Our text begins as Paul outlines what he believes to be his fate. We read beginning at verse twelve, “12I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 18bYes, and I will rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20as 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. 21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (v. 12-14, 18b-26).
At this time Paul is in prison and yet even while he is in prison he is continually proclaiming the Gospel. He is able to do this because he is not in a maximum security prison as we think of prisons today. He is in a house where he is being guarded and he has friends taking care of his personal needs. Thus, he is able to proclaim the good news of the Gospel to those who are caring for him as well as any others who come to visit him. Notice how Paul does not lament his imprisonment, but embraces this, too, as an opportunity to share the Gospel.
Paul does not know what his fate will be. He knows he will soon face the judge at his trial and he does not know whether the judge will rule in his favor or not. Yet, Paul is ready for any outcome of the trial. He is ready to go on living and he is ready to die. Perhaps that would be a good question for each one of us to ask ourselves each and every morning. When we awake or when we go to bed we might ask ourselves, “Are we ready to die?” The fact of the matter is that since the moment of conception our lives have been leading to this ultimate end, our own physical death. Thus, are we ready to die this physical death? Paul’s attitude is that to live is Christ, in other words, if he is acquitted, if he is innocent and if he is allowed to live then for Paul this means the opportunity to continue sharing the Gospel.
On the other hand, if Paul is not acquitted, if he is found guilty, if he is sentenced to die, then to Paul to die is gain. To die is gain because Paul knows his lot is secure. He knows that death is not an end, but is only the beginning. He knows that when he dies in this world it means eternal life in heaven.
And so, for Paul, to live is to continue to serve the Lord and he will be happy to continue to live and serve the Lord. However, to die is to go to heaven, which he understands is far better. And so Paul is not concerned about either outcome because both outcomes have their advantages.
With his own fate stated, Paul goes on to give us words of encouragement. We pick up at verse twenty-seven, “27Only 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, 28and 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. 29For 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, 30engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (v. 27-30).
Paul, again this week, encourages us in our sanctification. He encourages us to live a life worthy of being called a Christian. He warns us to not just be a Christian in name only. Too often I hear pastors and others encourage, especially, our young people to remember what they have learned in the Catechism. Better than simply remembering is to live what we have learned. And of course, as we have said before, Paul’s encouragement is not an encouragement that this is something we can do in and of ourselves. We can live lives of faith only as the Holy Spirit works in and through us to live in such a way and as our lives then, are led by Him they are lived to His glory.
To make sure we understand, Paul wants the Philipians to live as Christians even when Paul is not around. Today these words of encouragement would be that we are to live as Christians even when we are away from church.
This morning Paul gives us another glimpse into why Christians are so hated in our world. He reminds us that our salvation is a clear sign of the destruction of non-Christians. In other words, here again we understand the exclusive claims of Holy Scripture. There is only one way to eternal life in heaven and that one way is Jesus Christ alone. Apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus is only eternal spiritual death. This means that our salvation, by grace, through faith in Jesus is a clear sign to the non-Christian of their eternal doom. And because the non-Christian world does not wish to be condemned, nor do they wish to change their ways, they hate Christians.
Therefore, the life of a Christian may include religious conflict. I would suggests that as the churches in the United States and around the world, continue down the road of questioning the Bible, whether it is or is not the very Word of God and as our churches continue to acquiesce and be absorbed by the culture, so that there is no difference between the church and the culture, but they become one and the same, this conflict for “real” Christians will only increase. Time and time again in our world today we have church after church deny the exclusive claims of Jesus in His Word such that what is often proclaimed is a damning message that states that “we all believe in the same God, we just call him different names,” and “it does not matter what you believe as long as you believe sincerely enough,” and so on.
What does this mean? Paul reminds us that God never promised an easy life and he shows us his own life as an example of this. I suppose that if some of the TV evangelists of today looked closely at Paul’s life they would dub him a failure, after all, how often are we told by TV preachers today of how God wants us to be successful, how God wants us to be financially secure, how God wants us to have an easy life and Paul had none of this and yet he rejoiced and gave glory to God for all, even for his times of persecution, imprisonment, beatings, and so on.
God does not promise life will be easy, but He does promise to be with us. As a matter of fact, as we read the words of our Lord in His Holy Scripture, we are reminded again and again that Jesus has already undergone everything we can imagine. Jesus has suffered all that we will ever suffer and even more. Jesus suffered all the temptation we will ever face and even more and He never sinned. Jesus was perfect and yet He took our sins upon Himself and He suffered the punishment of eternal spiritual death for us in our place. And He promises to be with us as we face the trials and tribulations, the persecutions of this world.
God’s promise is that He will give us the strength and courage to carry on. We cannot do it ourselves, as a matter of fact, if we were left to ourselves we would completely fail. Thanks be to God that we never have to be left to ourselves. Thanks be to God that He has promised and that He is with us all through life.
Certainly we rejoice because God gives us the victory. He has won the victory over sin, death and the power of the devil. He gives us this victory as He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. And He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith as we make regular and diligent use of His means of grace.