v. 23b). From the standpoint of his own personal welfare, Paul would welcome dying and being with Christ. That would be "far better" for him. If the Roman authorities decide to execute him, he will no longer have to experience beatings and shipwrecks and other hardships for the cause of Christ. He will instead "be with Christ" in glory. That sounds wonderful to Paul-not because he has a death-wish, but because he believes that he, as a Christian, will enjoy life with Christ after death.


"Yet, to remain in the flesh is more needful for your sake" (v. 24). If the Roman authorities decide to free Paul, that will give him further opportunities to serve the Philippian church-and the other churches that he has established.


"Having this confidence, I know that I will remain (meno) yes, and remain (parameno) with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith" (v. 25). Note the wordplay between meno and parameno-a bit of literary artistry that gives Paul's writing a bit of extra power-but which we lose in translation.

Given that God has called Paul to be an apostle (the Greek word apostolos means "one who is sent"), it seems likely that God will cause the Romans to free Paul so that he might continue his ministry. By continuing with his life in this world, Paul will have opportunity to observe the progress of the Philippian Christians-their progress and their "joy in the faith."

We should note that, even in prison, Paul is modeling "joy in the faith" for the Philippian Christians. Most people, sitting in a prison cell month after month, would find themselves at loose ends-and quite possibly suffering depression at their circumstances. Paul, however, views his prison as just one more mission field. Being imprisoned has not blocked his opportunity to proclaim Christ, which is his raison d'etre-his reason for living. He is happy to have the opportunity to speak to the guards and prisoners about Christ (1:12-13)-and his witness has emboldened other Christians to proclaim Christ in circumstances where they otherwise might not have done so (1:14).


"that your rejoicing may abound in Christ Jesus in me through my presence with you again" (v. 26). Paul fully expects to see the Philippian Christians again. He is looking forward, not to his own opportunity to boast of his exploits, but of the opportunity to hear the Philippians boast "in Christ Jesus-their faith in Christ and their work for Christ.



27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 and in no way alarmed by your opponents-which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and this too, from God. 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer on His behalf, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

 "Only let your way of life (politeuesthe) be worthy of the Good News of Christ" (v. 27a). In verses 12-26, Paul has been talking about his present circumstances. Now in verses 27-30, he begins to talk about the Philippians-to encourage them to live lives "worthy of the Good News of Christ."

The verb politeuesthe is derived from the Greek noun polis, which means city. Politeuesthe can be translated "to live as a citizen." To understand the significance of this word here, we must remember that, only a few decades earlier, Mark Anthony made Philippi a Roman city, with the consequence that citizens of Philippi became citizens of Rome. This citizenship endowed them with substantial benefits-and was a great source of pride to the Philippians.

So Paul is saying, "You who are rightfully proud of your Roman citizenship, keep in mind that you enjoy an even more important citizenship in God's kingdom. Just as you would expect to live in a manner consistent with your Roman citizenship, so also you should expect to live in a manner consistent with your citizenship in God's kingdom."

But Paul expresses it as an imperative, so that he is telling them to be sure that they do live in a manner consistent with their citizenship in God's kingdom.


"worthy of the Good News of Christ" (v. 27a). What kind of life would be "worthy of the Good News of Christ"?

  • In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). To be "worthy of the Good News of Christ," a Christian should manifest those qualities.
  • In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul identifies love as the essential mark of the Christian life (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
  • In this letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about "joy in the faith" (v. 25) and " Christ" (v. 26). Those would be consistent with citizenship in God's kingdom.
  • A few verses later, Paul will encourage the Philippians to do "nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others" (2:3-4). And then he will call them to "have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn't consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross" (2:5-8). This would certainly be consistent with citizenship in God's kingdom.

"that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand firm in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the Good News" (v. 27b). Paul calls these Philippian Christians to live lives consistent with their citizenship in God's kingdom so that, whether near or far, Paul can know that they are united with their work for Christ.

Paul's relationship with the Philippians is sufficiently close that this appeal is likely to have an effect-particularly in view of the fact that Paul is in prison as he writes this. The Philippians know that there is a possibility that they will never see Paul again. One of the chief ways they can ease his mind is to single-mindedly and with one spirit serve Christ.


"stand firm in one spirit" (v. 27b). This raises a question. When Paul says, "in one spirit," is he talking about a spirit of unity among the Philippian Christians-or is he speaking of the one Holy Spirit? Many translations treat this verse as if it means a spirit of unity, but scholars are divided on this issue.


