Philippians 1:18-26 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.
Good Morning. Happy Father’s day. Whether you have a good earthly father, a bad earthly father or you never knew your earthly father, we gather this morning to worship our perfect heavenly father. Because of the nature of the trinity, God has never not been in relationship within the godhead. The Father has always been a good father. Think for a second how much we learn on the job and figure things out midstream. But God the Father has always had perfect knowledge and perfect relationship as a father. As many or most of you will celebrate Father’s Day this afternoon, take a minute to reflect on the truth of God as Father.
Will you pray with me and give thanks? One of the ways fathers take care of their children is by feeding them. Please pray with me as we ask our Father to feed us his word this morning.
Father in heaven, you are holy. You are a giver of good gifts and you lavish them on us. Thank you that we have certainty of salvation because of Christ. Would you, through your Spirit, help us to bask in appreciation of your perfect Fatherliness today? We come here with different weeks and perspectives. Some of us are tired and worn out. Some of us are indifferent to your glory. Some of us are feeling thin in our faith. Father speak to us in our weaknesses. Don’t let the high bar of this passage allow us to dismiss it. Help us to sit in it, see the glory of Christ more and cause us to live differently. You word causes things to happen: Worlds exist, dead bones dance, sins are forgiven, your kingdom advances. Please give us ears to hear and greater faith to believe your word. God will you speak to us now?
If you were to die tonight, how certain are you of your destiny?
Second question, can you see death as better than what you have in life?
Those are hard questions. But they are incredibly important questions to answer. These questions get at the main point of our passage this morning. A Christ honoring life. Paul is challenging his audience and us to examine how we understand things with an eternal perspective.
Last week we looked at Paul’s current situation in prison. He was facing trial with the potential of punishment by death. Despite these dire circumstances, he maintained a perspective that saw God working to advance the gospel. Even as others tried to afflict him through preaching the gospel, he was filled with joy. The reason for his joy was that Christ was proclaimed and the gospel advanced.
Now in verse 18 he looks forward to what he is confident will happen in the future. Paul knows that Christ will be honored no matter what. Whether life or death. Paul’s goal is to honor Christ with whatever the future holds. He does this in several ways: his hope and joy in salvation means he lives with greater urgency in life. And his purpose for the progress and joy of others. As Paul’s joy increases, so does his desire to see others’ joy increase too.
A Christ-honoring Life means three things in this passage: A joyful life. An urgent life. And a discipling life.
I. A joyful life (18-20)
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,
Last week he had joy currently over the gospel advance. Now he uses a future tense: I will rejoice. He has joy now, but he is confident his joy will continue and increase because of what the future holds.
The definition I’ve been using for joy is “a satisfaction untied to your earthly circumstances.” When our satisfaction is tied to our circumstances, our satisfaction goes up or down depending on the day, week or month we are having. A bad day at work means we are in a bad mood. A great day at home with the family? Our mood is better. When we have a week that’s a grind, we feel okay or stagnant. But our circumstances are driving our emotions and outlook. Joy is not merely ignoring our circumstances either. It’s not positive thinking in the face of hard circumstances.
Joy is different. Paul is not happy about facing potential death. But because he has the eternal promises of Christ, he can find joy there. Paul’s joy is based on knowledge in eternal circumstances compared to the mere emotion tied to our temporal and immediate circumstances. Eternal versus temporal. We tend to pay too much attention to our temporal circumstances and lose our eternal perspective. This is key to understanding our passage clearly. Keeping an eternal perspective in light of our temporal situation.
In verse 19, Paul sees ‘this’, his current circumstances, turning out for his deliverance. What does he mean by deliverance? Is he simply looking forward to release from prison?
The word translated here as ‘deliverance’ can also be translated as salvation. When it is translated as salvation, it helps us more easily see the deeper kind of deliverance than simply getting out of jail. It points to something greater than his circumstances. The promise he sees in this passage is that his eternal destiny is certain. He knows that the ultimate work of salvation in his life will end with seeing Christ. Verse 19 is also the exact same phrase as in Job 13:16, which Paul is likely quoting.
