It is a tremendous joy to be back in the Book of Philippians. I really enjoyed studying this week and looking at this passage and thinking through this passage. As we mentioned before, this book is often referred to as the “Epistle of Joy” because terms like “joy” and “rejoice” are found comparatively much more often in this book—16 times in four chapters—than they are in any other book. But it is also the Epistle of Joy because of the general sense you have as you are reading through the book. You just get that sense from Paul. As Paul writes this letter while imprisoned in Rome, he just has a way of really minimizing the types of things that would cause most of us to become sad or depressed—those things that are really only temporal in nature—and rather than that, he calls attention to that which is truly important and rests his hope in those things. Much is often made, in fact, of Paul—and it has a lot to do with this letter—about how remarkable his character is through trials and how he is able to remain joyful no matter what circumstances he finds himself in. We frequently point to him as an example of how every true Christian ought to be when they are suffering or going through trials.
Unfortunately, though, what a lot of us tend to do is just sit back and be in awe of how Paul can be this way. We are more amazed at how this man can have this kind of faith in God, and we just point to him as someone we are just in awe of. Maybe we go a little further and give praise to God for how amazing God is that he could supernaturally transform this man’s life so he is able to act in a way in these situations that can only be explained by the power of God working through him. Even though we know it shouldn’t be the case, when most of us think of Paul’s attitude in these situations and our own attitude in suffering and in trials—we kind of take the default position when we look at Paul and say, “Yeah, that’s Paul. Regular people can’t really be like that.” We normally are happy with ourselves if we can just say the right things when we are going through trials whether we really believe them or not.
But to really believe that way, to really have that kind of joy, that kind of confidence that Paul has, do we really think it is something we should expect of ourselves or even hope for? When we fail to believe that not only is it possible for us to have the same type of mindset we see in Paul here, that same joy in spite of any circumstances Paul has, but it is in fact what we should be striving for. And it is the logical way a true Christian should be seeing things. When we fail to live like we really believe that, then we are treating Paul the same way Catholics do, right? We know better than that, don’t we? There is no special class of Christian. All who have placed their trust in the sacrifice of Christ as the just payment for their sins are in the category of “saints.” We saw that in the very first verse of this book. That is how Paul understands Christians.
Paul is not some special class of Christian. His amazing ability to rejoice in all circumstances is a privilege. It is an inheritance for all of those in Christ. It is not a unique ability that just belongs to the super-spiritual Christian. It is not the same as how we might see an athlete. You should absolutely look at LeBron James and say, “I can never play basketball like that.” That’s right. You can’t. You’re not ever going to be able to. He has been given a portion of athletic talent and size and speed that you will never have. But we have all been given—those of us who are in Christ—the same Holy Spirit as the Apostle Paul. We have the same guarantees about what is true, about what is important, and the same promises that give Paul the confidence that he has.
These last couple of days in our household have been difficult for Diana and me as we have been in correspondence with some of the families from our former church in Kentucky. One of the families most dear to us during our time in Kentucky, right now is going through an extremely difficult trial. Their boys were some of the most active in our youth group. That family was very supportive of us and always extremely appreciative of our ministry there. The husband and the father in this family was scheduled for heart surgery on Thursday morning, but he suffered a massive heart attack a few hours before and he passed out of this life. So right now, she is preparing for a funeral tomorrow. She is trying to cope with the pain now of losing her husband of many years, trying to process how she is going to raise their two young daughters without him. Those are things that were not even remotely on her radar just a few days ago. And there is a church around that family that needs to know more than just what they are supposed to say and feel. They need the actual confidence that leads to the joy we see here in Paul—namely, to be able to truly see how Paul sees and believe how Paul believes in this passage.
Brothers and sisters, in this fallen world, trials and tragedy are a guarantee. We know those things are coming. We may even come to a time in our lives when, like Paul—we’re just enduring an unending physical trial. When those times come, it isn’t a help to just know the right things to say, to know what you’re supposed to believe. We need the confidence that leads to the rejoicing we see from Paul in these verses. We need to understand Paul isn’t just some special case. He is expressing what he has come to truly understand and believe.
