In the first century there was a baby born in the region of Cilicia (which was within the Roman Empire). As the young boy of a prominent and wealthy Jewish family he was taken to the city of Jerusalem where he was carefully trained in the Jewish laws and customs from his earliest childhood by a guyed named Gamaliel. This young man was a strong student and surpassed many of his fellow students in knowledge of Judaism.
In addition to being a true Hebrew—a Jew—from the tribe of Benjamin he was also a Roman citizen which gave him a level of prestige and freedom and other people likely did not experience. He eventually became a member of the Pharisees, which was described as the strictest sect of the Jewish religion. After the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of a guy named Jesus Christ, there was a group of people that called themselves followers of “The Way.” These were people that we call now “Christians” and this young man—a Pharisee—from Cilicia and educated in Jerusalem as a Pharisee did everything that he could to oppose Christians. He uttered threats with every breath and went everywhere to destroy the church. This man was so passionate to persecute Christians that regularly arrested them, threw them in prison, killed them, and persecuted them in every and any way that he could. At one time he went to the high priest in Jerusalem and asked for a letter giving him permission to go north east to the province of Syria. While traveling north east with his letter giving him permission to persecute the Christians a light from heaven shone down around him.
This young passionate Pharisee fell to the ground and heard a loud voice saying to him, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4, NLT). This young man responded, “’Who are you, lord?’ . . . And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:5-6). This young man went into the city and a little time later the Lord spoke to a man named Ananias saying, “He is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.’” (Acts 9:15–16, NLT).
That story I have just shared with you is the first half of the life of Paul, the man who wrote this letter to the Philippians and who wrote a total of thirteen letters that are included in our Bible, which is almost half of the books of the New Testament. On that road his life was drastically changed. Everything he had done and everything he stood for was changed. And, from then on he truly lived the Life for Christ.
“The Apostle Paul” by Rembrandt (1606-1669)
I. NEVER ASHAMED (Phil 1:19-21)
A. Prayers for Paul (v. 19)
“For, I know that this will lead to my deliverance through your prayers and assistance of Jesus Christ’s Spirit.” (Phil 1:19) 1
1. Assistance & Support
This “assistance” spoken of here is what Paul had and will reference about how the Philippians had supported him (4:10, 15-16, 18). Paul told the Corinthians that their prayers also helped him (1 Cor 1:11). “This word was originally used to describe the supply a choir manager would provide to all the members of a Greek choir (who performed in the Greek plays). In short, he took care of all their living expenses. The word then came to mean a full supply of any kind” (Comfort, Philippians, 160).
How do we ask for assistant and support as Christians?
- Prayer. A family in our church once asked our senior pastor to pray for them to get pregnant, and then they go pregnant. It is okay to ask for prayer, but I am the worst at this. I need to do it more. Sometimes I struggle with prayer.
- Holy Spirit. This Spirit of Jesus here is a manifestation of Christ inside of us. Christ lives in us and his spirit empowers us for Christian living. The spirit of Jesus is described as “the Spirit of Jesus” in Acts 16:7 as well as “the Spirit of Christ” in Rom 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11 (Comfort, “Philippians” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 160). Yet, this is also the Holy Spirit as well. Paul was empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:4) to spread the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles (Acts 13:46-47). Luke described the Holy Spirit as the person that would give the disciples the correct words to say (Luke 12:11-12). Matthew described the Holy Spirit as the one speaking through the disciples (Matt 10:20). I love Lewis Sperry Chafer’s comments about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Christians, “The Spirit regenerates, indwells or anoints, baptizes, seals, and fills, thus not only creating the essential factors which together make the Christian what he is, but empowering him to walk worthy of that high calling” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993], 413, emphasis added). Most important of all is to remember that while Jesus left his earth to be with his father, he sent the Holy Spirit to be our advocate and helper (John 16:7-11).
2. Deliverance or Salvation?
My translation above as well as the NLT uses “deliverance” as the word translationed from σοτηρίαν. Here’s a brief survey of each view.