Think about Job’s situation. Just like Paul, he’s afflicted in his circumstances, further harmed by his friends, who are offering advice with bad motives and insight. But Job doesn’t want to merely get out of his temporal setting, he trusts that this will work out for his salvation. Job says, ”16 This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him.”
In Job’s circumstances, which were very hard, he is able to look beyond them to an eternal deliverance. Paul is doing the same thing here.
This is the kind of deliverance Paul seeks. He can’t control his circumstances, but he can hope in the certainty of salvation. For sure he hopes to get out of prison and see the Philippians again. He mentions that in our passage and multiple other times in the book. But is first concerned with his eternal salvation. He leans into the promise from verse 6.
Salvation is bigger than the singular moment when you believe in the gospel. It is the entire process from justification at the point of belief through our lives of sanctification. That’s why Paul urges the Philippians to work out their salvation in chapter 2.
How will he be delivered? He cites 2 reasons that are tightly related: His deliverance will come through the Philippians’ prayers and the help of the Holy Spirit.
Paul puts confidence in the prayers of his fellow brothers and sisters. Paul sees the journey of salvation as a communal one. The Christian life, even for an apostle in prison, is a communal life. We don’t work out our salvation independently. We will see this more in coming weeks as Paul presses the Philippians for unity. He puts confidence in the power of prayer. This power is what he means by the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And by ‘help’, it doesn’t’ mean a slight nudge to get Paul over a wall. ‘Help’ here means something closer to ‘supply’. The Spirit is the power for prayer. When Paul sees prayer as the vehicle for his deliverance, the Spirit of Christ is the fuel. The two work together.
Romans 8 explains how the Spirit helps us in prayer:
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. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We don’t know how to pray. What ask for the wrong things or don’t ask for big enough things, and yet the Spirit helps us to pray the right things. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. Do you see prayer in this way? Do you expect things to happen through prayer? Do you ask one another for prayer or do you see it as a burden to others? or a chance for others to experience joy? After service, whoever you find yourself talking to, ask how you can pray for them. Put your prayer request in the offering plate. Trust that the Holy spirit will intercede for us. Paul’s belief that prayer will be the means for his deliverance, he has great confidence. Look at verse 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.
Two words get at the same idea: expectation and hope. Paul has great confidence that his belief in the gospel will not lead to shame. Rather he has confidence that this will lead to Christ receiving honor.
One commentator defines hope like this: Hope is something whose coming is certain, but whose timing is uncertain (Motyer p86). What gives Paul hope? Deliverance is certain. Christ being honored is certain. When deliverance will happen is unknown. How exactly Christ will be honored through Paul is uncertain.
This isn’t blind hope, where the facts and logic don’t point to it happening. This is a hope based on truth. What Christ has begun in Paul will be completed. His hope is based in reality. Based on everything Paul had experienced in prison, it would be blind hope if he simply trusted in his enemies to release him without cause. That would be blind hope in the same way that me hoping I will be drafted by the Timberwolves has no basis in reality.
Paul was well versed in the scriptures. If God’s track record was spotty we would have reason to doubt in the future. But in all of scripture God has proven himself faithful. When he made a promise to rescue people, he always showed up. God promised a son to Abram and it happened. He promised a multitude of children to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and it happened.
God promised Israel deliverance from slavery through signs and wonders. Later, after generations of rebellion and sin from the people, God promised punishment in the form of exile. And he promised returning people to the land after exile. He promised a Messiah, the Holy Spirit and a New Covenant. All of these promises were fulfilled. We could find others as well. But the evidence that supports God as faithful is strong. When God makes a promise and we wonder whether he will keep it, the answer is always yes. Because all of the promises of God find their Yes in Christ.
Based on God’s faithfulness, it’s reasonable to trust that God will do the same thing in the future. Paul is basically saying, “I don’t know the details of how this will work out, but I have full confidence that God won’t fail.” It’s because Paul has an eternal view of things.