So in this passage today, we are going to see what it is that will allow you to truly rejoice in the most difficult circumstances. Today, we are going to learn together just why it is that we can and should always rejoice no matter how dark things look or how hard things get. If you are going through a trial right now, then you need to listen today because you are going to see the perspective you need to have in the midst of that trial. And maybe things are not as difficult for you right now. But you also need to listen, and you also need to ask God to conform you to his Word this morning because trials will come. Tragedy will strike, and this is what will allow you to rejoice in that day.
With that, let’s look in Philippians 1. Let’s look at this text and be reminded what is going on in this situation. We’re going to be looking specifically at the end of verses 18 through verse 21, but let’s go all the way back to verse 12 and read through 21 to remind us about what is going on here. The Apostle Paul says:
*I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as 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. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.*
Paul is in chains for the sake of the Gospel. He is a prisoner of Rome. He is spending his nights and days chained to a Roman guard as he awaits trial. During this, he is assuring the Philippians that God is using this to advance the Gospel and to strengthen the church. And even though there are those who are his detractors—even among those who are in the church using it as an opportunity to speak against Paul and try to afflict him—Paul says to the Philippian believers that he still rejoices that the Gospel is being preached. As long as Christ is rightly proclaimed, it matters very little to Paul if his name is spitefully maligned.
As you can see in your English translations, verse 18 is split a little awkwardly. The second portion of it is what we’re really going to be looking at here. But right after the first part of verse 18, after he says he will rejoice about the fact that Christ is proclaimed no matter what the circumstances for that proclamation are, he doubles down on his desire to rejoice in the second half of verse 18. He says, “Yes, and I will rejoice.” It’s almost as if he was answering an unasked question. Or it’s as if the fact that he is rightly rejoicing in the proclamation has reminded him of some other truths that he must also rejoice in. “Yes, and I will rejoice,” is the proper beginning to this new thought we are talking about. The word “for” in verse 19 indicates Paul is about to lay out the reasons in the next couple of verses for his rejoicing even in the his circumstances.
So verses 19 and 20, then, are intended to explain the reason Paul will continue to rejoice. Verse 21 is kind of a summation of the perspective he is going to be laying down. So it is in these verses we are going to see the points for today’s outline, and I have four of them. These are the four things that Paul sees that make him rejoice in all circumstances. These are four points that give Paul the confidence that leads to this type of joy. Number one, Certain Salvation. Number two, An Unashamed Standing. Number three, An Honored Savior. Number four, An Eternal Perspective. I will go through those much more slowly now.
First point, A Certain Salvation. We see that right away in verse 19. He says, “For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” That word translated as “deliverance” is that same word “soteria,” where we get “soteriology” from—the study of salvation. It is usually translated as “salvation,” but it can also mean “deliverance” in a more physical sense. So some have taken this to mean that Paul is referring to being delivered physically from his chains. But it is evident from the following verses that while he does expect to be released, it would not bother him to remain where he is. Paul is clearly not concerned with his physical safety. You would not get that reading this letter. In fact, Paul never uses this term anywhere else for anything but spiritual salvation, so we shouldn’t think of it any differently either. But he does not mean that these circumstances will be the cause of his salvation. Sometimes we can look at that word, and we think it’s going to turn out for his salvation—it’s going to cause his salvation—but that would go against everything that Paul has taught on how salvation occurs. He doesn’t mean they’re going to cause his salvation.
He is talking about salvation in terms of the understanding that salvation is a process. We have been saved, yes. We’re also in the process of being saved. And we await a future full salvation. This is how Paul is speaking of salvation here. It is the same way he spoke of it in Romans 13:11 where he says, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” He doesn’t mean we’re waiting to be saved for justification. He means the fullness of salvation, the end of salvation, the idea of the sanctification aspect of salvation—growing in it. Notice that Paul is not saying he will be delivered from this adversity. That is not what he is saying. That is not what he is concerned about. He is saying, “The adversity will turn out for my salvation.” This is for the sanctification portion of his salvation. The adversity is going to make him more like Christ—not being delivered from it, but living through it, causing him to take more joy in who he is in Christ. He is not looking for the prayers of the saints and the Spirit of Jesus Christ to deliver him from adversity, but for the adversity to turn out for his salvation. He will rejoice because he is confident. He says, “For I know this will turn out,” or “this will result in my salvation.”