Deliverance. In my brief survey it seems like most translations use “deliverance” (NLT, NASB95, LEB, ESV, NRSV, NKJV, NET, HCSB, RSV, NIV). The NET Bible translation notes say, “deliverance from prison probably is what Paul has in view here.” Support of this is based on Phil 1:26 where Paul says that he hopes to see them again soon. J Vernon McGee takes this view Thru the Bible, vol. 5, 297.
Salvation. while the older more traditional translations use “salvation” (KJV1900, AV 1873). This view finds supports from Phil 1:20 where Paul expresses a desire to be released from his body; therefore this “salvation” might be the deliverance from his earthly body. Additionally, the context and other similar usages listed in BDAG suggest “salvation” should be the proper translation. BDAG lists the following passages under the similar usages of Phil 1:19: Rom 1:16; Rom 10:1, 20; 2 Cor 7:10; 2 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 3:15; 1 Peter 2:2.
B. Life or Death? (v. 20)
“It’s my eager expectation and hope that I will not be shamed but in public like always Christ is glorified through my body whether through life or death.” (Phil 1:20)
ἀποκαραδοκίαν (ἀποκαρδοκια, ας, ἡ) – eager expectation. This word is used here and in Rom 8:19 in the NT. The image of this word is that it portrays someone eagerly expecting something very important to happen (Comfort, Philippians, 161). “His [Paul’s] belief never wavered, indeed it came through the terrible experience strengthened. But his feelings came and went. Learning to distinguish between the two, and to maintain belief and hope with our without the accompanying feelings, is itself part of Christian maturity” (N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 93).
Paul wanted Christ to be exalted in two places: 1) in public; 2) in this body. Furthermore, Paul wanted Christ to be exalted through one of two means: life or death. For Paul, life or death did not matter. What mattered was that Christ was being proclaimed (cf. Phil 1:17-18).
3. The Body
But why use the body? Paul uses the body because “19Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20, NLT).
As Paul has already mentioned in his letter, he is suffering for Christ (Phil 1:1, 7, 13-14). Additionally, Peter wrote, “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise to God for the privilege of being called by his name! (1 Peter 4:14, 16, NLT). We see Paul’s thoughts on death in his letter to the Romans, “7For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom 14:7-8, NLT).
C. Life Equals Christ; Death Is Gain (v. 21)
“For to me, to live is Christ but to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)
1. Translations of This Brief Verse
Other translations render this verse in the following ways,
- “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better” (NLT)
- “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (ESV)
- “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (NET)
Paul has just laid out the options of Christ being exalted through Paul’s life or Paul’s death (v. 20). But, which way of exalting Christ is better? According to Paul, dying is better! Yet, he chooses to stay for the benefit of others.
2. To Live is Christ
This means that Paul’s life was “sustained by Christ and belonged to Christ” (Comfort, “Philippians,” 161). Paul’s life was actively involved with Christ through ministry on earth. “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20, NLT).
How do we live for Christ?
- First, we stand for our faith. When someone claims that the Bible is error riden and full of a bunch of fables, you stand up and you ask them, “Have you ever seen P46?” or “Show me those errors?”
- Second, we stand for the truth. [Illustration of Mark Arve and the guy that believed the Bible was biased against homosexuality.]
- Third, we enjoy a healthy amount of the good things. We can’t abuse the enjoyment of the beach, sand racing, alcholol, or drugs.
3. Why Death Is Gain
Now, as Christians we are privileged to something that non-Christians are not. We can say—like Paul—that death is gain because we know we are going to heaven. However, that is not the case for people that are not Christians. Death is not gain for some people—maybe even Christians—based on their priorities. If we are living for fame, death is not gain, it is loss. If we are living for $$$ death is not gain, it is loss. If we are living for sports then death is not gain, it is loss. If we live for our family then death is not gain, it is a loss. Only if we live for Christ here on earth does death mean gain for us.
