SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON 2 - Phil. 1:19-30 - Mutual Encouragement
LAST WEEK: In Phil. 1:1-18, we were introduced to Paul's letter to the Philippians. Paul started off by thanking the Philippian believers for their unceasing support of his ministry. Then he prayed for them, that they would be filled with knowledge and discernment and "fruit of righteousness," which is a metaphor for Christ-like living. Rather than hindering his ministry, he reassured the Philippians that his imprisonment in Rome had actually opened new doors for the spread of the gospel. Lastly, he talked about the mixed reactions he had received from the Roman church, some with envy who preached the gospel from selfish ambition and others with goodwill who preached with love. The final point he made was that the true gospel has validity apart from those who proclaim it.
THIS WEEK: In Phil. 1:19-30, we'll hear Paul talk about two competing desires: On the one hand, as a Christian believer who wants to serve God by using his or her life in the here and now to bring others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ; but, on the other hand, the same Christian might yearn to leave all the worldly hardships behind him or her in order to be with God in eternity. Paul ultimately concludes that it's better to live until God calls him home, so he can serve his fellow man in this life. Paul also encourages the Philippians with his conviction that he will be released to see them again. Finally, his experiences, whether good or bad, are all adding to the glory of Jesus Christ.
Read Phil. 1:19-20 - PAUL'S ATTITUDE TOWARD HIS CURRENT CIRCUMSTANCES
19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my eager expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
v. 19: "for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" - After praying for the Philippians in vv. 9-10, he now asks them to pray for his "deliverance." The term can be understood in either of two ways: deliverance from prison or deliverance from this life to eternal life. Commentators say that Paul was intentionally ambiguous. As a Roman citizen, Paul could only be held for so long without formal charges, and if they deemed to his case to be weak, they might simply let him go. On the other hand, if he did get charged with a serious crime like treason and tried before a Roman court, he would most likely be put to death.
v. 20: "according to my eager expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." - The crucial issue that Paul is expressing in this verse isn't life or death; it is maintaining his faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Use of the phrase, "or by death," shows that Paul hopes to honor Christ even in the way he eventually dies.
APPLICATION 1: Like Paul, Christians should keep the focus of their lives on the future. Paul didn't allow himself to be preoccupied with his dismal existence in the Roman jail but stayed focused on his "deliverance," whether being set free or put to death, and he saw either alternative in a positive light,
Read Phil. 1:21-26 - TO LIVE IS CHRIST AND TO DIE IS GAIN
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.
v. 21: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" - As already noted in v. 20, Paul expressed the hope that Christ would be exalted by his life and his death. In this verse he is saying that either way, it's is a good thing; or "to die is gain," by which he gains admission to heaven, is also a good-i.e., win-win. Another aspect of his "to live" sentiments is covered in Chapter 3:10-11, where he tells his willingness to share in Christ's suffering so that he might know him more deeply. As we read about Paul's many sufferings here and elsewhere, it's easy to forget that he was a frail human being just like you and me. He wasn't a masochist. He didn't enjoy all the violence committed against him. How many of us could honestly come close to doing the same? I'm pretty sure I would have checked-out after the stoning at Lystra on the early part of the first journey. In saying that, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain," Paul demonstrates an incredible Christ-centered single-mindedness that has served as an example for millions of Christians all through the ages.
v. 22a: "But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me" - Paul doesn't specify what he means by "fruitful labor," but to his Philippian readers and to us as students of the NT, it should be evident: three enormously successful missionary journeys (and possibly an unrecorded fourth to Spain), plus he wrote approximately 24% of the entire New Testament. He paved the way for reaching the entire Gentile world with the gospel, and accomplished all of it in about 20 years.
v. 22b: "and I do not know which to choose." - Paul expresses his dilemma. While the Roman authorities haven't given him the option of choosing life or death, he would find the choice difficult. And understand that Paul wasn't a fatalist: it was a positive choice either way.
APPLICATION 2: Like Paul, Christians should have a positive attitude about death. Paul knew this, and as believing Christians we are convinced that death isn't the end of existence. When our mortal flesh ceases to live, our eternal Spirit immediately transfers us to our heavenly home. God has unconditionally promised us that, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" John 3:36.
v. 23: "But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better" - From the perspective of his own personal wellbeing, Paul would welcome dying and being with Christ. In that scenario, he admits it would be "very much better" if the Roman authorities decided to execute him (he's probably assuming a quick death, unlike a crucifixion), so he will not longer be forced to suffer incarceration, beatings, shipwrecks, snake bites, health problems (Gal. 4:13-15), and the other list of hardships he had endured through his work. And when I say "work," everywhere he went, Paul supported himself and his co-workers through his trade as a tentmaker rather than burdening whatever group he was ministering to (Acts 18:1-3; 20:33-35).
v. 24: "yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes" - While a quick death would be a much easier out, Paul was burdened with a spiritual responsibility to stay alive in order to help, not only the Philippians, who had their own fair share of internal problems, but all of the other churches that he had planted in his missionary journeys (14 known but probably quite a few more who left no written records). As a bachelor with no family of his own, these churches were, in effect, Paul's extended family, which he deeply loved as if they were his own children.
v. 25: "Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith" - In this verse, Paul seems optimistic, "Convinced," that the Roman authorities would ultimately release him (it was a pretty flimsy case to begin with; see Acts 24 generally) and he was very eager to make return visit to Philippi, so he could learn first-hand about all the progress they were making. Paul's goal with them, and indeed, all the churches he founded, was to help them achieve Spirit-led, long-lasting spiritual maturity, which would be evident by their unity (no divisions or factions), their ministries to the needs of the congregation (e.g., the poor, the widows, and the orphans) and their fruitfulness in spreading the gospel (both locally and sending missions). Despite being at loose ends in jail with an uncertain future, Paul's expressed "joy in the faith" at the mere idea of being reunited with his Philippian brothers and sisters sometime in the future.