"and in nothing frightened (Greek: ptyromenoi-frightened, terrified) by the adversaries" (v. 28a). Christians often find themselves living in tension with secular authority. When Paul and Silas originally visited Philippi, Paul exorcised a spirit of divination from a slave girl, making her worthless to her owners. Those men brought false charges against Paul and Silas, causing them to be beaten and imprisoned. Because Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were able to exact an apology from the authorities who had imposed punishment without first giving them a trial. However, after apologizing, the authorities asked Paul and Silas to leave Philippi, which they did (Acts 16:12-40).

While Paul encouraged Christians to "be in subjection to the higher authorities" (Romans 13:1), both Jews and Christians resisted worshiping the Roman emperor-sometimes under penalty of death. While Tiberius (14-37 A.D.) refused divine honors, Caligula (37-41 A.D.) demanded that he be worshiped. Claudius (41-54 A.D.) refused divine honors, but Nero (54-68 A.D.) reinstated the cult of the emperor and was depicted as a god on Roman coins. Vespasian (69-79 A.D.) refused divine honors, but Titus (79-81 A.D.) and Domitian (81-96 A.D.) reinstated them. While Trajan (98-117 A.D.) refused divine honors, he did condone capital punishment of Christians who refused to worship Roman gods (Jones, "Roman Imperial Cult," Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary).

Given that Paul probably wrote this letter to the Philippian church in the late 50's or the early 60's, Nero would have been on the throne. Nero persecuted Christians, but his persecution was sporadic and, for the most part, limited to the city of Rome. Therefore, Philippian Christians are not suffering from persecution that grows out of imperial policy. Their opposition is local.

Paul's counsel to the Philippian Christians not to be frightened by their opposition reflects his confidence that God's power trumps all opposition. He says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)-meaning, "If God is for us, what does it matter who is against us?"

Paul's counsel also reflects his eschatological (end of time) perspective. At the beginning of this passage, Paul said, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (1:21). If that was true for him, surely he expected it to be true also for the Philippian Christians-and for us as well. It is hard to intimidate a person who truly believes that God has saved him/her.


"which is for them a proof of destruction, but to you of salvation, and that from God" (v. 28b). Their adversaries will see their actions against the Philippian Christians as a sign that they are destroying the Christians. However, the Christians, knowing that God is with them and has saved them, will understand their sufferings as being related to their salvation-salvation that comes from God.


"Because it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer on his behalf" (v. 29). In Hebrew scripture, suffering is usually seen as the consequence of sinful behavior. However, Jewish people were also capable of seeing suffering as God's tool for shaping Israel as a nation (Deuteronomy 8:1-10). The book of Job deals with the problem of righteous people suffering. The prophet Isaiah introduces the suffering servant, whose suffering is redemptive-and who will be vindicated in the end (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12).

Jesus' teachings stand the traditional view of suffering on its head. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 6:20-26), the blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those who are hungry. The most expansive of the Beatitudes is the one that deals with the blessings of those who are persecuted. Jesus says, "Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:12).

Then, of course, Jesus' death on a cross came to be viewed as part of God's plan for the salvation of the world (Matthew 16:21-23; John 3:16). Jesus challenged his disciples to take up their cross to follow him."For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?" (Matthew 16:25-26).

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul talks about the hardships that he has experienced as a result of his work for Christ:  "Five times from the Jews I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I suffered shipwreck. I have been a night and a day in the deep. I have been in travels often, perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brothers; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, and in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are outside, there is that which presses on me daily, anxiety for all the assemblies" (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).

Paul was not a masochist. He bore his sufferings gladly, because they were part of his service to a great cause-the gospel of Christ Jesus.

Furthermore, Paul was convinced that "suffering works perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope: and hope doesn't disappoint us, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:3b-5).

It is in because of this understanding of suffering that Paul tells the Philippian Christians that God has granted them the privilege of suffering for him.


"having the same conflict which you saw in me" (v. 30a). The Philippian Christians had a front row seat to observe a small part of Paul's conflict. As noted above, when Paul visited Philippi to start a church there, the authorities, acting on a bogus complaint, beat Paul and Silas with rods, threw them in prison, and fastened their feet in stocks (Acts 16:16-24). Paul characterized that experience as having been "shamefully Philippi" (1 Thessalonians 2:2).