II. TO LIVE OR TO DIE (Phil 1:22-24)
A. Which is best? (v. 22)
“But if I live in the body, this is a good work, and what I would want I do not know.” (Phil 1:22)
I believe O’Brien makes a good observation on this verse, “At this point Paul’s language becomes somewhat obscure, and the grammar of the passage reflects the conflict of feeling in his mind. He is tossed to and fro between the desire to labour [sic] for Christ here on earth and the desire to be united with him in death” (O’Brien, Philippians, 124).
An example of this difficult language and grammar is differences in translations.
- “I do not know which I will chose.”
- “Yet what shall I choose? I have nothing to declare [i.e, from the Lord]” (O’Brien, Philippians, 116).
- “Yet I don’t know which I prefer” (NET). “Yet which I shall chose I cannot tell” (ESV).
Despite the obscure language, it is clear that while Paul preferred death (v. 21), he realized that life on earth meant fruitful work.
B. Focus on Others (v. 23)
“I am distressed between two options: I have a longing to depart and be with Christ for this is much better.” (Phil 1:23)
1. An Example on Earth
J Vernon McGee shares a story in his commentary that I cannot pass up here. Throughout his life he had several cancer surgeries and in his commentary on Phil 1:23-24 he reveals that the first time he had cancer surgery a woman wrote him a letter that said, “I know that everybody is praying that you will get well, but I am praying that the Lord will take you home because to be with Christ is far better.” Oh my! But wait, it gets better. McGee wrote back to her, “Would you mind letting the Lord decide about this? I want to stay!” (J. Vernon McGree, Thru the Bible, vol. 5, 298).
2. Two Options
In Marvin Vincent’s Word Studies book he says that idea is that he is a man pressed on by both sides. In Paul’s eyes, he saw two compelling options: 1) to stay on earth and do fruitful work; or 2) to go and be with Christ. Paul’s desire was to be with Christ, not just to get away from trouble (as some commentators advocate).
Yet, I think there is a distinction that needs to be made here. Paul was likely not in pain or in deep suffering while he was in prison. This is not a moment of weakness where he shares that he’s ready to just quit and give up. You might be surprised for me to say that, but what is the book of Philippians known as? What is the theme people often believe is weaved throughout? Joy! As a prisoner in prison he likely was chained to the wall, but he was allowed to have visitors. People such as Philemon were one of many visitors that he had while he was in prison. Therefore; this wasn’t some weak minded moment where Paul was ready to leave and go to be with Christ. He is as strong in his faith and desire to continue to do ministry as he ever was.
As N.T. Wright shares, “This isn’t a ‘death wish’ in the sense of someone losing self-esteem, becoming terminally depressed, and longing to get out of this life as quickly as possible. Paul, as this letter shows, is full of life and energy and quite ready to get back to the work the minute they let him out of prison.” (Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 91).
3. Where the Dead Are Now
Sometimes heave is a topic were people have different views about what it is, who gets to go there, etc. It reminds me of the story of three boys that were playing ball
With Christ. The phrase here, σὺν χριστῳ needs a brief mention. While there are no other exact phrases in the NT Greek text, there are equivalents (1 Thess 4:15-17; 2 Cor 4:14). The σὺν χριχτῳ construction suggests a close union with Christ and Paul. I have found Peter O’Brien’s summary on this small phrase exceptional, therefore a brief summary follows. The Greek συν- compounds indicate an intimate personal union with Christ in the future, yet that reality also exists right now. That reality exists right now because the believer has already been united with Christ in Christ’s death (Rom 6:5), buried with Christ in baptism (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12), the old self of the believer was crucified with Christ (Rom 6:7; Gal 2:20), yet the believer was also made alive with Christ and raised with Christ (Col 2:12; 3:1). While Paul speaks of being “with” Christ in the future after death, it is also clear that the Paul is currently “with” Christ even while on earth. It’s just different between being with Christ in heaven. (O’Brien, Philippians, 134). Not even death can separate us from Christ (Rom 8:38-39).
