To Live is Christ – Philippians 1:19-26

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Grace Bible Church

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

March 21, 2004

To Live is Christ

Philippians 1:19-26

What is the purpose of life? The answer to that question will vary with each person asked. So more specifically, what is the purpose of your life? Paul clearly understood the purpose of his life and it gave him the confidence to live it to its fullest potential. The same can be true for each of us if we will follow Paul’s example. Turn to Phil. 1. Our study this morning will focus on verses 19-26, but since the first phrase of verse 19, “for I know that this . . .”, refers back to the previous 6 verses, we will start by reading from verse 12. “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in [the cause of] Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter [do it] out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but [that] with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if [I am] to live [on] in the flesh, this [will mean] fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both [directions,] having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for [that] is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.”

Paul’s Circumstances (vs. 19)

In our study of verses 12-18 last week we learned from Paul’s example the principle of how to overcome circumstances. People who are being overcome by their circumstances focus on their circumstances. People who are overcoming their circumstances focus on what God is accomplishing in the midst of the circumstances. Though Paul was imprisoned and there were other Christians who were purposely seeking to cause him additional distress, Paul focused on what God was doing. Christ was becoming well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and everyone else. Other believers were encouraged to speak the word of God without fear. Even those seeking to cause him distress were preaching the gospel, and Paul was not as concerned about the motivations of people as he was in the fact that Jesus Christ was being proclaimed. Paul rejoiced because God was at work, and that which was most important to him was being accomplished.

That last statement is important and is the focus of this week’s sermon, for in verses 19-26 Paul makes it clear that what is important to him is Jesus Christ.

His Deliverance (vs. 19)

Paul states in verse 19 that he knew that through their prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus that he would be delivered from his circumstances. The word “knew” here (oida / oida) is to know with certainty. Paul was not guessing that he would be delivered, but had absolute confidence that he would be saved from his circumstances.

The word “delivered” here, swthria, / sôtLria, is often translated as “saved” or “salvation.” What exactly is it that Paul is expecting to be delivered or saved from? It is not being delivered from all the possible consequences of his imprisonment because at the end of verse 20 Paul plainly states that death was a real possibility. Neither is this salvation in the eternal sense of being delivered from God’s judgement and Hell, for that is not anywhere in the context. The deliverance Paul is speaking of here is revealed in verse 20. Paul did not want his imprisonment to result in him succumbing to temptations and his own weaknesses that would bring shame on Christ. He wanted to exalt Jesus Christ in all that he did whether it was by life or death. That is why it was important to him that the Philippian believers were praying for him.

Philippian Prayers. Notice in verse 19 that Paul believed that his deliverance would be in part through their prayers. We stressed the importance of prayer a few weeks ago when we examined Paul’s prayer for them in verses 9-11. Paul expected them to be praying for him in the same way. While we tend to think of Paul as a bold saint that would not yield to any temptation and would never shy away from declaring God’s word, the truth is that Paul was no different than you or me. He knew he could not do it on his own and so he greatly desired people to pray for him.

For example, in Ephesians 6:19, written the same year as this letter to the Philippians, Paul specifically asks them to “pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” In Colossians 4:3, also written the same year as Philippians, Paul writes them to be “praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:25 Paul simply says, “Brethren, pray for us.”

I cannot stress enough the importance of us praying for one another. If you are not sure how to pray for others, then go back and look at verses 9-11, and pray as Paul did. This includes praying for those you think are strong and don’t need it. They often need it more, because we are all in a spiritual conflict that is not won by personal strength or personality, but through God working through the individual. That brings us to the second reason Paul knew that he would be delivered in the midst of his circumstances.

Provision of the Spirit. God does not leave us alone, but has provided for us in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This provision (epicorhgia / epichorLgia) is “to supply fully, abundantly” (Vines) and therefore lack in nothing. Paul put it this way in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” God is not a distant and removed Creator, but is intimately involved in our lives as our loving Heavenly Father.

