A Study of the Book of
“Facing the Eternal”
In 1799, Conrad Reed discovered a seventeen-pound rock while fishing in Little Meadow Creek. Not knowing what it was made of, his family used it as a doorstop for three years. In 1802, his father, John Reed, took it to a jeweler who identified it as a lump of gold worth about $3,600. That lump of gold, which was used as a doorstop for three years in North Carolina, is one of the biggest gold nuggets ever found east of the Rockies.
One man sees a doorstep, another man sees opportunity – today we will discover that our relationship with Jesus changes how we see the world and enables us to face the eternal with boldness and excitement.
Honoring Christ in How We Live (vv. 12-18a)
My Reaction to Circumstances (vv. 12-14)
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
(v. 12) Paul has talked about the church’s and his own partnership in advancing the gospel, and it may appear as though the advancement had been hindered since he is imprisoned; but here he explains that his imprisonment, “has really served to advance the gospel.”
(1) “His chains could easily be viewed as a tragic end to a brilliant career, a restriction of a gifted apostle, and an outrageous injustice against a Roman citizen. Instead of being led by his chains to a negative outlook, Paul used them to lead his guards to the knowledge of Christ.” Paul said, “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard.”
It may seem, “like a setback to Paul’s agenda to carry the gospel to places where Jesus’ name has not been heard. In fact, however, this restriction of Paul’s mobility has opened doors for the gospel into the halls of power to which he could never have gained access as a free agent!”
(2) Another reason as to why his imprisonment was not stopping the spread of the gospel, was how it was affecting other believers. The chains that held Paul were inspiring others to share the gospel, they “are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” Paul didn’t stop speaking about Jesus no matter where he was.
Paul was not bound to the guards, they were bound to him – he never ceased telling them about Jesus. His example led “most of the brothers” – not some, or a few, but most of the church were emboldened to share about Jesus. There was a remarkable increase in the bold proclamation of these believers. They are doing the very thing that caused Paul to be arrested.
For this church, it took the imprisonment of Paul to embolden them – what would it take for the church in America to become emboldened to share about Jesus? What would it take to shake us from our apathy and comfort? Courage is contagious.
There once was a man who bragged that he had cut off the tail of a man-eating lion with his pocket knife. Asked why he hadn’t cut off the lion’s head, the man replied: “Someone had already done that.”
When we find ourselves “chained” to what appears to the world to be a disadvantage, this may actually be God’s plan, and may actually be an advantage to do what God has called us to do. We may not be chained to the world, the world may find itself chained to us.
My Motive For Ministering (vv. 15-18)
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Then among those who are emboldened to speak about Jesus, to share His word, Paul mentions two groups; but they are both Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ. “They are not wolves in sheep’s clothing; they are not pseudo-Christians.” Both of the groups preach about Jesus – they both have the same message. What divides them is how each group thinks about Paul.
There were preachers who were motivated by love (especially toward Paul) and the preachers motivated by selfish ambition. The second group wanted Paul to suffer, or for him to be troubled. Their preaching, though true in content, was actually a façade, a pretense, for their envious, self-seeking desire to hurt Paul. With Paul being in prison, and their competition removed, now these preachers could attract a crowd larger than Paul – and they believed that this would cause Paul anguish.
There are some people who believe that everything is a zero-sum game. “a situation that involves two sides, where the result is an advantage for one side and an equivalent loss for the other. In other words, player one’s gain is equivalent to player two’s loss, with the result that the net improvement in benefit of the game is zero.” This group of envy-driven preachers believed that in order for them to win in ministry, they have to do better than Paul. Paul is imprisoned, they are able to have more converts, they win.
These two groups cause us to ask the question – why are we engaged in ministry? Is it to bring glory to God and partner with other Christians to expand the kingdom? Or is about building our own little kingdom, our name, our reputation? Does it matter who gets the credit?
Honor Christ in Life or by Death (vv. 18b-26)
Yes, and I will rejoice, 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.
(18b) Paul says that he “will rejoice” (this is pointing to the future) regardless of whether it leads to life or death. Whether he is executed or released, Paul is determined to rejoice. His circumstances “drove him to prayer, but it did not drive him to despair.” Paul’s desire is to honor Christ, above anything else (life, reputation, being slandered, freedom, etc.)
We see this same idea in Job 13:15-16 “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. 16 This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him.”