Places of the Dead. The Bible has various terms it uses to describe a few different places of the dead. Sheol/Hades (and there are three compartments in Hades: Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise, the great Gulf Fixed, and the Place of Torment), Tartarus, Gehenna are the four. One of the victories won by Jesus Christ through his death, burial, and resurrection is that the church-age believer does not have to go to Sheol-Hades. In the book of Acts Peter quotes Pss 16:10 in Acts 2:25-31 saying that Jesus is not in Sheol-Hades today. Hades was always described as “down” yet we know from Acts 1:9 that Jesus was “taken up.” Later, in 2 Cor 5:8, “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” (NLT). Additionally, “That is why the Scriptures say, ‘When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.’ Notice that it says ‘he ascended.’ This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself” (Eph 4:8–10, NLT). Ever since the resurrection the believer at death does not go down to Sheol-Hades, but instead goes to be present with the Lord who lives in heaven. We know that believers are with Christ in heaven besuse Jesus stands at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55).
Our Salvation through Jesus Christ. So, how do we get to go and be with Christ? First, let’s establish the fact that every person deserves to go to hell (Rom 3:23; 6:23), but it is only through our faith in Jesus Christ that we escape hell and go to heaven to live with Christ forever (John 1:12; 14:16; Rom 10:13). And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”” (Luke 23:43, NLT). A further description of what Christ’s death and resurrection did for us is seen in Romans “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Rom 5:6–11, NLT)
Away from the Body Is with the Lord. The idea that Paul conveys here is seen in other parts of the New Testament. Basically, to be departed from the body seems to indicate that the believer is with the Lord. See the following examples“
- “As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” (Acts 7:59, NLT)
- “So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:6, NLT)
- “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8, NLT)
- “For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.” (1 Thess 4:14, NLT)
C. Best to Live (v. 24)
“Yet, to remain in my body is necessary for your sakes.” (Phil 1:24)
Paul showed that his commitment to the Philippians by saying that it was necessary to stay on earth for the benefit of the Philippians. In this way, Paul substituted his own personal desires in order to serve the Philippian believers and work for their benefit. We too have work to do no matter what our age or spiritual maturity level or circumstances are (after all, Paul was in prison!). For example, we have a lady [Gail] who is helps us move chairs and clean bathrooms at church who is tight on money, but she offers more than just a tithe through her time and work.
The Experienced Person. As someone in this room that has lived a good life, there are some things that you are never too old to offer.
- How to maintain a healthy and happy marriage
- How to save for retirement
- How to keep a job
- How to raise kids in an evil and messed up world.
- How to overcome racial prejudice.
- How to navigate conflict.
The Novice Person. As a young person in this room, here is a list of things I hope that an older generation could help with.
- Safety on the internet.
- Your muscle.
- How to use your cell phone
III. LIVING TO SERVE (Phil 1:25-26)
A. Sanctifying Help (v. 25)
“And convinced of this, I know that I will remain in the body and stay with you all in your progress and joy in the faith.” (Phil 1:25)
Paul believed that he would remain and stay with the Philippians in their progress and joy in the faith.
This term has a distinct meaning based on its use with the Christian community and Gospel. One rendering is, “for a joyous furtherance of your life of faith,” or “for a cheerful advance in faith” (TDNT, 715). “As Paul’s work serves the προκοπή of the life of faith of the congregation, his suffering serves the προκοπή of the Gospel” (TDNT, 715).
This “joy” seems to always be bound up with Paul in his work as an apostle. And while martyrdom seems to be apparent and a possible outcome to Paul’s life, he still had joy despite the circumstances he faced.
3. Time for Discipleship
Paul ultimately decided that he wanted to remain on earth so that he could help people grow and experience the joy of their faith. Paul knew how to do discipleship and most importantly, he made room in his life so that he could disciple others who needed help. Is that something your are willing to do?