We can understand this is what he means even further when we see the phrase Paul uses, which is translated, “This will turn out for my deliverance.” It looks like that because it is a direct quotation from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. It’s a direct quotation from Job 13:16. If you recall the story of Job, in chapter 13, Job is in the midst of living through a pretty terrible trial. He has lost literally everything that a man could lose in this life. He has no idea why he has lost it, and he has some really bad friends who aren’t comforting him. They’re essentially telling him that he has certainly done something to deserve all this happening to him right now. During that trial, we hear Job in Chapter 13, in verses 13 through 16, say:
*Let me have silence, and I will speak, and let come on me what may. Why should I take my flesh in my teeth and put my life in my hand? Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him. *
That is where Paul gets that. This is what Paul has in mind in this passage. He has the life of Job—the trial of Job—in mind. He’s not concerned about salvation before some earthly court, but before the heavenly court just as Job was. God will use this adversity for Paul’s good, for his sanctification. Again, Paul didn’t just think it might happen; he was certain of it. That’s the language he uses. He was confident in this salvation. He was confident this what God would do through this adversity. He was confident also in God’s appointed means of bringing this about. We see those means also in these verses. We see that Paul is confident in the prayers of the believers in Philippi. He says, “For I know through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out for my deliverance.” Our belief that God will work out all things—this is what we say all the time. God is going to “work out all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Our trust in God’s sovereign plan is much more than just some kind of well-it’s-all-going-to-turn-out-in-the-end type of confidence that every pessimist has. It’s not like that. Our confidence is not one that is completely devoid of the means God uses to bring about his good purposes, and prayer is one of them. Paul has confidence that the prayers of the saints really are heard by God and that God will faithfully answer them.
When we ask for prayer while we’re going through a trial or a hard time, do we really believe this? Or are we just asking these things? Or are we just asking for prayer because we know that is what Christians do—that is what we’re supposed to do? Do we really have confidence God is going to answer them, that he really hears and responds to them? In 1 John 5:14 through 15, John says, “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” Do you see where the confidence lies in a verse like that? It’s asking according to his will. When we ask the God who has promised in verse 6 here that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion”—when we ask that God to use adversity in some one’s life to bring about their certain salvation, we can be confident he will do it. This is the confidence that Paul has. As the believers pray for him in this situation that God will answer those prayers and through the help of the Spirit—all these things will work out for his ultimate salvation, for his sanctification purposes. He knows and he has confidence that he will grow closer to Christ, that he will become more like Christ as the believers pray for him to respond this way through this adversity. He fully trusts that God will act faithfully in response to prayers.
While commenting on this passage, John Calvin said, “He who depends for help on the prayers of the saints relies on the promise of God.” It is not the prayers in and of themselves that do anything. It is because of the power that belongs to the One the prayers are directed to. I always hate it when there is some tragedy on the news, and whoever is covering it on the news says something like, “It’s important now that we send our thoughts and prayers their way.” As if those two things are similar. Sure, it’s nice to know someone is thinking of you, but your actual thoughts have no power to accomplish anything on behalf of someone else. But your prayers do. They really do because the sovereign, omnipotent God hears them and has promised to act based on them. He gives the provision, or depending on your translation, the supply or the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Paul has confidence that as the believers pray for him, the Holy Spirit, the Helper whom Jesus Christ promised to his church—that Spirit will work in him for his ultimate salvation.
Is this what you are looking for when you ask for prayer? What is the deliverance you are concerned about? It’s not that it is bad to ask God to deliver you from your trial or from a bad situation. And it’s not that he would never respond to that prayer and bring you out of it. He can. He does sometimes. But is your primary concern for your ultimate salvation? You can tell what is most important to you by the way you ask for prayer. You can tell how confident you really are in the faithfulness of God to answer prayer. You can see that because it is directly related to what you are asking for prayer for. If your constant concern is for physical and temporal deliverance, maybe add the spiritual stuff there on the end—“Please deliver me, do this…do this…do this…but if not, give me grace”—that kind of thing—that constant concern—it’s likely you’re constantly feeling like prayer is failing you, as if it’s only actually a certain percentage effective. Maybe you think of it as some sort of insurance that maybe tilts the odds a bit in your favor. Maybe it’s just nothing more than a Hail Mary play when you can’t do anything else. In fact, it’s a pretty good bet that if most of your prayer requests in your life have been about alleviating temporal issues or for physical blessings, then you have probably found yourself praying less and less as time goes on because you just don’t see that happening because of prayer. There is a good chance that even though you probably would never say it, you live like prayer really doesn’t do anything.
