April 19, 2016
"Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 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. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
Continuing with the same joy he held out in the previous passage, Paul now wants to tell the Philippians about the source of this joy. He starts by mentioning their prayers and the help he sees coming. He says the Spirit of Jesus Christ is going to provide the deliverance he needs to remain with them. But why does he feel this way? Where does he get his confidence from? He gets his confidence from the source and the focus of his joy: Jesus.
He says it’s his eager expectation and hope that Christ will be honored in his body, no matter if he lives or if he dies. This word “honored” could be translated “magnified” or “exalted.” Paul is saying that the way he lives his life and the way he will die is to make Jesus look like his greatest treasure. His life’s mission is simple: to magnify Christ with every second he’s given, full of courage and with zero shame.
But why does he say that dying is gain? How could you magnify Christ when you’re dead?
"If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again."
Paul’s conclusion is that he will remain and continue with Philippi for their progress and joy in the faith. But we’re still faced with the previous question: Although we know that he can honor Jesus through his fruitful labor by helping the Philippians know their Savior, how does he do this in death? He can’t help them when he’s dead, so at first glance it seems like it would be counterintuitive, right?
The key is in the conflict he mentions. He can’t choose between life and death because there’s value in both. In life, he magnifies Christ with every breath and every word—that’s his only goal: Paul will make Jesus known. In death, however, Paul says that he will actually be with Christ, and if he’s completely honest, that’s his ultimate desire. Paul is so in love with Jesus that he sees death as far better than anything the world could possibly offer because in death, he gets to actually be with Christ.
If Paul considered all of the pleasures and joys of this present life—everything good and beautiful we can experience in this world that would be gone once he died—he would give it up in a heartbeat if it meant that he could be with Christ. To Paul, the joy found in this life is a brief and frail shadow compared to the substance and reality of Jesus. Remember, Paul had everything already as a zealous Jew, but whatever gain he had, he counted it as loss for the sake of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:7-8). A life like this is a life shaped by invincible joy. For Paul, death was the exchange of everything in this life for Jesus. And he called that gain.
"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have."
Now with his life’s purpose on the table, Paul commends the Philippians to follow him. He says that no matter what happens to him, they must be united in spirit and mind for the faith of the Gospel. Paul knows that one day he will die and they’ll have to fend for themselves without him, so he’s drawing out what it means for them to magnify Christ—what it means to live a life worthy of the Gospel, a life defined by invincible joy in Jesus.
The context here for the Philippians is that the conflict Paul had experienced years earlier (Acts 16:19-40) is still very real and very present. The Philippians are facing suffering, but he wants them to be confident, because their suffering isn’t an accident. It’s a sober yet hopeful sign from God: If you believe on Jesus Christ you will be saved, if you do not, your own righteousness cannot save you. God is not absent in this suffering; he’s sovereign over it and he will allow us to walk through it at times.
Why? Why would God do this? He does it for the sake of Christ. When the world sees this kind of person—someone who faithfully endures pain and suffering—they want know why. Where does anyone get that kind of joy? How does it happen? Paul says that it only happens when our eyes are on Jesus, because in him we find such reckless love that it’s impossible for us not to honor and magnify him. That’s the power of the Gospel and it can only be found in knowing Jesus Christ.
Is Jesus everything to us? If we lost everything in this life today, would we count it gain? Our lives, our jobs, our homes, our families? It’s a challenging thought. For many of us, that probably doesn’t feel like the case. But Paul doesn’t leave us without hope. He tells his friends in Philippi to let their “manner of life be worthy of the Gospel.” What does that mean?
First, reject the notion that the term “worthy” here means that we’re able to earn the benefits of the Gospel. That’s not what Paul’s saying. To be worthy of the Gospel, means to be made righteous by the blood of Jesus (Philippians 3:9) and to be a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20). We don’t earn this; Jesus already has. He’s made us his very own (Philippians 3:12).
The most important thing in the world is that we see the reckless love of Jesus. We need to be stunned and captivated by it every day—in the Bible, in prayer, and in all that we do. We need to know Jesus. Paul’s radical fixation on Jesus isn’t a trading down for something ‘boring but necessary’ so that he can get to heaven. When Paul says he magnifies Christ, it’s because he sees Jesus how he ought to be seen and the sight is completely ravishing and breathtaking. The bottom line is: Jesus’ reckless love is the only wellspring of invincible joy.
Here are some questions to help you dig a little deeper, both personally and in group: