Our text for today comes from Philippians 1:19-26. These are the words of God:
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.
We pray that as this Scripture is preached that we would receive it by faith, not as the word of a man, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, for we ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Paul is awaiting a trial that could result in his beheading, and yet this passage is full of joy and hope. Paul’s hope of release does not rest in the strength of his case, but rather in the prayers of the Saints and the supply of the Spirit. He’ll either be loosed from prison or from his head, but either will be a deliverance of sorts. (Job 13:16) In other words, Paul is saying, “All of this shall turn out, as it did with Job, for my vindication.” (v. 19)
His concern at the moment is the trial, specifically, that he’ll proclaim Christ with frankness. If he’s going to be executed, he wants to make sure it’s for the right reason. Even the execution block will become a pulpit if Paul can do anything about it. (v. 20)
“To live – Christ. To die – gain” Christ is the foundation and the roof. The car and the destination. The center and the boundary. In 3:8 Paul says, “Whatever gain I had, I now count as loss for the sake of knowing Christ.” (v. 21)
Paul didn’t have a choice in whether he would live or die, he’s explaining why either option has its own advantages. So, why would anyone choose execution? Only if they knew that death equals deliverance. Nevertheless, he’s pulled back into this life for the sake of the progress of the Philippians in the gospel. (v. 22-24)
Paul’s life is bound up with the Great Commission of Christ; to make disciples of all people, baptize them, and teach them to obey all of Christ’s commands. That’s why Paul lived and died; for nothing less than the salvation and joy of the nations. (v. 25-26)
Now, remember, Paul might be dead in a few days. Look at how he reacts to the possibility of his death. He’s preaching boldly. He’s writing a letter to encourage the saints. He’s not coming unglued. Why? In his passage, as we look at Paul’s reaction to his possible death, we actually learn how we too can face our death with joy and hope.
You have to face reality; use the resources God gives and die before you die.
Someone once said that the hub of our modern life is that we’re all trying to avoid fixation. (Zygmunt Bauman). In other words, modern people have surrounded themselves with shallow distractions, snap judgments, and a culture of immediacy in order to avoid reality.
And, here Paul is, fixated on his own death. He’s doing the worst thing you can do in a conversation: start talking about your own death. The Bible is a book that faces reality. It forces us to face the impolite truths of existence we’re constantly trying to avoid and suppress. If you read this book, it will shake you and wake you up. It’s like smelling salts that sober you up to reality.
James Jones, who wrote the Thin Red Line, fought on Guadalcanal, and here’s what he said: “Only when a soldier has made a compact with fate can he fully function. When you know you’re going to die every day has a special, bright, delicious, poignant taste to it that normal days in normal times don’t have.”
Paul’s saying, “Only when you’ve faced the reality of your own death can you fully function.” Do you want to taste the sweetness in life? Do you want to be useful in life? Do you want to do something worth doing? You never will if you don’t face reality.
USE THE RESOURCES GOD GIVES
You don’t immediately see it, but in verse 19, Paul tells you three resources God gives you that empowers you to face uncertainty and even death. Here they are: the Saints, the Spirit & the Scriptures.
First, the Saints. Paul says that the prayers of the saints are working for his deliverance. We don’t have much time to go into this, but let me impress upon you the utter necessity of the prayers of others: We live in the midst of a people who hate prayer and see it as a way to shirk responsibility. They see only physical problems. We, however, understand that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of darkness.
It was more than craven religious leaders who wanted Paul’s head on a plate. To the degree that you discern the war you are in, you will pray. If the Apostle Paul, who had far more confidence in Christ than we have, needed the prayers of the saints, how much more do we?
Second, the supply of the Spirit of Christ. This title, which is rare, calls our attention to a unique aspect of the Spirit’s work; that this is the same Spirit who indwelt Christ Jesus from his conception, through his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The same Spirit who empowered Christ to trust God in the face of suffering has been given to you.
Third, the Scriptures. Not only does Paul have the supply of the Spirit; he also has the encouragement of the living Word of God. Paul knew the Scriptures as well as anyone—and there in a Roman prison, what’s his mind focused on? The Old Testament book of Job. Job’s one of the oldest books in the OT. It’s a large book (42 chapters). Job is the innocent sufferer par excellence in the Old Testament. And Paul has gone back to the center of the book and remembered the words of chapter 13:
15 Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my ways to his face.
16 This will turn out for my deliverance
On the cross, when the wrath of God against sin was coming down on Christ the Son—what was he doing? Quoting the Scriptures. If the Son of God needed the Scriptures to face death, what makes you think you can go a single day without leaning on the Word of God?
There they are. Three resources—and you have to use them all or you won’t make it.
DIE BEFORE YOU DIE
If you’ve ever had the chance to sit with someone who is dying, and they’ve learned through the decades to trust Christ and to rest in Christ… sitting there with them as they’re dying can actually be unnerving, and here’s why: you find that you are more afraid than they are. You’re more anxious, they’re relaxed. You’re coming apart and they’re composed and even joyful. What’s going on?
C.S. Lewis wrote a novel called Till We Have Faces. It’s the story of a young princess who is told by her father that she has to wear a veil at his second wedding because she’s too ugly to be seen. She’s so devastated by this that she wears the veil for the rest of her life. Her pain drives her on a mad quest to find someone who will love her, and in the process, she becomes so possessive and controlling she devours everyone she’s looking to for love. And at the end of the novel, when she’s about to kill herself she hears the voice of God telling her: “Die before you die. There is no chance after.”
What does it mean when Paul says, “To die is gain?” It means when faced with the possibility of death, he’s able to look death in the face and say, “I’ve already died.” In Christ, all that was in me died. All my sin was buried, all my pride, my fear, my possessiveness, my bitterness. They were all laid in the grave long ago.”
Christ has died and I died in him. Christ was cut off, and my sin was cut off in him. Death can no longer be the period at the end of the sentence, but only a comma leading to eternal chapters of glory.
“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity)