Philippians 1:18-21 Devotional
Philippians 1:18-21. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 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. 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. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Reflection. Few verses in the entire Bible are as familiar to Christians as Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Unfortunately the rich meaning of that verse is often abandoned, along with its context, in favour of a vague and pietistic meaning. But context either side of the verse informs us how we should read it. For starters, Paul is soberly facing the possibility of death, writing, “whether by life or by death” (1:20). However, many preachers today peddle a victorious Christianity, free from suffering and struggles, because they have not understood that to die and be with Christ is better by far (1:23).
One result of failing to recognise that death is gain, is the inability to make life about Christ. If we are overly concerned about this life, our comforts, the pursuit of experiences, and getting as much as we can, then to live is not Christ. It is self. But when we know that Christ is of surpassing worth (3:8), in the present, then we can be sure that to be even truer in death. It is only when Christ is greater than our own lives that we will be able to lose them for him and in service of his people. If death is truly gain we can live for Christ.
Another thing worth noticing is that that while Paul rejoices in both the Philippians’ prayers for him and God’s provision of the Spirit (1:18-19), the “deliverance” he is confident about is not necessarily release from prison (1:19), or escaping death (1:20). For Paul’ ultimate hope was Christ’s glory (1:20). If Paul were to be executed he desires and hopes that Christ will be exalted through it. Read that last sentence again. Such an outlook flies in the face of conventional wisdom and worldly preaching but it reveals an understanding that to live is Christ.
Paul was in a desperate spot. In his situation we would also be desperate, though most likely for God to change our circumstances. But do we believe that Christ can be glorified and exalted through our circumstances, in our suffering, because of our struggles, even in the way we die? Do you share that similar desperation, a longing to glorify Christ with your life? “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” (1:20).
Surprisingly Paul never says if he prayed for release, though we might assume he did. However, what he demonstrates for us is part of what, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” really means. Far from being a platitude or mystical mantra it is a declaration of wholehearted devotion to Christ and others, ahead of oneself (2:3-4). Paul was convinced of his glorious hope, to be with Christ in death. Therefore he was happy to spend his life, even to the point of death, for the glory of Christ.