Philippians 1:18b-26

In the previous section, we saw Paul rejoicing in the progress of the gospel (1:18a) even despite malicious intent by some.[1] Immediately after this, he assures his audience that his joy will continue into the future. He says, "Yes, and I will rejoice" (1:18b). And with this statement, Paul shifts his focus away from what has transpired to what he expects will occur in the future.[2]

Christ will be magnified (19-20): Paul follows up the statement about his future joy with an explanation. He writes: "for [that's the explanation] I know that this will turn out for my deliverance" (1:19a). The certainty of his joy is based on the certainty of a deliverance. Well, we might ask, "What sort of deliverance will this be?" Perhaps this will be deliverance from prison, or from false brothers, or from false accusations,[3] or still something else? He doesn't tell us yet. He only states that this will require the Spirit's help[4] and that he eagerly longs for it.[5] Then, in verse 20, he reveals it. He says in 1:20b: for I know[6] "[that] Christ will be exalted … in my body." His future joy is certain because the future exaltation of Christ is certain. He is assured that by the Spirit's work (and their prayers!), Christ will be magnified in his body, "whether by life or by death" (1:20c). Now, "death" here points to his potential martyrdom (with confidence and shamelessness).[7] And he is sure Christ will be magnified in this! On the flipside, "life" here is the opportunity for ongoing ministry to Christ's people. And Christ will be magnified in this also! Either in death or in life, Christ will be magnified. Therein was his future joy, the guarantee that Christ will be exalted. And he is sure this will be true even as it has always been true. And so he affirms, "even now, as always."

Christ is the reason to live and die (21-23): Then Paul sums up his motto for life, by which he will continue to live: "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (1:21). For Paul, living[8] is Christ, and this would mean work ("fruitful labor"). Specifically, this will be ministry unto God's people.[9] On the flipside, dying is a "gain" because this will mean being with Christ,[10] something he earnestly longs for.[11] Christ's presence is to him "very much better." We all understand this: to be with the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us who continues to love us and nourish and cherish us is our yearning indeed!

Serve Christ in His church (24-26): A concrete example of "living is Christ" and "fruitful labor" is his ministry to the Philippians. This is "for your sake" (1:24) and "for your progress and joy in the faith" (1:25). And this work would come about through Paul's release and being restored to them ("my coming to you again"). How valuable is the ministry of the Lord's slaves to His people!

[1] "proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition… thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment" (1:17).

[2] Paul commits to using the future tense throughout these two verses ("will turn out… will not be put to shame… Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body"). He'll pick this up again later (vv. 22 and 25).

[3] This is how he ended up in Rome. Cf. Acts 24:6, "stirs up dissension … he even tried to desecrate the temple."

[4] "Your prayers" and "provision of the Spirit" (1:19b) are grammatically joined together to form one thought. They lift up prayers and (in answer to their prayer) the Spirit provides help.

[5] This accords with his "earnest expectation and hope" (1:20a).

[6] With the second "that," Paul reiterates the object of his assurance. This is essentially "I know that … that..."

[7] "I will not be put to shame in anything, but [that] with all boldness…" (1:20b).

[8] "to live" is an infinitive in Greek (as is "to die") and this verbal noun can be translated as the act of "living."

[9] Cf. 1:24-26. Cf. also 2 Tim 2:10, "I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen," and Titus 1:1, "Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God."

[10] "to depart and be with Christ" (1:23). Paul always held that death means being with the Lord. Cf. 2 Cor. 5:7-8, "while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord… to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord").

[11] "I am hard-pressed from both [directions], having the desire to depart and be with Christ" (1:23).