The confidence in prayer we see in Paul (and notice this isn’t his confidence in his own prayers, but the confidence in the prayers of normal believers in the church in Philippi) is directly attributable to the fact Paul doesn’t ever really seem to be concerned about his own physical well-being. He wants prayer not so God will end his adversity, but that God would use it unto his sanctification. And because this is how he prays and this is how he asks for prayer, he is constantly experiencing in his life the faithfulness of God in answering prayer. He is seeing it all the time over and over. This leads to his confidence.
When we as a church are praying for each other—sure, we should and we can pray for alleviation of suffering, for an end to trials, but we can’t stop there. That can’t even be the very tip of the iceberg. That cannot even be close to our primary purpose in prayer, praying, “Above all, use this trial, use this pain to make them more like you, to cause them to rely more on you, to draw closer to you, to know you in a greater way, that this will turn out for their salvation.” Let’s pray like that. And then let’s do it with the confidence we see in Paul here.
So Paul rejoices knowing his adversity will turn out for his salvation. That’s point one. Point two, An Unashamed Standing. Paul will rejoice in his circumstances because he knows he has an unashamed standing. He knows that before Christ he will not be ashamed. He says, “It is my eager expectation and hope.” Remember in the Bible that when we see the word “hope”—when Paul uses and when we see it elsewhere in the New Testament—we don’t mean it the same way it’s usually talked about today. It’s not something we are unsure of, but we want to happen. Rather, hope in the Bible speaks of a certain future that has yet to be actualized. The other word we see in verse 20, where he says, “As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not at all be ashamed,” is the word translated as “eager expectation.” It’s a unique word, and it has the literal meaning of outstretching your head or craning your neck around like you are looking for something you are excited about—like my kids peering their little heads around the corner to see what is under the Christmas tree—that kind of crane-looking, excited eagerness.
Paul eagerly expects that as the believers pray for him and as the Spirit supplies, he will be found faithful and he will have no reason to be ashamed before God. This is profound and, once again, shows how Paul is thinking in strictly eternal categories. He has every reason to feel earthly shame in his position—he’s a prisoner! He is a prisoner awaiting trial. And while he has absolutely no confidence he will be able to stand in a Roman court unashamed and blameless when it comes to Roman law, he has every confidence that as he remains faithful to Christ and strives to grow more like him and be obedient to him, even in his affliction, he will not be at all ashamed before the heavenly court that actually matters. Paul cares nothing for public opinion about him, but he longs to never feel the disgrace that would come from failing to trust God. That is what John also is referring to in 1 John 2:28 when he says, “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” Paul has this confidence. He is overjoyed because the thought of disgracing Christ is abhorrent to him. And therefore, the adversity that comes with following Christ brings joy because it guarantees no real shame before Christ. We saw that in those words from Job also. It mattered little to Job what his friends thought about him. Job was only concerned with the verdict of God.
Christian, it is important. You must begin to settle this in your heart now—how big a deal is it for you to stand unashamed before Christ. Persecution is just going to get stronger and more intense in this country. So what shame do you fear the most? The Gospel sounds more and more ridiculous to more and more people with every day that goes by in this age. Do you care what they think of you when you share the truth? Is there something in you that is stepping back from sharing the Gospel because you fear disgrace or shame from the wrong person? I think we can mask this pretty well. I think it can be easy for us to say things like, “I’m looking for an open door to share the Gospel with that guy. I’m trying to really build up my relationship with this person so I can share the Gospel with them someday.” When we say things like that, is our concern really for the Gospel? Or are we really just displaying that we fear shame from the wrong people?
What we mean is, “I don’t want them to think I’m crazy.” Or maybe, “They need to see that I really think rationally on most other things, so they don’t dismiss my beliefs right away. So I need to get to know them a little more. Or maybe if they see we have some things in common first—we go to a game together, we watch movies together, talk about some common things—then maybe they won’t think of me as such a weirdo when I start to share the miraculous work of Christ and the Gospel.” Why are so many of us so confident that we would be imprisoned like Paul for the sake of Christ if it comes down to it in this country? We’re already so afraid of the shame that would come from even our powerless neighbor or coworker thinking we are crazy for what we believe.
