Philippians (05): To Live is Christ
Philippians 1:21–30 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 1:22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 1:23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 1:24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 1:25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 1:26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. 1:27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 1:28 in no way alarmed by your opponents — which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 1:29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 1:30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
Dying in Living and Living in Dying vv 21-26 - As we come to the end of Phil. 1, we have seen how Paul’s circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. In vv 21-29 we see how he maintained his faith in the face of a martyr’s death. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul kept an eternal perspective knowing that in living he would serve Christ and in dying as a martyr he would have the great gain of immediately being in the presence Christ. Yet, he conveyed that he was persuaded that he would remain and continue, meaning that he would be released from prison. It is not clear from history whether he was released for a time or not. Keeping an eternal perspective frees us from the tyranny of circumstantial trials.
Unity in Striving and Striving for Unity vv 27-28 Paul’s motivation in living is for others. It was “for your progress and joy in the faith” v 26. In the same way he knew that their greatest joy was in the fruit of following Christ, too. “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” They struggled with doing this, just as believers do today. They needed the encouragement of unity: “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith” v27. Not only that, their unity was being compromised by opponents, probably Judaizers (ch. 3) or unbelievers that were distressed about the economic or political matters being affected by the growth of the church (remember, the delivered slave girl, and the uproar in Ephesus by pagans). As they are granted courage from God to stand firm in their struggles then this is a sign of “sign of destruction for [their opponents], but of salvation for you.” Our unity in the gospel signals strength to our opponents and our disunity signals weakness.
The Faithful Get Going and Going Get Suffering vv 29-30 - As they stand for the gospel of grace, the church faces persecution. Just as Paul faced persecution, so now his disciples were experiencing “the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing” (v30 NET). Paul had been granted faith by the vision of Christ on the Damascus road. But that’s not all. He had this commission: “...he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16). The Philippians had been “granted faith” sovereignly by God. In this God also granted them opportunities of suffering for His sake. The sovereign gift of our faith requires endurance through suffering.
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more