“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 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. 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 boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.”
Paul led an interesting life. Never a dull moment. From 2 Corinthians 11 we read that he was beaten on five separate occasions with thirty-nine lashes of a whip, caned three times, stoned once (and thought by those administering the punishment to be dead), shipwrecked three times, often under threat, weary, hungry and thirsty, cold and naked. Paul never rested but traveled on and on preaching the Gospel, telling people of the wonder of God’s grace, encouraging the Church to press on in following the Lord.
Here in his letter to the Philippians he writes of the circumstance in which he finds himself. He is imprisoned. Scholars argue (since Paul faced detention and arrest many times in his ministry) about where Paul was when he wrote to the church in Philippi. Some think it was Rome, others say he was in Ephesus and still others believe it was Caesarea. It doesn’t really matter. We know he was “in chains” (meaning either that he was literally bound or that he was being prevented from free movement). Paul’s fervour for the Lord and his passion for Christ lead him, even while in confinement, to proclaim the “Good News” about Jesus. He states, “it is clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” We can, if fact, be grateful for his confinement, as this is probably the one thing that slowed Paul down enough physically to write letters to the Church, which we enjoy reading even to this day (some 1 950 years after he first penned them).
Paul rejoices that Christ is being preached. The Philippians had probably written to him telling him that there were those who were “evangelising” with impure motives. They were advocating Christ not from a place of love and compassion, but from selfish ambition. They saw the status Paul was given, the regard in which he was held in the Church, the attention he received when orating in the marketplace. They thought, perhaps, to usurp Paul while he was in prison, to garnish the affection he received from the Church. Paul tells the Philippians that their motives do not matter. What is important is that the Gospel is being preached. God can use even impure motives to advance His kingdom.
And Paul finishes this portion of his letter to them in which he talks about himself, by stating that because of who God is and because Paul knows His goodness, he can trust God completely. He knows he will be delivered. He goes on to say, he does not know what that deliverance will look like. He may be released so that he can continue to preach the Gospel and encourage the Church. He may be put to death and so trust that the Lord will use his death to further the work of God. He has no fear. Whether he lives and continues to proclaim Christ or he dies and goes to be with the Lord, he trusts God. And he records these most precious words: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
What a challenge for me! Can I say this? Can I proclaim that for me to LIVE is CHRIST and that to DIE is GAIN? We are told in the Church from a young age that when we die we go to live with the Lord, and that this heavenly life will be filled with joy and peace. We are comforted when faced with the passing of our dearest that they have entered into eternal rest. So we assume that to die is to gain, even if we still fear the cessation of our time on Earth. But Paul is not placating us. He is saying that to truly live here on this planet we must live in Christ, walking with Him, knowing Him. That real joy is found in the journey with our Saviour. And that after this pilgrimage, death will usher us into an even deeper and richer life with Him.
If I haven’t known the richness of life in Christ during my sojourn here, if I haven’t lived in the joy of the Lord, if I haven’t been a channel of His mercy and grace, if I haven’t abandoned myself to His love, how can I see death as a gain?
It is difficult to trust someone we do not know. And if we know someone is completely trustworthy, we can completely trust them. Paul knows Jesus. Paul has unreservedly surrendered himself to God. He is “all in!”
How about me? Am I dipping my big toe into the pool, flirting with the idea of going in? Or am I plunging into this adventure with Christ with everything I’ve got?
For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Death unto Life.