Maybe that is another reason it is so hard for us to feel joy in suffering and persecution—because we have a track record of trying so hard to avoid it. We have fine, even pious-sounding reasons for avoiding that kind of shame. So we barely have been able to experience the joy that comes with unashamedly proclaiming the truth to someone who may just mock you for it. It’s not the case with Paul. Look back at Acts 26. If you look at Acts 26 in verses 12 through 23, what is happening here is that the Roman official, Festus, has brought Paul before King Agrippa. And he’s brought him before King Agrippa virtually admitting he cannot see any law that Paul has broken. There is not a strong case to be made against Paul, the prisoner. And so he stands before King Agrippa, who, humanly speaking, has virtually complete control over what will happen to Paul. He has much more power over Paul than your neighbor or coworker has over you. What Paul says before Agrippa will be instrumental in whether or not he is released from prison. He could have easily presented a bunch of facts about his case and avoided saying anything that would be disgraceful before these pagan Roman officials. He maybe could have tried to make a good showing before these pagan rulers, but even knowing his audience, Paul says these things in Chapter 26, verses 12 through 23. He says:
*In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” And I said, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to these things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light to both our people and to the Gentiles.*
That is what Paul says when everything is on the line—when there is actually someone who has power over him, and the response is predictable. Look at verse 24: “And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of mind.’” In verse 28, we see Agrippa’s response, “And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?’” “Agh! Paul! How embarrassing! You have that little bit of time, and you make yourself look like an idiot! Now Festus and Agrippa think you are a fool. What a waste of time! You could have tried to make Christianity look a little bit better to them. You could have gotten them to rally around you how you are being mistreated. You could have found some common points of belief with the Roman religion. Of course, you’re not going to convert Agrippa in that short of time. You need to establish your credibility. You must have a long relationship first.” Do you think Paul is thinking any of that as he was in that courtroom? No, he walked out not at all ashamed.
Compare that to the last time you chose not to share the Gospel in order to keep someone from thinking you were out of your mind so that maybe in a couple of years you can surprise them with the fact that someone as reasonable as you is actually a Christian. Which situation allows you to walk away rejoicing knowing you will not at all be ashamed. I’m not saying there is no place for wisdom and discretion in sharing the Gospel and speaking out for Christ, but I am saying, you would be hard pressed to go around this room and find a story from someone who can think of a time they regret the sharing the Gospel, regret speaking boldly for Christ. No matter what the response, you walk away from those conversations rejoicing. The name of Christ has been proclaimed. He is the only one you are interested in pleasing, right?
So that was point two—rejoice in your trials and persecution because you know when you embrace the adversity that comes with serving Christ, you will not at all be ashamed before him. Point three, An Honored Savior. Next, he says, “With full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Normally in a phrase like this, Paul might say something like, “Christ will be honored in me,” but here he is specifically using the word for a physical body. He is saying that whatever happens to his physical body, it will be used to bring honor to Christ. His confidence here is in God doing this through him. He doesn’t have confidence in his own ability to magnify Christ through his body. He knows his responsibility in this physical trial is to live faithfully through it in the way we are seeing him do it throughout these verses. And then, no matter what the outcome to himself might be, he knows God will honor Christ through his body. What the actual result of his physical person is—his physical body—at the end of the day, that is not important to Paul. Either Christ will be honored as he spares Paul from it, which is possible, or more probable, Christ will be honored as Paul responds with joy in his trial as he bears up under it and demonstrates trust in a sovereign Savior in a situation that should bring him to despair.
Therefore, we must be very careful with keeping our most frequent and fervent prayer about God healing us or God keeping us safe or God keeping us comfortable, like we talked about earlier. It is possible Christ will receive more honor through some sort of divine healing or protection. Of course that is the case. But isn’t it much more likely, based on history, that Christ will be honored most in your body as his people suffer in a way that is unexplainable to the world, as they are denied what is so important to the one who is only living for this life?—when they have this supernatural joy because of their complete trust in their sovereign King, and it becomes obvious this person really does only care about Christ being honored? If he frees me, if he heals me—great! Christ will be honored as I continue to wear out my body in my service to him. If he doesn’t free me, if he doesn’t heal me—great! Christ will be honored as it becomes obvious to everyone around that my hope and my joy have nothing to do with my physical condition. Free or imprisoned; rich or poor; sick or healthy; young or old—nothing to do with those things.