Paul also has confidence that he will not be ashamed. When we think of shame, we probably imagine embarrassment in front of others, or maybe shame over sin. On an earthly level, Paul is shamed by others. People have accused him, tried to afflict him, and embarrassed him. They chided his belief in the gospel, they made fun of his lack of eloquent preaching. If Paul only has his temporal circumstances in mind, that’s not a great reason for confidence. The same thing will happen to us. If we profess faith in Christ, we are prone to shame and embarrassment too. Maybe a family member thinks your belief in the God of the Bible is silly. Maybe a co-worker shames you for holding such archaic views on gender and sexuality. These are the marks that will not last. It’s like running your car or truck through a mud puddle. It looks pretty bad but none of that causes any lasting damage. It will all wipe away easily.
When Paul speaks here of not being ashamed, he doesn’t mean this kind of earthly shame. That kind of shame is possible, but it won’t last. He has a deeper, lasting version of unashamed in mind. He is more concerned about avoiding the ultimate shame of God’s wrath.
The Old Testament is filled with people being ashamed. And it’s usually God shaming people concerning their sin and idolatry. This does not mean that the people always experienced shame, but that was God’s view of them. As a result, they faced God’s divine punishment.
This is the kind of shame Paul is thinking about. While we have all worshipped idols, we have all rebelled against God’s holiness, but Christ’s death satisfied the wrath our idolatrous shame deserved.
Isa 45:16 All of them are put to shame and confounded;
the makers of idols go in confusion together.
17 But Israel is saved by the LORD
with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
to all eternity.
With full courage, Paul is again pointing to his confidence in the promise of the gospel. Paul’s trust in salvation worked through the Holy Spirit will not disappoint in the end. He will not face God’s judgment; he will experience eternal life with Christ and any earthly embarrassments and shame will all be forgotten at the day of Jesus Christ. This confidence gives him a greater purpose and drive to his life. We see this the next point: An Urgent Life.
II. An urgent life (21-24)
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
It’s one of the most famous verses in the Bible. In Paul’s circumstances, he is faced with the reality of death. It’s not a situation that is imminent for us. I don’t know of anyone facing this kind of persecution in this country. How do we make sense of this verse in our context? How do we relate to Paul or the Philippians? How do we relate to the Philippians? We aren’t faced with certain persecution. Death for us is not immanent in the way it was for Paul. Any of the Philippians who identified with Paul in the gospel faced the same risks. At this point in our culture we do not face death because of our faith in the gospel.
But we will all face death someday and living our lives with urgency means we are better prepared when we do face death. We don’t like to talk about death, but Kids, I want you to think about this: you will die someday. It might come in an accident. It might be a prolonged fight with cancer or other illness. It might be in the context as a missionary. It might be at the prospect of persecution someday. Whatever the circumstances, we all face the same reality. The reality that unless Jesus comes back first, we will all die someday. So the question for us is how are we going to live?
Paul has already laid out the source of his hope: salvation is certain. So now, as he faces the reality of death in prison, he compares his two options.
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.
The math goes like this: if he stays here, he can continue in ministry that will honor Christ’s name. Writing, preaching, discipling people in his churches.
If his imprisonment and trial lead to death, it will be clear that he died in the name of Christ. And even better, he will be with Christ. To die is gain-departing and being with Christ immediately. And here’s a sidenote: There’s no purgatory, there’s no waiting to enter into the joy of his master. When Paul, or anyone else with faith in Christ, dies, they will see Christ immediately.
Because of Christ, Paul can say death is truly better. Can we say that with Paul? Or are we too comfortable with the things of this world? Do we desire Christ above all things? What are the things that you have built up as more significant than Christ?
Can you imagine yourself faced with the choice of life and death? Does it seem like a really hard thing to be willing to choose death for the sake of Christ? This seems hard. Maybe impossible.
The truth is, that it is impossible. You can’t do any of this in your own power and neither could Paul. Apart from faith in the gospel, we have no natural desire for the things of God. We don’t want to be with Christ in life or in death. Even after belief in the gospel, it’s still only possible through the power that the Spirit of Christ supplies. It’s the Spirit who illuminates God’s Word and shows us the glory of Christ. It’s the Spirit’s work to apply the gospel to our hearts. It’s the Spirit’s power that enables us to worship Christ properly.
