It is personal: Devotional Commentary for January 16-22
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us wisdom and insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Continuing with his exhortation to the Philippians regarding their disappointment with his imprisonment, Paul elaborated more on the need for a change in perspective by expressing his own godly outlook and convictions with greater detail. Life was no longer about himself or what he wanted, but about Jesus Christ and what the Lord commissioned him to do.
He knew he belonged to God and His Son Jesus Christ. He knew his life was directed by the Holy Spirit. He knew that the words of Jesus Christ were his guiding light. Therefore, he was able to declare courageously and with confidence that he is no longer his own. He had been bought with the precious Blood of Jesus Christ.
Viewing himself from such a transformed godly perspective, Paul was able to deny himself for the sake of Christ exactly as the Lord instructed His disciples. He was able to earnestly and unequivocally declare that he belonged to Christ whether in life or in death. To Paul, this was personal. He said: "to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
To Paul, "to live is Christ" because he lived to serve Christ. No other reason; no other purpose. To him, "to die is gain" because he would be instantly with Jesus Christ in person. So Paul was encouraged in spite of his chains because whether he lived or died, he is with his Lord and Savior and belonged to Him exclusively. Should it be any different for us?
22But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.
23For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
24Nevertheless, to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
Having expressed the essence of his redeemed life in Jesus Christ, Paul seemed untouched by his earthly conditions and circumstances. However, he showed a strong emotional dilemma, caught between his own longing for heaven and God's definite call on his life here on earth. He was hard-pressed to choose between the two.
Paul knew that this world was not his eternal home. So, he was unapologetic about his earnest desire to leave this world and be with the Lord in his eternal rest. He viewed death as the gateway to his eternal reward; an unprecedented heavenly gain.
But he was fully committed in his loyalty and unreserved obedience to God. He actually acknowledged the necessity of his stay on earth—as determined by God—for the benefit of the saints whom he served in the Lord's Name. In the end, Paul surrendered his personal preference and his dilemma to the Will of God.
25And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith,
26that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
Strongly declaring his confidence in God's plan and purpose for his life, Paul acknowledged the essential reason for the continuation of his life of service on earth. Since God appointed him to preach the Gospel, he knew and acknowledged that his days on earth are numbered by the duration of his commission to proclaim Christ both to the Jews and the Gentiles. He was content to live-on in spite of his suffering, and God made his ministry fruitful and effective.
Besides their faith and joy in Christ, Paul sensed that the Philippians would rejoice to see him again when they meet face-to-face if and when he would be released from prison. He was confident that his life would reflect Christ before them. They would see that his personal suffering and trial did not in any way extinguish the light of the Gospel from his life.
He hoped that his return would encourage the hearts of those who were troubled by his imprisonment. By seeing Christ in him, Paul expected that the Philippians would acknowledge, that what they saw as his misfortune was indeed God's designed plan for presenting the Gospel to men of every walk of life, including Caesar's household; the Gentiles.
27Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,
28and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.
29For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
30having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
Paul was very cautious in his encouragement to the Philippians. Even though he wanted to return and visit them, he did not want to disappoint them if his return was not in the Lord's plan for him. But he earnestly implored them to be rich in God's wisdom and knowledge so that they would:
- conduct themselves worthy of their vocation,
- be found dependable and committed servants called to advance the Gospel,
- reflect a vibrant life of witness for Jesus Christ,
- stand united as one in faith and service,
- be strong and courageous notwithstanding hostilities, understanding that both salvation and condemnation are of God,
- be discerning the truth that both their faith and experience are given to them by God,
The saints needed to understand that the hostilities directed at them by the world are unavoidable because the world continues to resist the Spirit of God residing in the hearts of the redeemed. The unregenerate world is naturally the enemy of the Gospel, resisting the message of Jesus Christ and those who follow Him. The very behavior of these enemies, seen in their pursuit of believers, affirms that God's people were saved and their enemies were still condemned.
Paul did not want the Philippians to deny the realities of the suffering believers often face as God's redeemed children living in the midst of the unsaved world. He was certainly aware that suffering cannot and should not be ignored. It is very real and has significant consequences. But it can and should be viewed in the right perspective and with godly attitude.
That perspective, Paul's perspective, showed that such suffering was a privilege because it is given to advance the Gospel by the Work of God, by the Will of God, for the Purpose of God, for the sake of Christ, and by the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Pointing to his own experience, Paul encouraged the Philippians to be at peace, knowing that the God Who did not spare His Son to save them from judgment is also faithful and gracious to work His Power and Grace in them, giving them everything they would need to be joyful, peaceable, strong, courageous, and faithful servants; as he was.
Paul's words of encouragement to the Philippians and to every believer were far reaching. He focused on two major aspects of their Christian walk. First, he commended them for their continued maturation in faith, unity, love, and service. Second, he strongly urged them to heed the Gospel, and, review his own life and personal testimony so that their lives would be enriched, invigorated, and reinforced with godly wisdom, practical knowledge, and sound understanding of the truth.
The Philippians loved Paul so much. They were upset because they were convinced that he was unjustly accused and imprisoned. They felt powerless to do anything to help their beloved teacher.
They probably wondered why God would allow such a dedicated servant to be subjected to the malicious schemes of His enemies. Even though their faith in God was strong, the Philippians were puzzled by Paul's suffering, even more so by his joyful attitude.
To be sure, Paul appreciated the Philippians for their love and care for him. But he strongly warned them to guard against their own self-sourced reaction toward God's all-inclusive Will and Purpose. So he teaches them and us to exercise our minds as God's children enlightened by the Word of Truth and guided by the Spirit of Truth. This is the only way by which we find meaning and significance in our lives as Christians.
When our perspective is set free from our own flawed outlook, nothing will easily faze or disconcert us because we will be strengthened and enlightened by the Spirit of Truth to look for God's Will and Purpose in every event or circumstance we face. This is not a call to champion, endorse, or be indifferent to anything ungodly and unsavory. But it is the godly perspective of a mature understanding which correctly perceives the world in which we are called to live and serve.
Then: Instead of being terrorized by the world's hostilities hurled at us, we will respond with godly strength and wisdom, recognizing that such is the nature of unregenerate behavior. Instead of being agitated by suffering and persecution, we will rejoice in being found worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ, looking to God for His all-sufficient Grace for our endurance. Instead of being guided by our all-too-natural reactive disposition, we will lean on God and entrust our ways to Him knowing that His Wisdom and His Power will develop in us the true godly perspective. Instead of being selfish in our ways and craving only for what we want, our choices will be in line with God's Will and serve only His Purposes.
In the end, God Himself, Who is true and faithful, will cultivate in us the person and the character of His Son Jesus Christ enabling us to face the world and its unregenerate behavior realistically, with courage, confidence, love, and by faith, instead of with fear, doubts, or regrets. Still by God's Grace and His infinite mercy, we will be men and women steadily growing in faith glorifying God and blessing those around us. As Paul commended and exhorted the Philippians, the Spirit of truth will continue to work in us and make us people of grace, love, fellowship, faith, peace, joy, confidence, knowledge, wisdom, discernment, and understanding. As God's Presence and His Power are steadily manifested in our behaviors and actions, our redeemed spirit will be lifted up, spiritually surpassing the flawed attributes of our corrupt nature causing us to excel in Jesus Christ.