Of course, this is how it should be for those of us who really believe the Gospel, right? We know that no matter what kind of pain or suffering we might be enduring in the body and in this body now—that it is only temporary, less than a vapor in eternity for those of us who are in Christ. We know the final resting place for each of us in our bodies should be the lake of fire, spending eternity physically feeling the just wrath of God toward our sin. That is what we deserve because of our sin and our rebellion against God. We know that Jesus Christ endured that eternity of punishment on our behalf while he was on the cross. And when repent of our sins and when we put our full faith and trust in that sacrifice of Christ as the just punishment we deserve, then God also credits us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ lived the perfect life, not you. Yet, that life has been credited to your account. Well, he took your payment, so how could it not be so that we would want him—not ourselves for a second—him and him and him alone to be the one who is honored through our body, knowing how we were supposed to spend eternity. How could we not long for the one who saved us from that to use our bodies however he sees fit to bring honor to the One who paid the penalty on our behalf?
So Paul rejoices that no matter what happens in his body, God will use it to honor Christ. Notice what leads to that confidence in this verse. “But that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body.” Not only does Paul long to see Christ honored through is body, he has confidence this will happen because this has been the consistent pattern of his life. What gives Paul joy here, the confidence that Christ will be honored, comes from the fact he has consistently lived his life with boldness for Christ and he has always seen that God uses it to bring honor to Christ. Maybe this is an issue for some of us. Maybe it is so hard for us to rejoice in trials because we don’t have much of a track record of faithfully enduring them. When you are not dying to yourself and living for Christ every day in the smaller things, why would you expect that you would be able to bear up well under a major trial? The best indicator of future performance isn’t resolve. The best indicator of future performance is past faithfulness. Those who would be willing to die for Christ one day are those who are now dying to themselves every day.
I think most of us who pay attention to what is going on in the culture—we can see pretty clearly that is going to be more and more difficult to hold Christian principles and to get along smoothly with those principles in this world. Slowly increasing persecution even from the government is almost certainly on the horizon. And a lot of us have this understanding that we might one day have to say, “No,” to the government in order to continue saying, “Yes” to Christ. Isn’t that in your mind right now as you watch the news? Why would you believe you would be able to do that for a second if on a daily basis you can’t even say, “No,” to picking up your cell phone and, “Yes,” to picking up the Word of God? If we spend hours before our television and our phones and seconds before the Lord in the Word and in prayer—if we can’t even make a decision for Christ that would cost us a moment of entertainment, and we expect that suddenly when we have to make a decision for Christ that would cost us our livelihood—we’re suddenly going to be able to muster this same type of joy and faith that Paul has?
Paul say, “Now as always.” The confidence that leads to the joy that Paul has in knowing that Christ will be honored in his body comes from looking back at a life of dying to himself, living for Christ and watching God glorify Christ every time. If we want this kind of joy when the big trials come, when tragedy strikes, then it has to start with dying to yourself every day and longing to see Christ honored in your body in the everyday decisions, even those smaller trials. How could you think you will stand in the joy of Christ in the face of unspeakable tragedy if right now your joy can be extinguished by your day not going as you planned, or difficult financial circumstances, or your spouse or some other family member not treating you the way you want to be treated? We must be faithful in the daytoday, in dying to ourselves. Make it your ambition today to see Christ honored in every part of your life, every small decision, every small trial. As you live faithfully in those situations, you will gain confidence and joy in God’s faithfulness to magnify Christ through you when things begin to get really difficult.
That was point three—Paul’s confidence that Christ will be honored in his body gives him reason to rejoice in the most difficult circumstances. Point four is An Eternal Perspective. At the end of verse 20, you read that Paul’s joy in Christ being honored through his body is truly what is most important to him because he says, “Whether by life or by death.” And he doubles down on all that he has said because he says whether he lives or dies, it doesn’t really matter to him. It has nothing to do with his joy—whether he lives or dies—nothing to do with his joy. He understands himself as the slave of Christ. He understands that whatever life he has on this earth totally belongs to Christ, and God can end it whenever he pleases—it’s his life. If living will bring Christ more honor, then great. But if dying does, then praise God for that also. I don’t know if you have ever seen the emblem for the American Baptist Foreign Missions Society—the one that Adoniram Judson founded—but it expresses this understanding of the Christian life perfectly. It is a picture of an ox and it’s standing between a plough and an altar and it has a banner over the top that says, “Ready for either.” That is the picture of the Christian life.
