Philippians 1:19-26 Progress and Joy in Christ WC McCarter
What do you do with a person like Paul? He doesn’t care if someone preaches from an impure heart or a pure heart as long as they are preaching Christ. In life or in death he is satisfied. If he continues to live, he will minister to the body of Christ. If he dies, he is confident that it will be gain! He doesn’t care what anyone does to him or thinks of him, he is only focused on benefiting the church: for progress and joy. What do you do with a Christian like Paul? You cannot stop his Gospel progress, and you cannot take away his joy. I can only hope to follow his pattern of following Christ.
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Expectation and Hope of Salvation (19-20)
If we pick up where Jim left off last week in verse 18, we can see that today’s passage is bookended by the theme of rejoicing. In verse 19, we must first determine what “this” refers to. Remember some of the background to this letter. While Paul was in Jerusalem, there was a great uprising among the Jews against him because of his Christian preaching, and the apostle was arrested. Although he was going to be freed, as a Roman citizen, he decided to employ his right to appeal to Caesar to have his case heard. So, he was imprisoned for some time. While in prison, Paul wrote some letters (including Philippians), he was ministered to by some Christians, he was even able to penetrate the Roman guard and some in Caesar’s house with the Gospel, and there was, of course, personal opposition to him. Some were preaching the Gospel in a way that would sway people away from Paul and to themselves. They did not like Paul. Yet, Paul says, in essence, that as long as they are preaching Christ, he does not care about their personal feelings about himself. Therefore, the “this” of verse 19 refers to his imprisonment and opposition.
The “deliverance” of v19 is apparently ultimate salvation. Some have seen here the idea that Paul believed that he would get out of prison and return again to ministry among the people, but he uses eternally-charged words about this “deliverance.” The word translated here as “deliverance” is same word that is translated everywhere else in the New Testament as “salvation.” He talks about his “earnest expectation and hope” along with “death and life.”
The ultimate salvation that Paul was so confident in was not because of a reliance on himself. Paul viewed his salvation as being accomplished by two means of cooperation: through (1) the Philippians’ prayer and (2) the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Paul, the Philippians, and Christ were bound together in a special way. The Philippians (and others) were with him and supporting him through prayer, and Christ was with him through the Spirit.
Commentators tell us that these two words, “expectation” and “hope,” are so closely related that they can combine to mean something like, “hope-filled expectation” (Fee, 135). Hope is not merely wishfulness for the Christian; it is “the highest degree of certainty about the future” (Fee, 135). I think Paul means a then-and-now type of understanding. Ultimately, Paul would not be ashamed; so why should he be ashamed in the present? If he knows his future is sure in Christ, what worries does he have in the present? If all things are his in the next age, what does he have to lose in this age? You see, Christians are to live with an eternal perspective. We are willing to sacrifice our lives now—our time, our energy, our resources—because we know that we have been given eternal life. We have no fear because we have a confident hope. Our futures are sure, not because we can rely on ourselves, but because we rely on our God. We will not be ashamed on Judgment Day because Christ’s righteousness is ours. And if we will not be ashamed then, we certainly have no fear of shame now.
The word “boldness” (or “courage” in the NIV), actually conveys the meanings of “openness” and “public” (Fee, 137). It is boldness of speech in the presence of others. Through Paul’s imprisonment and defense of the Gospel, he will boldly and publicly reveal Christ to be glorious. Paul refers to his witness as in the “body.” He knows full-well that his imprisonment is physical. He knows that his future is a life or death issue. He could face the death penalty. But Paul’s resolution is to be a public witness to the wonders of Christ whether he goes free or is condemned to death.
To Live and to Die (21-24)
With that, Paul launches into a discussion of what it means to live and to die. Christians are those who have a unique view of life and death. We are not those who have no hope after death. We are not those who fear death. We do not look forward to death as if we are happy about the way things have gone in this age and are happy to suffer to consequence of sin, which is death, but we know that God has bought for us the gift of eternal life. And, life in eternity will not be like it is here—there will be no sin, sorrow, suffering, Satan, or any of the like. We will enjoy God’s presence forevermore.
Paul lived by faith and not by sight. He lived under the control of the knowledge of the grace of Jesus Christ. Someone who lives by that knowledge can say, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That was his faith. That is our faith, although we may be weak in it from time to time. Unshaken faith says “life or death means Christ for me!” Christ is the end-all-and-be-all. We must treasure Him above all else in this life and in death.
The “but” in verse 22 supports the understanding of “deliverance” to mean ultimate salvation. Paul was not sure if he would live or die. He was not sure if he would be freed. Yet, he did know one thing—if he was freed and continued on in the flesh (the body) he would continue to labor for Christ thus producing more fruit.
If Paul was given the choice, to continue to live and minister or die and receive his reward, he would not know what to choose. How do you choose between the two? Both life and death were attractive to him! Paul knew that to depart meant to be with Christ and that is “far better.” Yet, he also knew that he could be of use to the Philippians and countless other Christians. In the midst of a life and death situation Paul was concerned about the church; he was concerned about the brethren and not himself. Paul has an understanding that death gives way to life. For a Christian to die here is to be present with the Lord, to depart is to be with Christ. Thankfully, God is the only One who knows the outcome of our situations. If we were to choose, what a miserable amount of pressure we would experience!
There is no doubt that Paul was a highly valuable asset to the spiritual development of the Christians in Philippi and many other places. It was needful for Paul to continue on in the flesh so that he could minister to the churches.
Progress and Joy (25-26)
Paul has left room for an unfavorable outcome in the preceding verses, but states in verse 25 that it was his personal conviction that he would have a favorable outcome. He had no prophetic utterance from God and he had no vision from God, but he knew that he had much left to accomplish for the sake of the Gospel. He knew that the Philippians and others could use his service.
Paul wanted three things for the Philippian believers, and I think it is extended to any church including us:
1. Progress of Faith (remember “progress of Gospel” in verse 12)
2. Joy of Faith (quality of the experience of the Christian life)
3. Abundant Rejoicing in Jesus Christ (joy = rejoicing)
Conclusion and Christian Application
I use to love watching horror movies, but now I really have no taste for them. Most of them are grimy and inappropriate anyway. But, you know, I never was really scared of them. There was usually the element of surprise, but there was no real fear. I’ll tell you what kind of movies have always brought out fear in me—the kind where things are out of a person’s control, for example, when the government threatens a person and there’s no way of escape. I’ve often thought about what it will be like for Christians in the future, especially for Christian ministers. To be honest, I’ve had moments of anxiety. Yet, I think about a passage like this where Paul shares his thoughts on things outside of his control. Rather than breaking down in fear and shame, he rises up with great boldness in his witness to the message of Christ. There is nothing you can do with Paul. He is satisfied in life or in death. In life he will serve the cause of Christ, and in death he will witness to the cause of Christ. No matter the circumstances, he trusts Christ for the future. That is bold. That is brave. That is confident. That is faith. That is what I want for myself and all of you.
(1) Joy is a key theme in this passage and the whole book. What kind of joy do you have? Is your joy in Christ, or would you rather take pleasure in other things? There is only one kind of joy that is everlasting. There is only one kind of joy that will actually satisfy you fully.
(2) It is easy to pay lip service to things like hope in God, glorifying Christ, and Christian service, but do our lives line up with those confessions?
(3) Are you growing in your faith and joy? What kind of progress has been made in your faith? Think about the last year of your life, for example, how have you grown? This is the apostolic purpose. Progress is what Christ wants for your life and for our church. I have made it my mission in life to facilitate Christian progress. A growing church is not one that is necessarily gaining more and more people (although, we are called to make disciples of the nations). A growing church is one that is constantly pushing forward in the faith. I hope we make lots of progress in the years to come.