APPLICATION 3: As long as we are living on this earth, God has a purpose for us. At the prospect of being allowed to live and set free, Paul was excited and looking forward to continuing his work for the cause of Christ here on earth. He was especially motivated to help prosper all the churches he had planted (14, possibly more). For us, in Baxter County there is much work to do as a beacon of hope to the estimated 20,000+ lost souls in our community. That's our job, our primary mission field.
v. 26: "so that your pride in Christ Jesus may be abundant because of me by my coming to you again" - Paul is saying that if he is reunited with the Philippian believers again, It would be seen as a miraculous answer to their prayers for him (v. 19). And when it happened, they would be compelled to give all the credit and glory to Christ, which would make their "pride in Christ Jesus ...abundant." Paul saw this as a potentially huge source of encouragement and confirmation for this church, and it would empower them to even greater heights.
Read Phil. 1:27-30 - LET YOUR LIFE BE WORTHY OF 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.
v. 27a: "Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" - Up to this point, Paul has talked about his present circumstances, but now he shifts to encouraging the Philippians to live lives "worthy of the gospel of Christ." The phrase, "conduct yourselves" (Gk. politeuesthe [pol-it-yoo'-om-ahee]) is significant and literally means to be a good citizen. Only a few decades before, Mark Antony had made Philippi a Roman city, with the consequence that the people of Philippi became citizens of Rome. This citizenship endowed them with substantial benefits and was a great source of pride among the Philippians. So, Paul is saying: You are rightfully proud of your Roman citizenship, but keep in mind that you enjoy an even more important citizenship in God's kingdom; and just as you would expect to live as responsible Roman citizens, you should likewise expect to live in a manner that is consistent with your citizenship in God's kingdom.
v. 27b: "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;" - Here, Paul calls these Philippian believers to living their lives as fruitful citizens of God's kingdom, so that whether he is near them or far away, that they are "standing firm in one spirit and standing firm in one spirit standing firm in one spirit" and "with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (which are metaphors for unity of people, their purpose, and their mission). Phillipi was the first church to be established on European soil, and Paul had great hope that it would expand it's reach for the gospel far beyond its present territorial boundaries.
APPLICATION 4: As Christian believers, we should be living our lives as citizens of God's Kingdom. As Paul put it, we should be "standing firm in one spirit" and "with one min striving together for the faith of the gospel." In simple language, this means we are actively working to be a spiritually mature which translates to unity in the body, ministering to needs of members who need help, being on mission in our outreach in our community, and supporting other Christian ministries that carry the gospel to people outside our reach.
v. 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" - Moving forward, Paul calls upon the Philippians to live with courage rather than fear. In those days (and even now), Christians often found themselves living in tension with secular authority. Although Nero, emperor of Rome at the time of this writing, was known for his severe persecution of Christians, it was sporadic and limited mostly to the city of Rome. Thus, the opposition felt by the Philippian church would be local and did not stem from official Imperial policy. Paul's advice for them (and us) not to be "alarmed" (terrified KJV) reflected his confidence that God's power is superior to all opposition. In this, he takes an eschatological view (end-times), which prompted him to say earlier (v. 25), "to die is gain." From this viewpoint, it's extremely hard to intimidate a person who truly believes that God has saved him or her. So, since we live in a world opposed to God, shouldn't we expect opposition as something normal?
v. 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" - In Hebrew Scripture, suffering is typically seen as a consequence of sinful behavior; however, Jesus' teachings stand this traditional view of suffering on it head. The most expansive of the Beatitudes is the one that deals with the blessings of those who are persecuted, to whom Jesus says, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great" (Mt. 5:12a). And I'm not going to catalog the many examples of Paul's sufferings for the cause of Christ, but you see the short list in 2 Cor. 11:24-28. Again, Paul wasn't a masochist, but bore his sufferings gladly because they came with the territory of serving a great cause-the gospel of Jesus Christ. And Paul also saw the constructive traits produced by suffering when he said that it, "brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:3b-5).
v. 30: "experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me" - In this verse, Paul connects the suffering/opposition of the Philippians to the struggle he was then facing. He tells them that, like him, they should consider themselves honored to suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ. Before this, the Philippians had had a front row seat to observe a small part of Paul's conflict, when he was savagely beaten, shackled in stocks, and jailed during his previous time with them. And with the phrase, "now hear to be in me," he tells them that while writes this letter to them, he's surrounded by enemies who would like nothing better than to see him dead.
APPLICATION 5: Suffering for the cause of Christ makes us stronger. If you look at our experience as members of Mountain Home Baptist Church over the past five years, I think you will agree with this statement. This church has suffered, as a body, almost to the extent of nonexistence. And we have suffered for a good cause. Amen? I can only speak for myself, but I consider it to be a great privilege to have suffered for the cause of Christ in order to keep this church alive.
PRAYER: Father, we come to you this day, thanking You for your mercy and the underserved grace You have given us as children of your kingdom. We are especially thankful that You've given us this good church as a place to worship and serve You. One of the things that Paul showed in today's lesson--by his own great example--is that the main focus of our lives, both as individual believers and as a church body, should be on the future. And as Bro. Phillip taught us last Wednesday night, every one of us should have a personal vision statement that expresses our mission in this church according the gifts You've given to every one of us. Lord, I pray for the Fall Festival that we are planning at the end of October as an outreach to the people who live in the community near our church. I pray, God, that You will use Your Holy Spirit to equip and empower every one of us so that we can reach out to those who come and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and it's in His name that I ask all of these things, AMEN.