That is what we see that Paul understands here. If God wants to use us up in the field, we are ready for that. And if he wants to take our lives, we are ready for that also. It is his discretion. Paul is able to say this so easily because of the eternal perspective he has demonstrated throughout his life. And he clarifies it in this small little verse 21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This perspective is really the key to all that Paul is saying here. As long as you share this understanding of how Paul sees his life, then living the way we have been describing this morning through this passage will follow perfectly. It will be logical. In this little verse, the word translated “is,” is supplied by the translator. There is no word there. The more literal rendering would be, “For me to live Christ, to die gain.” So we need the “is” there to help us make sense in the English language. But what is happening is that Paul is being emphatic. It is literally like saying, “For me live equals Christ, die equals gain. That is how I see the world.” For Paul to continue to live means a life lived the exact way we have seen it described in these verses.
If God continues to allow him to live, it is more than extra heart beats and extra contractions of his lungs; there is a life of service to Christ who bought him. He understands that dying is gain. It is literally gaining something. He does not see it as losing his life. It is finally gaining complete freedom from sin and all its effects. Finally gaining complete salvation. The work of sanctification is finally complete. When the Christian dies, he loses nothing. The silliest thing we could ever say at the funeral of any believer is something like, “It’s too bad he never got to… whatever.” It doesn’t matter how fill in that blank. There is no way that whatever it is is even remotely a concern of the physically dead believer. They’ve lost nothing. They’ve missed out on nothing. It makes perfect sense, then, if your life is about something else, if you are living for any other type of joy or fleeting pleasure, then, yes, dying is going to be loss for you. It is only the one who is living for Christ who can see death as gain because that is what completes the race they have been running for Christ, for the goal of honoring him, and then being with him.
Back to what we were talking about earlier, it stands to reason then, if you are praying to God to heal you, to extend your physical life—if it’s for any other reason than so you can live for him completely, so you can continue to be used up in his service for his church—if you’re praying to be healed because you’re not ready to go because you want to see your family more, because there is more here that you’d like to do or see—any of that stuff—then you have an incredibly deficient understanding of the God you are asking to heal you. Think about it. If you are desperate for him to use his omnipotent power to keep you from being with him for a little while longer, what kind of sense that does make for the servant of Christ? Paul understands that this life is a race, that he is to run with all the strength that God gives him, for all the purposes God has for him. And he will run with joy until he hits the finish line. He does not know where the finish line is, but once he hits it, even more joy. It is joy, it is gain because he now has the possession that he has been running to obtain—eternal life in the presence of God, of his God and Savior, the completion of his sanctification. No more of that hated sin clinging to him. The joy, the eternal bliss that comes from standing in the presence with the One who chose him before the foundations of the earth, the One who ransomed him, the One whom he has served unashamedly, Whom he has run this race for. Now he gets to hear from the lips of that Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Since this is what death really is for the believer, then of course, life should be lived the way we see Paul describing it in this passage. Until this is your perspective on life and death, it will be very difficult for you to rejoice in trials the way we see Paul doing it here. Once you have a right understanding of what death really is, you can really live life the way it is meant to be lived. This is the key for how to live a life that rejoices in trial and tragedy. Can it be said of us that for us to live is Christ and to die is gain? If so, we will be able to rejoice in all circumstances, knowing that God, through our prayers and his Spirit, will turn even the worse tragedy for our ultimate salvation and that as we walk faithfully through all adversity, we can rejoice knowing that we may be disgraced before men, but we will still stand unashamed before Christ. And we will be eagerly expecting that God will use our lives, our own bodies to bring honor to Christ, which is the true joy and desire of all those who understand the unbelievable grace that has been given to us through his Gospel.
Our God and Father, would you make these things true of us, true of our church? Rearrange our priorities where they need to be, help us to speak into each other’s lives to do this. Give us this perspective, help us each to be able to say along with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” May the primary goal of our lives be that you would use them to bring honor to Christ, that would be all we long for, that we would truly rejoice in all circumstances—not because of us or of what we are doing, but because of the confidence that we know what we’re about to sing, that we know whom we have believed. It is in his name we pray, amen.