Paul links the suffering of the Philippian Christians with his own suffering. Like him, they have the honor of suffering in the service of Christ their Lord.


"and now hear is in me" (v. 30b). The struggle that Paul is currently experiencing is the imprisonment from which he is writing this letter (1:7, 13-14, 17).




Philippians 1:18-26 - Commentary

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. 

// Introduction

Do you ever have to encourage yourself? You know, like giving yourself a personal pep talk? Maybe you're finishing up a big research paper.  You're just a few pages away, short on sleep, and you're telling yourself, "don't fall asleep; you can finish this!" Or you're at a friends house and they made something gross for dinner but you've got to be polite and finish your plate and your thinking, "Just a couple more bites; get through it!"  Sometimes a little personal pep talk helps get you through it.

The end of verse 18 feels a little bit like Paul's personal pep talk.  "Yes, and I will rejoice." He just got done talking about how he was rejoicing in Christ being proclaimed even if it came at his expense. That's a painful thing to say and he's not moving into much happier territory.  It's easy to understand him needing a little pep talk. He reminds himself, "I'm rejoicing!" Almost like picking himself up so he can keep on going. Which he does. He keeps on going in verse 19... 

// Delight in Deliverance (18-20)

"for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Check out the delight in deliverance here.  Paul says, "I will rejoice." Why? If you get to the heart of the sentence, it comes back to his deliverance. Paul is rejoicing because of his deliverance.  But what is his deliverance and how does he get it? And what is he being delivered from?

He's being delivered from 2 things here: 1st is the current situation he's in.  He's wrongly imprisoned. He wants to be set free from his physical prison. The 2nd is deliverance from his sinful nature.  Verse 20 makes it clear that he wants to honor Christ in life and death. The things that might cause him to shame or to dishonor Christ come from his flesh.  It's sin. In some ways, this is even the greater prison. The prison of the sinful nature. We can't escape the flesh. But our great hope is that God will not only free us from our flesh, but more than that, He will perfect it!  

But how does God deliver him? He actually tells us two things here:

God delivers through prayers:

We see this in Jesus' example.  In Matthew 5 He says to love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.  Why pray for the ones that persecute you? For their deliverance. That they could be set free from the bondage of sin.  Jesus teaches us to be people who petition God for the sake of others. Because if we're supposed to pray for our enemies, how much more should we be praying for our brothers and sisters? But Jesus doesn't just say it, He does it!

On the cross He prays, ""Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." There He is praying for those who persecute Him.  He's literally praying for their deliverance! Forgive them!

So when Paul is relying on the power of prayer to deliver him, he's just leaning on the example of Jesus.  Like we should. We have this high privilege of prayer! What a blessing that we get to tap into the depths of the love and mercy and power of almighty God. We get to pray and rely on the prayers of our church for our deliverance.

God delivers through help of the Holy Spirit

Jesus taught us that the Holy Spirit is the Helper. That's an important role for the Holy Spirit.    That's what He says in John 14: 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

This passage makes me ask, "what does that mean?" What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to help me? To be with me? What does Paul mean?  

We get a little bit more clarity and a beautiful connection in Romans 8

11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

This is Paul's deliverance.  The Holy Spirit helps by giving life to his mortal body.  That's what the Holy Spirit does for us. He gives life.

Later in chapter 8, we also read this:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

The Holy Spirit knows we are weak. We fail and don't know or don't want God's will. Or even if we do, we don't know how to ask for it. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  

In both ways, through prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit, Paul is aiming for one thing in his deliverance, to honor God! In verse 20 he says, "as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death."

Paul's definition of success - the thing that he has an eager expectation for, that he hopes for, that he has full courage in - his definition of success is that Christ would be honored in his body!

In life or death.  He keeps that thought going in verse 21... 

// Desire Christ (21-23)

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

If we learn nothing else from Paul here, we learn to Desire Christ (21-23)

We should desire Christ so much that we can say to live is Christ. The purpose of our every breath is Christ.  Our blood flows towards knowing Christ and making Him known. And even our death is seen as a positive because our death gets us to Christ!

Verse 21 is a verse we need to spend some time with.  I'd encourage each of you to take a few minutes to meditate on verse 21. "To live is Christ, to die is gain." Can you internalize that and say that truly for yourself.  If you're being honest, is it to live is Christ for you? I know a lot of people that to live is work. Or to live is family.

And is to die gain? Or is to die fear? Or is to die loss?  To answer these questions is to answer the question of what you desire.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

To live is Christ isn't just a cliche, it's a deep transformation.  He's crucified the old self. His life is completely wrapped up in Christ.  He wants people to see Christ, not Paul.  The focus is on God, not on man. To live is Christ.

"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."

There's the choice - fruitful labor for Christ or being with Christ.

What's odd here is Paul's framing of the issue as a choice.  We don't usually consider life or death a choice. It's life always.  If you're here today and you're not sure whether life is worth living, I want you to know that it is.  And that it's ok to talk to someone about what you're feeling. Sometimes our culture or our pride keeps us from admitting when we feel weak or depressed.   We want you to know that you're in the midst of a group of people that love you and care about you and will not look at you differently just because you're struggling with something in your life.  

Paul is not in anyway advocating or contemplating suicide here.  We have to understand Paul's context. He's writing as a man who has dealt with severe pain and torture.  He's naturally towards the end of his life and he's facing execution.

It's not a question of whether he should take his own life, it's a question of whether he should continue fighting to keep it.  In a lot of ways, it would be easier for Paul to stop fighting and just let the Romans or his poor health take its toll.

While Paul is actually lamenting the difficulty of his life, he's also speaking rhetorically.  Paul isn't so much debating the end of his life here as much as he is making sure the Philippians know his desire is for Christ.  It serves to remind them of what their desire should be but also to remind them that his love for them is rooted in Christ. Even better than being with them, it would be better for Paul to be with Christ!

"My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better."

It's far better to be with the One that came and died for our sins and rose again.  The One that loves us better than we deserve. The One that ripped us from the grip of death and holds us in His life giving hands.

If you're here today and you're not a Christian - this is something I really want you to hear.  Christ is not just salvation in this life, He is our hope and joy for eternity. If you feel let down by your failure, if you feel let down by success.  Christ is far better!

// Develop Others (24-26)

24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

As much as Paul wants to be with Christ and so desires Him, He knows God gave him a purpose to Develop Others (24-26).  He remains because it is more necessary for the progress and joy of the Philippians' faith.

I love Paul's certainty here. He's convinced of it! He knows that God's plan is for him to invest in those God put in his care.  In fact, he's so certain of it he's calling it his purpose for life. He goes from "to live is Christ" to my reason for continuing to live is to help you advance and enjoy your faith.  

How does Paul live for Christ, keep Jesus at the center, and  labor fruitfully?  He loves on, encourages, and mentors the people of this church.

Who has God put in your care? Who are you remaining for?  Someone's progress and joy in the faith needs your investment.  God put Paul in people's lives - He is putting you in people's lives to drive them towards a righteous and joyful life!

We have a call to develop others in their walk with Christ like Paul does.

Hebrews 3:13:  13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin

If we're not encouraging each other towards Christ with the joy of Christ the door swings wide open to sin.  For real, though, is there anything that steals and destroys joy in our lives more than sin does? Hebrews says it hardens us. And it does.  It makes us cold and lifeless. But if we are encouraging each other and building each other up in the Gospel, it keeps us from sin and helps us progress in the faith.  

Paul recognizes his purpose here.  He knows what to do and why he's doing it.  His life has value because God's given it value.  And that's true for all of us too! God's given us value.  

Our purpose - in life and death - is like Paul's! Our purpose is to glorify God. We honor Him by rejoicing in Him, relying on Him, and building others up!

You have the opportunity to lay hold of your purpose!

 Phil. 1:19-30 - BibleRef Commentary

Context Summary:  Philippians 1:19-30 shows Paul reflecting on two competing desires. On one hand, a believer wants to serve God and bring others to Christ through their life. On the other hand, a Christian yearns to leave suffering behind-to be with God in eternity. Paul concludes that it's better to live until God calls him home, so he can serve his fellow men. Paul also encourages the Philippians with his conviction that he will be released to see them again. His experiences, good or bad, are all adding to the glory of Jesus Christ.

v. 19: Paul is confident of his future release from Rome. Prisoners in Rome could be held only for so long, without formal charges, before being released. It's possible that Paul's antagonists had nothing solid against him and were content to interfere by having him placed under house arrest. We are not told what specific legal or social reasons Paul might have had for this conclusion. However, we are given reasons for his confidence. These include the prayers of the Philippian believers and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Prayer and God were the power behind his expectation of future release.