Paul is speaking of the ministry of the Holy Spirit here and emphasizes the relationship of the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ. In John 14 and 16 Jesus told His disciples that He would send another Helper, “the Spirit of truth,” who would abide in them forever, and who would glorify Jesus and guide them into all truth.

The Holy Spirit continues the same ministry in true Christians today. He is still the one that teaches believers about all things (1 John 2:27). Without the Holy Spirit’s work in your hearts and minds, all that I or any other Bible teacher would be doing is just flapping our gums. We proclaim the truth and the Holy Spirit takes that truth and applies it in your life in convicting you of sin, righteousness and judgement (John 16:8-10). It is the Holy Spirit that quickens a person born dead in their trespasses and sin and makes them spiritually alive (Col. 2:13; 1 Pet. 3:18) and baptizes us into the one body of Christ, the church (1 Cor. 12:13). The gifts, ministries and effects of these things given to us by God are the manifestations of the Spirit for the common good of the whole body (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

Paul did not underestimate the importance of the Spirit of Jesus Christ at work in him in the midst of his circumstances, and neither should we. Paul was confident in the midst of his circumstances because he knew he could trust the Holy Spirit to accomplish His work in him, and so can we. This confidence gave Paul an earnest expectation and hope for the future as he responded to his situation.

Paul’s Expectation & Hope (vs. 20)

The idea of “earnest expectation” (apokaradokia /apokaradokia) is from a word that actually means “to strain the neck” and so was used figuratively to describe an “eager longing” for something that was coming. The addition of “hope” (ejlpiv” / elpis), a confident expectation of something that will happen in the future, strengthens this idea. As Paul dealt with his circumstances and considered the future, he had an earnest expectation and hope that through the prayers of the Philippian saints and the work of the Holy Spirit that he would be delivered from bringing any shame on the name of Christ.

No Shame in Anything. The shame (aiscunw / aischunô) that Paul speaks of refers to disgrace or dishonor that might come if he responded in a less than godly manner. Paul fully knew that his enemies would dishonor him or a judgement against him would be shameful in the eyes of the world, but that did not bother him. Even Jesus endured the shame of the cross in order to accomplish God’s will and reap the joy from its results. Paul was willing to do the same in his own circumstances even to the point of death. Paul did not want to be ashamed before the eyes of God. He was now confident because of their prayers and the work of the Holy Spirit that he would not fail in facing any temptation or weakness from his situation. Paul worked hard to maintain a conscience blameless before God and man (Acts 24:16), and he fully expected that God would vindicate him as such at the end of his current tribulation.

Boldness to Exalt Christ. More than just not being ashamed, Paul wanted to be bold in exalting Christ in all that he did even if that meant his death. The end of verse 20 is the statement of a man who is totally committed to the cause for which he was suffering. No matter what the threat against him, including physical harm or death, Paul was determined to bring glory to Jesus Christ by all that he said and did. That is quite an example for us to follow in our own lives. Too often we find ourselves more concerned about what people might think of us than what God thinks. We are more afraid of the scorn of people than we are desirous of pleasing and honoring our God. That ought not to be and is a sin to confess.

Paul’s Creed (vs. 21)

Paul succinctly states his philosophy for living, or his creed, in verse 21. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Both aspects of this creed are powerful. Let’s look at the ramifications of each a little more closely.

To Live is Christ.

Paul states that for him, to live is Christ. What is life? What is living? What does life mean to people? Or stated another way, what is your life all about? The answer to those questions varies a lot with the people you ask. It is tragic that so many people go through life never giving serious thought to these questions, and even more tragic that many of those who do still live haphazardly instead of with the purpose their answer should give them.

What are some of the answers given to the question, “what is life?” The following are brief summaries of the ones D. Martin Lloyd-Jones explained in his commentary on Philippians.

For some, life just means existence. They view it in terms of an animal or a plant. They don’t give it much thought if any at all. They go on from day to day simply existing without even asking what life means. For these folks, there is no thought given to defining success.