Paul is convinced that two things will lead to his deliverance from prison, “through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” – Because of their prayers, Paul is filled with joy rather than anxiety. A better way of thinking of “the help of the Spirit,” would be God’s “provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” In that time this same word is used in marriage contracts, where a husband provides for material needs of his wife. In this text the provision of the Spirit from God is not something the Spirit gives, but the provision is the Spirit.
Luke 11:13 “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Paul is not going to be in prison alone, he is not going to stand trial alone, If he is sentenced to die, then he will not die alone – Paul has the provision of the Spirit with him (because of the prayers of the saints).
Jesus Is With Me Now
(v. 20) When Paul says, “ . . . I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored” his shame is not in his own reputation, but in this circumstance, this trial, he does not want to misstep or say or do something that will corrupt the gospel – he is a defender of the gospel. His shame would be if he failed to do this. He wants above all things that Christ would be honored.
In order for this to happen, he needs “full courage”— Paul believes (v. 19), “for I know” that there is coming a day, when he will stand before the powers that be, and he will give an apologetic, a defense, an explanation of the gospel of Jesus – there will be an opportunity when he will have a forum to share the gospel – and when that day comes, he wants Christ to be honored. He will need full courage. Paul’s witness may cause his execution.
(v. 21) “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – In the previous verse Paul is talking about not being ashamed of how he has brought Christ honor in his defense of the gospel. In the verse after this verse Paul is talking about what he does with his body, the flesh, and he’s talking about fruitful labor.
If Paul remains, then he will be able to experience Christ being present with him “in the flesh,” if he dies then he will experience being with Christ in eternity. Both are experiences of being with Jesus, both are glorious.
“to live is Christ” – Your life as a Christian is not something that you will ever complete on this side of eternity. Every season of our lives is an opportunity to learn and grow as a person – each day is an opportunity to know and serve Jesus.
Jesus Is With Me In Death
One way of looking at Paul saying, “to die is gain,” could mean that this life has many painful experiences, suffering, and burden that have to be carried, so that death would be a release of these things. But this does not line up with the context of that Paul has said, he finds joy in life, as he is centered on Christ.
If Paul is executed because of his witness for Christ, his defense of the gospel, then it is gain because he would have died defending the faith. It is a gain for the gospel. Paul does not list all the painful experiences, instead he says that if he is able to continue to live, then it means “fruitful labor for me,.”
I Will Be With Jesus in Heaven
Paul also tells us that for believers, those that have put their faith in Jesus, “to depart and be with Christ” – or when we die we go to be with Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:8-10 “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” So Jesus is with Paul as he does ministry now, Jesus is with Paul in his moment of death, and Jesus is with Paul in eternity.
The way that we are with Jesus in heaven is different than how we are with him now. Paul says “to die is gain” his whole focus is our relationship with Jesus, so how are things different in heaven and how we relate to Jesus, then here. In heaven our sin is stripped away, our for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is to still have our sin nature and bent toward sin and rebellion.
Paul says in Romans 7:15 “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” In heaven that tug of war between our sinful nature and our glorified nature will be gone. Our relationship with Jesus will be as Paul says, “gain.”
Throughout this passage there are constant opposites of what we would expect; Paul is joyful and excited even though he is imprisoned. The church people are emboldened to share Christ, even though it could mean they would go to prison just like Paul. The persecution didn’t oppress the people, it emboldened them. Paul is not frustrated by people preaching the gospel with wrong motives, he is excited that it is being preached. While we would more than likely be terrified, facing death, Paul can’t make up his mind which is better to live or to die. How do we have this mindset?
Jeremiah 17:7-8 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
When we trust the Lord, He becomes our source of courage and contentment when life is hard. For Paul, his entire life was focused on Jesus and the calling upon his life (he was a church planter and preacher). The world blows its destructive winds arounds us, but we are not basing our joy on circumstances – instead there is a deep connection to Jesus, that gives us joy no matter the circumstances.
Where is Joy Found?
Not in unbelief, Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.” Not in pleasure, Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.” Not in money, Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.” Not in position and fame, Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.” Not in military glory, Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent because, he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.” Where then is real joy found? The answer is simple, in Christ alone.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
 G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdsman Publishing Company, 2009) 69.
 Dennis E. Johnson, Reformed Expository Commentary, Philippians (Pittsburg, New Jersey; P & R Publishing, 1013) 58.
 Originally attributed to Adrian Rogers
 Hansen, 71.
 Hansen, 77.