The Profit of Death: An Exposition of Philippians 1:21-30
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again. Only 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, and 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. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
The epistle of Philippians explodes with joy. Everywhere, Paul is talking about his rejoicing and commanding that the Philippians do likewise. When one considers that Paul is currently in prison and is facing the prospects of execution, this would indeed seem strange, Many would think that Paul had become demented in his imprisonment. This is not the case. Paul has every reason to be joyful facing death. It is not because he is suffering and death is the end of pain. Paul has something far greater to rejoice about.
Exposition of the Text
Exposition of the Text
Paul begins this passage with the well-known “For me to live is Christ; and to die is gain.” He had just reminded the Philippians that he was in prison for the defense of the Gospel and not for committing a crime. The hearers could remember that Paul had been wrongfully imprisoned in Philippi many years earlier. He had had stripes laid upon him and was imprisoned and bound in the stocks. They remembered that Paul and Silas had sung joyous hymns to God in the night. They remembered the earthquake which loosed their bonds. They remembered the conversion of the Philippian jailor who was about to commit suicide in despair that the prisoners had escaped. /they had seen the power of God at work in this and many other circumstances. They knew that God could free Paul from the prison he was in. Paul knew this also. He did not know at this point whether he would be freed at this point or be beheaded. We also do not know if Paul was released from this captivity or not. We do know that he would be condemned and beheaded for the Gospel. From his death, he gained life. Verse 20 says that either way, whether he lived or died, He would glorify Jesus.
Paul goes on with ministry in this life as though he would live, but at the same time knew that he would minister in his death. His shed blood would mingle with the words and deeds that were left behind. And Paul still speaks to us today. This gives us an example of how we should live our lives. We certainly should not fear death. Nor should we be preoccupied with death. If we spend our energy worrying about the road ahead of us, we will never do anything for Christ. It is told of St. Francis that he was one day hard at planting wheat. Someone asked him if he knew for sure that the Lord would return that day, what would he do. Francis responded that he would finish planting that row of wheat. This same idea applies to us individually in the sense that one day the Lord will come for us and take us home, whether through death or His triumphal return. Jesus tells us to occupy until He comes, Do what we are called to do. It is good to remind ourselves of our glorious hope. This gives us comfort in our tribulations. But we must not cease living and ministering until then.
So as much as Pail could see the profit of death, he realized the usefulness of remaining, even if it added to his suffering. Who wants to suffer? We also yearn for the Lord’s return and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. What a joyful day that will be! But anyone can be joyful in good times. When a team wins a championship, there is much joy in that city. When good things happen to someone, especially after one has prevailed through difficulty, there is joy. But few find joy in their suffering. We, of course, see an example of this in the 12th Chapter of Hebrews where it is said that Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross and despised its shame. One sees no joy in Jesus’ face as he struggles in prayer in the Garden. We see no shouts of joy on the cross. But Jesus could see the joy beyond that. Paul could too. So should we. Jesus and then Paul continued on the painful journey for our sakes. They knew their future was secure. The joy could wait. Paul follows his Lord Jesus and shows us how to properly view and carry the cross which we are called.
Paul seems to indicate to us that he would be released from this imprisonment and return to visit them. He was convinced that Jesus still had ministry work for him to do. The message of the Gospel brings much joy to new believers. Believers need to be guided and encouraged. The idea that suffering brings joy is great motivation. Even though the joy of heaven is without compare, there is joy when one sees his spiritual children walking in the truth. It is like the joy of parents seeing their child take his or her first steps. Even if the parents are going through difficult times, the joy of seeing progress in their child gives them pause from the trials of life, that their hard work is bearing fruit.
Not everything was going roses at Philippi. There were two women leaders in the church who were at odds with each other. (Philippians 4:2) They needed to reconcile so that the church might not be hindered in its mission. Being a Christian in a colony founded for retired Roman Legionnaires presented challenges. The soldiers had taken an oath upon enlistment to Caesar and Rome as divinities. To give their loyalty to what Rome considered a treasonous Jew was risky. Yet the Gospel had made inroads there. Not only this, but Paul in his prison cell had made inroads with the elite Praetorian Guard. So Paul tells them to remain bold in the face of opposition. The opponents were showing their condemnation, but the persistence of the Church there was a proof of their salvation. There has been much talk over the centuries of the badges of election. Here we have two. One is the joy that rejoices even in tribulation. The other is suffering for his name’s sake. This ability to withstand suffering was a gift of God’s grace. Many of the Roman soldiers followed the Philosophy of Stoicism. They were disciplined to keep a stiff upper lip in suffering. The emphasis was for one to do one’s duty. Soldiers understand this. But this was suffering for suffering’s sake. We are called instead to suffer for Jesus sake. The Stoics saw death as a friend, as an end to suffering. But the Christians sees this as the beginning of Eternal joy. Stoicism teaches passivity in suffering. Christ teaches us to be active in our suffering by being His disciples and carrying our crosses after Him. Let us continue to look at the joy that is set before us.
Paul mentioned that some there had preached Christ out of pure motives. Others had not. But Paul rejoiced, nevertheless, because Christ was being proclaimed. It takes the faith of one who believes that “God works all things to good, to them who love God, who are the called according to His purpose” to be able to deal with such hypocrisy on the part of some Christians. Paul had at one time opposed the Gospel. But in a strange way, he was sill proclaiming Christ. It says in Acts 8 that Paul’s persecution was so severe in Jerusalem that all but the Apostles fled. However, wherever they went, they proclaimed Jesus which is what Jesus had commissioned them to do. They had to get out of Jerusalem to the villages of Judaea and Samaria, and then to the uttermost corners of the earth.
Part of our proclamation of Christ, however, is seen in the quality of the lives we live. Someone has said : ”Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words.” Of course words are necessary, even if they are not spoken out of good motivation. God’s word still has power to save, even if a devil were to preach the true gospel. But preaching and living for Christ out of pure motives and living together in the Church family in peace is also necessary. So the correct saying is: “Preach the Gospel and live it!” We need to have joy. We want to give a joyful account for our ministry and for the people to whom we have ministered and not with the tears of sorrow. We struggle against many hardships from without. And when we are rightfully accused of wrongdoing, it only makes things worse. If we suffer, and Peter and Paul both promise this, let us suffer for doing well and not as an evildoer. So our conduct in this world must be guarded with these things in mind.
It has been said: “Divide and Conquer.” Jesus says “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25) The world would like to divide us and have us consume one another. We do an awfully good job of this as well. Being divided in times of trouble is a recipe for disaster.
The Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament talks about the troubles Judah had in building the protective wall against the city. Nehemiah encouraged the people to work together with a shovel in one hand and a spear in another. The wall got built. There is another wall that needed to be built. Ezra taught them the Law of the Lord. The people began to weep when they heard what great sinners they were. But the people were told to rejoice instead. We are told “The joy of the LORD is our strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10) This is how the church is to respond. Be joyful and at work for the LORD, as “He who has begun a good work in you will continue it to the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
There is indeed a great profit in death. Yet we continue to live that our lives might be profit to the Gospel. More properly it is what lies beyond death which is joyful. We put aside this profit for a season that we might be profitable unto God for ministry today that we might rejoice all the more in that day when we see the fruit of our labor rewarded. We think of what great profit we have gained by the death of Jesus. We have also been profited by Paul and other saints and martyrs of the Church. Let us live for Christ so that our deaths might be profitable for others. Christ died for us and now lives for us. This is even of greater profit. Continue to rejoice in Christ, regardless of the circumstances.
Related Sermons by Dr. Mark Barber
Related Sermons by Dr. Mark Barber