For others, they take an Epicurean outlook that is summed up in the phrase, “Let us eat, drink and be merry.” Life is about living today for whatever pleasure you might be able to find for the moment. Even work is about gaining the resources to do something fun. Success for the Epicurean is determined by the enjoyment of life.

There is also the Stoic view. These are people who see too many harsh realities in life to view life in terms of pleasure, so they approach it as something to be endured. Life is about fulfilling responsibilities and your duty. It is a battle against circumstances and chance which you get through by sheer determination to survive. Success for the stoic is enduring and surviving.

There are also the cynics. Life does not really have any ultimate purpose so it doesn’t really matter what you do. This is a common philosophy that is expressed in nihilistic music and art as well as among drug addicts and drunkards. If there is no purpose to life, then finding a way to escape its pain becomes the personal goal. Success is not possible for a cynic.

There is also a mystic view in which life’s troubles are seen as the result of the physical world. The result is a concentration on spirituality and a passive attitude and interaction with the world. This is a view common among ascetics, hermits and monks. Success for the mystic is being separated from the world.

The opposite from the mystic is the materialist who views life in terms of all the stuff that can be acquired. It is a view common in America and demonstrated by the quest by so many to keep getting more stuff, a larger estate, and an increasing financial portfolio. Success in this philosophy was well expressed on a bumper sticker that said, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

The humanist view is also common in our secular society and often found among those who are politically liberal activists. Life is about doing good deeds, improving society and the world at large. For them, life is about the opportunity of changing and improving the life of all mankind. Success for the humanist is leaving a legacy of social good in the next generation.

There are also those who live for their family. Family heritage and legacy are what is truly important to them. This may be more common in cultures in which ancestor worship is practiced, but it can be a philosophy that occurs among individuals in any culture. Success is giving proper honor to your lineage and making sure your children and grandchildren carry on the family legacy.

Another view is the religious. Life is about being religious and performing religious duties. This can be a danger for Christians when the activities of serving the Lord replace the actual relationship with the Lord. Success for the religious is a long list of religious positions filled and religious activities completed.

There are those that view life as about God, but it may be a God other than the Triune God of the Bible. There are many false god’s and people who are fanatically dedicated to them. It can occur in any religion, and the current war on terrorism is a result of trying to deal with such Muslim fanatics in pursuit of their false god.

I am sure there are other specific philosophies that someone could define, but I think Lloyd-Jones well covered the basic ones. There are individuals who will also hold to a mixture of these various philosophies, and tragically, many Christians will hold to one of these or a mixture of them in addition to Christianity. However, Paul’s statement here not only defines his life, but also demonstrates what the life of any Christian should be about. For the Christian, to live, should be Christ.

What does Paul mean by this? Paul found that Jesus Christ completely satisfied him in every respect. That will also be true in each of us as we grow in our relationship with Him. The truly important things in life can be reduced down to security and significance. I want to know that my future is completely safe and that my life will have an impact greater than my little world the few short years of my physical existence on this planet.

In Jesus Christ there is complete security because His love is beyond what can even be imagined and nothing is able to keep Him from carrying out His promises. Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. That is exactly what Jesus did for us. Romans 5:8 states it, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” His love for us will never diminish toward us for two reasons. First, Jesus’ character never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). Second, since Jesus loved us while we were sinners and were at enmity against Him (Rom. 5:8; 8:7), there is nothing that could diminish His love now that we have become His followers and adopted into His family.

We can add to this that nothing can separate us from His love – “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing” (Romans 8:38,39). Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his sheep “eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-30), and He loses nothing the Father gives Him (John 6:39).

Think of the most loving relationship you have ever had and the most secure and safe place you have ever been. Combine them together and they do not even come close to the love and security we have in Jesus Christ. I know that we may not always feel that way, but it is the truth and we can have absolute confidence in Him, His love, and His fulfillment of all His promises toward us.