Was Paul released? It is clear he was, though it is not directly mentioned in the New Testament. The book of Acts seems to have been completed shortly after his release since it mentions "two full years" as the duration of his house arrest (Acts 28:30-31). This is approximately the maximum time a Roman could be jailed without being formally charged by his accusers. The Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) were all written after his release, sometime between AD 62 and 67. 

v. 20: Though Paul is confident of his release, he still has to face some form of trial. This could potentially end in death. After all of his troubles and tribulations, Paul was secure in his faith, and confident that he would represent his Savior well. In fact, Paul is not only poised, he looks forward to the opportunity to speak about Christ. Paul speaks as if he's already won the battle, and knows that no matter what happens to him, God will be glorified.

Regardless of the outcome of his trial, Paul wanted to honor God. He was willing to do this either through continued life and ministry, or through the kind of death he would endure. According to history, both were actually the case. Paul was released from this first Roman imprisonment and continued on with his ministry. However, he was ultimately arrested again and was incarcerated in Rome where he would die at the hands of the legal system. He remained faithful in both life and death, serving as a strong example for believers today.

v. 21: This verse offers some of the most memorable words in the entire Bible: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Regardless of whether the verdict of his case was life or death, Paul would remain faithful to God. He knew that life on this earth meant to live for Christ, but death would be even better because he would be in the presence of the Lord. Paul was in no hurry to die, since it was important to him to spread the gospel as far as possible (Philippians 1:22).

These words are also important when discussing what happens to a believer's soul upon death. Some have argued that "soul sleep" is possible. This is the view that the believer's soul enters a state of unawareness, and does not go to heaven with the Lord until the future judgment. This verse shows the false nature of this teaching. Paul clearly states his expectation to be with Christ the moment his life on earth ends. This is a view also reflected by Jesus when He told the thief on the cross he would be in paradise with Him "today" (Luke 23:43).

v. 22: Paul confidently states that any time he had left on earth would result in positive work for God. He did not see the remainder of his life as wasted time, even if he was to spend it in imprisonment. Instead, every moment of every day is to be considered "fruitful labor," or positive work that can be done for the Lord. Our choices in this life do matter, and Paul was well aware of how precious our given time is. This is one of the reasons Paul often refers to his years of rejecting Christ, before his conversion (1 Corinthians 15:9). 

For as much as Paul wanted to serve God, the different outcomes before him create a dilemma. Naturally, he desired to be with Christ immediately. In some ways, death is preferable to life for the believer because it means living forever in the presence of the Lord. However, God also has plans for our life during the days we live. We are called to live every moment for His glory, allowing the Lord to define when we end our life on earth and begin our new life in heaven.

v. 23: Paul continues describing his dilemma. Living means serving Christ, gaining rewards, and giving Him glory. At the same time, death means an end to suffering and an eternity with God. In heaven with the Lord, there will be no more sin, no pain, and no crying of any kind (Revelation 21-22). This is certainly something believers should desire. It's encouraging, in times of trouble, to know this is our destiny (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

There has always been tension, for believers, between these seemingly opposed desires. On one hand is our desire to please God, and bring others to Christ. On the other hand, there is the rest and victory of heaven. The solution to this problem has always been the same: our lives are meant to serve others (Philippians 1:24), not ourselves. When we put God's will, and the needs of others, before our own will and needs, we can faithfully live focused on God's work. The timing of our heavenly arrival is in God's hands.

v. 24: Paul has been musing about the conflict he feels at this time of imprisonment. Which does he want more, to endure persecution and preach the gospel, or to be taken to eternity with Christ? Paul concludes that, since God's will is for others to be saved, it is better for him to be alive. When God wills Paul's death, it will happen. Paul's focus must be to stay alive and serve others, including the Philippian believers. In fact, Paul seems to have a special burden for believers such as the Philippians; his comment here specifically mentions the readers of this letter as a reason for him to live on.

In Colossians 4:3 Paul will add a related note: "the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison." Paul was imprisoned because of following Christ. He wasn't there for personal failures, or for something random. There was a God-given reason for it, though that didn't make it any easier to endure. The benefit of this persecution included the evangelism of many people in Rome, as well as influence through writing four Prison Epistles.

v. 25: Paul doesn't merely hope that he will remain alive to continue ministering. He is "convinced of this." He gives two specific reasons why he feels this way, as they apply to the Philippian believers. First, though the Philippian church was growing more and more mature, Paul could continue to serve them. His purpose is to assist the Philippians to great maturity. While it is not noted in the New Testament whether Paul ever returned to Philippi again, Paul appears confident he would return (Philippians 1:26).

Second, Paul would remain for their "joy in the faith." Faith involves both growth and joy. First Peter 1:8-9 says, "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." The continued presence of a man like Paul would certainly encourage the people he had been ministering to.

v. 26: Paul anticipates seeing the Philippian believers again, as a moment of great joy. That would be a victory well worth praising God for. If Paul did return to Philippi after this first Roman imprisonment, they would certainly have given glory to Christ Jesus. Prior to this letter, the Philippian believers were probably uncertain whether or not Paul would ever live to leave Rome. In this letter, Paul believes he will soon be released and later visit them. This would be a miraculous answer to prayer.

At this point, Paul has transitioned from reassuring his readers that his suffering is for a good cause, to his confidence that he will survive, to an encouraging hope for reunion. From the Pastoral Epistles, it is clear Paul did travel east again near the area of Philippi. However, Philippi is not mentioned in these later writings as one of his destinations. In addition to Philippi, Paul expected to once again visit Philemon in the city of Colossae (Philemon 1:22).

v. 27: In prior verses, Paul explained how his suffering was for the sake of Christ, and encouraged his readers with a hope of reunion. In verse 27, Paul gives the Philippian believers one assignment, in advance of his hoped-for visit: live a life worthy of the gospel. This is very similar to the teaching Paul gave in Ephesians 4:1: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called." He says something similar in Colossians 1:10, encouraging others to live out the truth they proclaim.

            Paul desires these Christians to show unity to the world. This echoes the teachings of Christ (John 17:11, 22), who emphasized the importance of love in living out the gospel (John 13:34-35). Paul is calling on his readers to live out unity, in one spirit and mind, working together "for the faith of the gospel." His goal continually remained on the gospel and its spread.

v. 28: Paul encourages Christians to live with great courage, rather than in fear. The "opponents" he speaks of are likely the false teachers and antagonists mentioned in Acts 16. These enemies opposed Christianity-and Christians-in Philippi. Even though the Philippian believers were not facing the same level of persecution as Paul, they did face opposition in other ways. Christians throughout history have experienced every level of intimidation, and different levels of oppression. Those who read Paul's words in modern, free countries should realize how easy it is-relatively speaking-to be a follower of Jesus, as compared to the first century.

When believers live without fear in the face of threats, it serves as a form of evangelism. It emphasizes the confidence Christians have in the truth, which should be seen as a warning to those who reject their message. God's salvation can give great courage to believers. At the same time, the courage of believers often reminds unbelievers of the uncertainty of their own afterlife. This partly explains why Christianity spreads so well under persecution: only the true believers claim Christ, and true belief, lived out in love, is a powerful testimony.

v. 29: Paul clearly teaches that both believing and suffering were parts of faithful Christian living. His readers had likely already faced some persecution, and may have wondered why they had to suffer if they were faithfully living for God. Paul makes it clear that godliness and suffering often go together. There are times when we suffer, at the hands of the world, because we are following the will of God. The world hates the gospel, and it will naturally try to stamp it out (John 16:1-4). Second Timothy 3:12 says, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

Paul will later note in Philippians 3:8 and 10, "For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. ... that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." Christ is worthy of whatever suffering a believer may face. In Colossians 1:24, Paul would write, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake." First Peter 2:21 notes the role of suffering in this way: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."

v. 30: Paul ends this chapter with a note regarding his own suffering. He was arrested in Palestine and appealed to the Roman legal system to escape an assassination attempt. During his sea voyage to Rome, the ship crashed and he and the crew barely escaped. A snake then bit Paul, and he shook it off into a fire. He was eventually brought to Rome, where he had been rejected by many Jews, yet had a powerful ministry to Gentiles despite being under house arrest for two years (Acts 27-28).

Despite all of these past sufferings and his ongoing imprisonment, Paul was still able to preach to many, write letters to encourage believers, and be used of God to help encourage the spread of the gospel. Suffering is difficult, but is not without purpose. God has used pain, and continues to use pain, as faced by believers, to accomplish much good.  Paul's point here is also that the struggle he faces is exactly the same as it has always been. Whether the struggles are large or small, the same basic idea applies. The world-which rejects God-is working constantly to interfere with the spread of the gospel. Paul's experiences are simply the natural consequences of that battle.