One of the reasons that our church invests so much time, money, and energy into our LIFEGroups is because this is one of the ways that we do discipleship is through LIFEGroups. The first Gospel in our Bibles ends with these words that Jesus told his disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 23:19-20, NLT). The man who discipled me as a new Christian and who still serves as my coach—Steve Elliott—says that this verse is the most quoted yet least applied in American Churches.
B. Sanctifying Growth (v. 26)
“This is so that your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound when we come see you again.” (Phil 1:26)
Here καύχημα (boast) means “the matter or ground of glorying, rather than the act of glorying” (O’Brien, Philippians, 126).
IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. Choose the option that benefits others.
For Paul, he did not just chose between good and bad. Here, he was choosing between good and great. Now, most of us are not as holy as Paul was. For Paul, he was torn between two godly desires. Both were good and holy and both were good options. However, if you are like me you probably do not have a struggle between two options that are so holy. For me, I try to write these studies in my free time (after work, graduate school, and spending time with my wife). As a result sometimes I get torn between two desires in my free time when I need to be writing these lessons. Sometimes I am torn between playing the video game “Clash of Clans” or writing these studies. Sometimes I am torn between watching the show “MacGyver” or writing these studies. Sometimes it is a struggle (like on Thursday) between going golfing with friends or writing these studies. Yet, for Paul, he was torn between two godly desires. Yet, he chose the one that was best.
B. In your own unique way, live the life for Christ.
One of the beautiful things about a church and the body of Christ is the diversity that we have. We all have different family heritages, different jobs, different family situations, and different hobbies that we enjoy. And, that is the way that it is supposed to be that way we each can stay in touch with the unchurched in our community. It is through people in our church working in the farming industry, banking, or in a warehouse that we can live the life for Christ there. It is through big families or small families that we can to live for Christ. And, that’s why I want to return to the story of Paul to describe the second half of his life once he met Jesus.
C. Closing Illustration
After Jesus appeared to Paul immediately began preaching and sharing the Word of God. He was obedient to God’s call on his life to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, kings, and nation of Israel. In his life, for the next thirty years he made three missionary journeys that covered more than 13,000 miles. That’s a trip across the United States by foot more than four times.
A few weeks ago Jen and I went camping with a couple from our church and as we had already set up our camp site a guy showed up who was going to be in the camp site next to me. He introduced himself by saying, “I just arrived here and just finished walking across the United States. It took me eleven months and one day.” I thought that’s cool, but wanted to say, “Go and do that four times in sandals without a cell phone, and then you’ll be experience what Paul thought.” Not to mention, Paul while traveling didn’t stay in nice hotels or anything like that. When arriving to a new city Paul didn’t say, “Hey, what are the hotels like here. Are they nice?” He more likely would have said, “What’s your jails like?” Because he knew that he might end up there!
Paul’s passion to live the life for Christ took him across the entire Roman Empire, through the known world. I can see him talking with some of the other apostles in Jerusalem. Saying, “Hey Peter, Thomas, James, Phillip, are you guys okay with Jerusalem? That small city. Are you able to handle starting churches and doing disciple there? Are you sure? Its one small city, do you got it? Okay, while the four of you take on the city of Jerusalem, I will take on the entire Roman Empire! I’ll go the entire known world and spread the Gospel, plant churches, and disciple believers. Through his travels he had numerous people try to kill him, he was ship wreaked, beaten with wooden rods, stoned to the point that he was left cause they thought he was dead, and was placed in prison as least four times.
Now, you and me are not going to live the same life that Paul did. But, we are called to live the life for Christ. Because of Christ’s gift to us through his perfect sacrifice for our sins, we should live a life shows we belong to him and that we want others to know him. If you have been a Christian for a long time I want you to think that how in the context of your family, where you work, or in your hobbies can you to live the life for Christ. What does that look like? What do you need to say or do to live the life for Christ? Maybe you are here today and you are not a follower of Jesus Christ. Maybe you’ve heard about Jesus and you’ve learned about what one man—Paul—did to follow Jesus and you know that you want to believe in Jesus and follow him to.
- Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. ↩