There is also no greater significance than in serving Jesus Christ for only in that is there something that carries on throughout eternity. Our treasure will either be here or in heaven (Mt. 6), and no matter what we may accomplish in this world, it will eventually be destroyed or forgotten. Wealth is stolen, empires are replaced by new empires, buildings crumble, fame fades away. The Christian’s inheritance in heaven is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away (1 Peter. 1:4). In serving the Lord Jesus Christ we have work which will be tested and remain for an eternal reward (1 Cor. 3:12).

We can add to this that our significance is not in how many or large our work for the Lord may be, but rather it is our faithfulness in using whatever gifts He has given in whatever ministry He allows according to whatever power He supplies (1 Cor. 12). God judges our success in terms of faithfulness and not by any of the standards that man commonly uses. In other words, your eternal impact for Christ is rated on simply being His faithful servant and not in comparing how much you do with someone else. God’s reward for teaching a small class of toddlers is the same as teaching thousands of adults if both are using their gifts in ministry to their best ability.

The final aspect of “to live is Christ” is in the all encompassing identity the Christian is to have with Jesus. It is God’s plan that every Christian becomes conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). People should see Jesus Christ reflected in how we act and in the things we say. The word “Christian” itself, meaning “little Christ” or “Christ one,” was coined by unbelievers in Antioch to describe the disciples of Jesus (Acts 11:26). Paul, as should all Christians, desired to have Jesus Christ seen in his life in everything he did. He described it this way in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

Is that the way you identify with Christ? Is your view of the world and the purpose of your existence increasingly that of Christ? Is your will daily more in submission to His? Are you getting better at responding to the world the way He did? Is the purpose of your existence found in your own glory, pleasure and desire or in His? For the Christian, it should always be an increasing amount of Jesus Christ and a decreasing amount of self. Perhaps you are not mature and bold enough to make the claim with Paul that for you, to live is Christ, but the question for this morning is whether that is what you want your life to become like or not. If it is, then take heart even as Paul did, through the prayers of others and the work of the Holy Spirit, it will become that way more and more each day.

To Die is Gain

The contrasting statement in Paul’s creed is that for him, “to die is gain.” There have been many that have faced the fear of death with either resignation or a bold stoicism, but only someone that has a complete confidence in what lies on the other side of death can say what Paul says here. Paul is not afraid of death because it no longer has the victory. Jesus Christ has conquered it and promised his followers eternal life in heaven. The sting of death, which is sin, has also been conquered and Paul knew he could stand before God with confidence because Jesus’ death has paid the price of his sin. God reckons the faith of every believer as righteousness before Him.

For Paul, and for every true Christian, death, though an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), is simply a door to pass through in order to be in the presence of Jesus Christ, and there is no other place Paul would rather be. From the selfish view point, what Christian would not want to exchange the troubles, trials and pain of this world for the glories of being with Jesus in Heaven? Death is a gain for the believer.

It is a different story for the non-believer. No matter how bad things in this life can be, death is never a gain for those who are still in their sins and therefore under God’s condemnation. As Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” For the unbeliever, judgement follows death (Heb. 9:27), and God’s condemnation results in what can only be called an endless torment. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 describes it as “the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” Revelation 20:14 describes it as “the lake of fire” and “the second death.” Jesus describes it as “the outer darkness” and a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12) and a place where “the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). No suffering on this earth can compare to the wrath of God poured out on those who will not repent from their sin and come to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their transgressions against God.

Heaven and Hell are both real places. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus speaks of both in the same passage. That is why death is a gain for the Christian, but the ultimate loss for the unbeliever.

Paul’s Conflict (vs. 22-23)

As Paul considered the two aspects of his creed he found he was “betwixt the two”(KJV) or “hard pressed from both directions” (NASB) in verse 23 because there were good benefits either way and he was not sure which was the best to choose.