If you struggle to have this mindset, here are two suggestions:
First, look at Christ. As Murray McCheyne once said, “for every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”Specifically, look to Jesus’ death instead of your own. When Christ was faced with death, he asked the Father to remove the Cup. And then he died to his desires by going to the cross. He died the death we deserve, in order that we would get life instead. Through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we get the certain hope of eternal life with Christ.
Look at the glorious Christ Hymn in chapter 2. We’ll be there in a few weeks Lord, willing. That’s the mountain of glory where we will find our bearings. Study and meditate on what Jesus has done on our behalf. Use the gospel to help you weigh eternal joys versus temporal delights.
Second, think about heaven. God gives us good things. But even in those good gifts, they are corrupted this side of heaven. Don’t forget that everything, even a brilliant vacation, a piece of technology that makes life easier or grilling on a warm summer night, is still under the curse. It’s not perfect until we see Jesus.
Paul expresses his desires as well. To depart and be with Christ is far better. If it was only up to Paul, he would choose death and the immediate prospect of seeing Jesus in his glory. But Paul, like Jesus, denied his desires in order to do what was most necessary. For Jesus that meant death, for Paul that meant life.
Because salvation is certain, Paul can’t lose. If he dies through his imprisonment, he gets Christ immediately. He will die for the name of Christ, brining honor to Christ.
There is no other explanation for Paul’s outlook and joy than trust in the gospel. When the world looks one way and thinks one way, the gospel comes along and changes everything including the way we think about our lives. Because Paul can have this kind of perspective, he will live with an urgency to make his life count for Christ. That brings us to the final point.
III. A discipling life (25-26)
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.
In the end, despite Paul’s personal desires, he looks for the way that Christ will be most honored. In other words, how can I give Jesus the most glory? And Paul realizes that this is by remaining in this world and living for Christ. More specifically this means continuing in his ministry to the Philippians.
Paul’s resolve to life in a Christ-honoring way means he will work to make disciples. We’ve already seen this theme in the book a few times. Paul sees the Philippians as partners in ministry. Paul’s role is to help the Philippians grow in fruitfulness.
The word progress used here is the same word ‘advance’ in verse 12. The Gospel is advancing so that people will believe and be saved. But it is also causing individual’s faith to progress. Remaining in the flesh means Paul wants to help the Philippians grown in their faith towards greater maturity. The idea in these verses goes like this: Paul hopes to see an increase in the Philippian’s faith, which leads to greater joy. And as they find greater joy, they will glory in Christ.
Paul’s desire to help others take up their crosses and follow Christ. Paul is prepared to die, and now he will help others prepare to die as well.
The result is people glorying in Christ. Which is another way of saying, bragging or boasting about Jesus. A Christ honoring life is one that brags about Jesus. Think about the things you might brag about now. Not that Minnesotans would actually brag, but inside you want to. It might be your family or your job title. The projects you complete at your house or your car. How much you know or the books you’ve read. It might be something even more trivial like your Instagram account or your Fantasy Football team. Can you consider the ways you could brag about Christ? That’s the shift Paul wants the Philippians to take in their perspective. Ultimately, Paul’s efforts to help disciple the Philippians means a stronger church. And a stronger church is prepared to life all of life in a Christ-honoring way. We are called to live in the same way. That we would be better prepared for suffering and death and we would want Christ more than anything else this world can offer.
It won’t be a waste. We won’t be ashamed. And we will have more joy.
I started with some questions and I’m going to end with another. This is the first question from the Heidelberg Catechism:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
Grace, death is better. Only a Christian can say that and it be true. There might be some who find no meaning in life and think death would be better. Some might believe death would bring greater enlightenment or reincarnation. But apart from Christ, death brings nothing but shame and eternal judgment. Everyone else is afraid of death and fights hard to cling to life for as long as they can.
If I haven’t said this clearly, here it is again: Only Jesus Christ brings certainty. If you don’t know what will happen when you die, trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. And you can have the same certainty that Paul had. If you do trust in Christ, you have certainty now. And in the power of the Spirit of Christ and the prayers of one another, this will lead to greater joy and more glory to Christ.