Series on Philippians, II Paul’s Situation and Attitude, C To Live is Christ and to Die Is Gain, Text: 1:18b-26, Title: By Life or By Death


This passage is the ultimate experience of being between a rock and a hard place. One writer has paraphrased Paul as saying, “I am hemmed in, as it were, a wall on this side and a wall on that.” Verses 21-26, To live or to die, that is the choice. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Not many of us are looking at life this way. In fact our whole society is preoccupied with living longer in this present evil age. How can you be younger, look younger and live longer is the mantra of our culture. Just think about the whole debate over stem cell research. I am reminded of the old adage that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. One hundred years ago multitudes died of diseases we can now easily cure. My own grandfather died of angina pectoris. In those days there were no operations on the heart that would help. So now we all hope to live forever in this dreadful fallen world. But we have the wrong definition of life. It’s that simple. Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. He that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live. Our yardstick is bent and cannot measure life correctly, but Paul did and I hope you can too. I won’t ask you to raise your hands, but how many of us here today prefer death to life? Consider Paul’s testimony.

I Deliverance

What deliverance is Paul talking about? The old King James Version has the word salvation, but that is confusing as if his salvation depended on their prayers. Paul would never say that. His salvation was certain through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Was he talking about being delivered from his present imprisonment? He seems to suggest that in verse 25. However, in the light of all that he says here it really makes no difference. The whole point of this passage is that release from prison, or death have the same significance to Paul. He is trusting that God’s will will be fulfilled through the prayers of the Philippian believers and he is exhorting them to pray.

II Determination

Paul has a single motivation. Last week I mentioned Jim Elliott who was martyred in Ecuador in 1956 at the age of 29. He was an athlete and a scholar with enormous potential but he wrote in his college journal “Father, if thou wilt let me go to South America to labor with thee and to die, let me go soon.” Do you think he believed verse 20, I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death? When Paul says he wishes Christ to be exalted in his body, he is talking about his human identity. If he lives he will continue to serve the Lord, and if he dies he will continue to serve the Lord. Both Jim Elliot and Paul believed the same thing. They did not believe in some effervescent spiritual existence after death. They were not Hindus who believed in Nirvana and absorption into the infinite. Paul clearly believed in the resurrection of the body about which he writes extensively in I Corinthians 15.  Neither did he believe we become angels when we die. Angels are spirits without bodies although they may sometimes appear in bodily form. Years ago an elder’s wife asked me if we become angels when we die. It’s amazing how many people think this way, as you can see if you read the memorials on the obituary page. Paul prays that Christ will be glorified in his BODY whether now or then, either in humiliation or glorification. Truly, for him to live was Christ and to die was gain.

III Devotion

There are two levels of devotion here. First we have Paul’s devotion to Christ in service, then. we have his devotion to the people that he has evangelized as we were reminded in verses 25 and 26,  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. This is what creates his dilemma. Do you notice the absence of anxiety and worry? He is not anxious about his own destiny. He writes to Timothy that he knows whom he has believed and that God is able to keep what he has committed unto him against that final day. But neither does he worry about those who are left behind. We can take this and apply it to our own lives. It is our own insecurities that inhibit our devotion. I remember R.C. Sproul in one of his lectures on Christian marriage stating that money is one of the primary factors in disturbing marital bliss. He says he does not care if there is enough money to buy a new car, or a new set of golf clubs, but he worries about whether he has provided sufficiently for his family if he dies. Don’t we all? Jesus words in Matthew 6: 25-30 echo in our ears, Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

IV Decision

His decision is to remain. This is the least attractive of the alternatives. It means more suffering and difficulty; more hunger and thirst; more beatings; more imprisonment. However he sees the need to do it. The fulfillment of that need will bring joy as he states in verses 18b and 19,  And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. This is the kind of joy that brings the springs of eternity into the arid desert of our sad and sour existence. Because of Paul’s willingness to endure and persevere, joy will come. Have you ever thought about your life that way? I do not compare our sufferings to Paul’s or any other martyrs as if they were equal. However, we all face a decision to remain or depart. Are we ready to stay in spite of difficulty. Sadly, hundreds of children in disadvantaged or disfunctional families end their lives each year by suicide. They are trying to escape, even without a real hope. Christians in despair sometimes do the same. The issue is are we ready to stay and bring joy?


So ultimately our decision to live or die, if we have that choice, pales in the face of why we live or die.  How do we live to glorify Christ? How do we die to glorify Christ? That is the question.