Benefits of Remaining

As Paul states in verse 22, if he remained in the flesh it would mean fruitful labor for himself among them. The fruit gained would not only include the righteous deeds God desires from His people (Eph. 2:10), but also additional converts to Christ (Rom. 1:13), and increased fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23) as people matured in their walk with Jesus. Paul’s focus in life was to be used of God, and so to remain in order to reap these additional fruits was attractive to him.

Benefits of Departing

At the same time, Paul is also human and like any human the difficulties of this life make leaving them to be with Christ in Heaven a very attractive alternative. Paul states it clearly at the end of verse 23 that for him personally that would be “very much better.”

Paul’s Conviction (vs. 24-26)

Verses 24-25 point out despite Paul’s quandary about which he would choose if the choice were up to him, he was convinced that he would remain and continue in ministry. Paul says in verse 24, “yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.” The idea of “convinced” here, ( peivqw / peithô), is his own personal conclusion and not something God had revealed to him and therefore would be a certainty, otherwise there would be no question in his mind in verse 20 about whether he would live or die. More or less, Paul simply believed there was additional ministry God wanted him to do among the Philippians before he could depart and be with Christ.


Continued Work

The Philippians demonstrated a lot of maturity as seen in Paul’s commendations of them throughout this letter, but there were also areas that needed some additional work. In addition to the idea that they were doing well and should continue to improve as expressed in Paul’s prayer for them in 1:9-11, there were also specific weaknesses. Paul’s comments in 1:27-2:5 show there was a problem in unity due in at least part to selfishness and some lack in humility. There may have been some bad attitudes expressed in grumbling and complaining (2:14). There were dangerous false teachers around for which they needed to beware (3:1,2) some of which were “enemies of the cross” (3:18,19). At least two of the women there were in contention and needed to learn to live in harmony (4:2,3). There was also a need for them to learn better how to keep from being anxious by having proper prayer (4:6,7) and to keep their minds on the right things (4:8). Paul believed the Lord would have him to continue to work with them in these areas for the benefit of their “progress and joy in the faith.”

Coming to Them

In addition, verse 26 also points out that Paul thought he would also be able to come to them again some time in the future. The purpose being that his presence with them would be an additional cause for them to boast or have a proud confidence that would abound in Christ Jesus.

As Christians, the focus of our lives is to be like Jesus Christ, not ourselves. Like Paul, it should be to live is Christ, to die is gain. May that become more true of each of us every day.


Sermon Study Sheets



Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned and look them up later. 2) Count how many times references are made to either “living” or “dying.” Talk with your parents about how Christ can seen in your life.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What was Paul’s circumstances in Philippians 1? What did Paul expect to be “delivered / saved” from in 1:19? How was this deliverance to be accomplished? Explain. What was Paul’s earnest expectation and hope – vs. 19? How were these to be carried out? Is Paul fatalistic in verse 20 – “whether by life or by death”? Why or why not? What does it mean “to live is Christ”? Explain. How would this phrase apply to your own life? What gain does Paul expect from death? Explain. What do you expect to happen to you when you die? Why would Paul desire to remain on earth in the flesh? Why would you want to remain alive here? Why would he want to depart? Why would you want to depart? What convinces Paul that he would remain? What did he expect to accomplish if his life was extended? What would you like to accomplish with your life? In the next 20 years? 10 years? 5 years? This year? How have you planned for these things to happen?


Sermon Notes

To Live is Christ – Philippians 1:19-26

Paul’s Circumstances

(vs. 19)

Review of verses 12-18

His Deliverance (vs. 19)

Philippian Prayers

Provision of the Spirit

Paul’s Expectation & Hope (vs. 20)

No Shame in Anything

Boldness to Exalt Christ

Paul’s Creed

(vs. 21)

To Live is Christ

To Die is Gain

Paul’s Conflict

(vs. 23-24)

Benefits of Remaining

Benefits of Departing

Paul’s Conviction

(vs. 25,26)

Continued Work

Coming to Them

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