Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ To Be or Not to Be: Phil 1:21-26 (Part I)

For a while now we’ve been studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and for much of this month we’ve been parked at verse 21 of chapter 1, which we have seen as something of a “life verse” for Paul.

Today and into next week, we’re going to look at two things in verses 21-26, as we prepare to do that I want you to follow Paul’s argument—the argument that is going on inside his own heart in these verses.

In verse 21, you’ll see Paul’s thesis, his theme statement. It’s a truth claim which is life-changing.

Second, in verse 22, Paul articulates his dilemma: ‘Is it better for me to die and be with Christ, or is it better for me to live and fruitfully labor? In light of the truth of verse 21, is it better for me to fruitfully labor in life or to enjoy the immediate presence of Christ in death?’

Thirdly, he analyzes this dilemma in verses 23-24. He breaks down the dilemma and puts a name on both sides of the dilemma.

And then, finally, in verses 25-26, we see a resolution of the dilemma.

This week, we’ll go through Paul’s chain of arguments. The second thing, for next week, is to draw a life-changing truth from this passage.

In that very famous Shakespearean soliloquy, Hamlet is wrestling with the same question that Paul is wrestling with here. The Greeks, in Paul’s time when he was writing this letter, often viewed death as a relief from the hardships of life, and thought about death as comforting because it brought an end to the turmoil of this life. Hamlet raises a question about that kind of thinking in the famous soliloquy. Paul is wrestling with the same question, but in an entirely different framework.

I. Paul’s core belief (v. 21)

First, notice how he states his core belief about what the gospel has done for him in Jesus Christ: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” We’ve said all along that by saying that Paul is affirming that real life means knowing, loving, serving, glorifying, enjoying, and communing with Jesus Christ. That is real life, and God has given him that real life in Christ. Because of that, death is gain, and will usher us into the immediate presence of Christ.

II. Paul’s dilemma (v. 22)
But this leads him into a struggle. To die is gain, he says at the end of verse 21.

Paul is saying death will bring an inestimable gain for me. There’s no questioning in Paul’s heart. It’s not that he wants to die; it’s that he wants to be with Christ, and death is the transition that he must pass through in order to be with Christ. Living, however, means fruitful labor, telling people about Christ, serving the church, encouraging the Philippians who have sent him out to the mission field. And so he states his dilemma at the end of verse 22: ‘I don’t know which of these things that I ought to long for.'

And then he begins to analyze this dilemma in verses 23-24. “I’m hard pressed from both directions…

‘To depart is better for me; to stay is better for you.’ Paul says it’s a no-brainer: if to depart is better for me, but to stay is better for you, I know what I’m going to pray. In fact, he says, I know what God’s going to do in His providence. He will allow me to stay and minister to you for a while longer.

Of course, Paul is reflecting his Savior at that point. Was it better for Jesus to stay in glory with angels worshiping and singing to Him day and night in the halls of heaven, or to come to earth in our poor flesh and blood to live and die in a fallen world, to be rejected by His own people, to be executed by the religious leaders of His day, to be dead and buried? No, it would have been better for Jesus to stay in the halls of glory, but it was needful for us that He come. And so Paul is just drawing the same conclusion, following in the footsteps of his Savior.

III. Paul’s resolution (vv. 25-26)
Paul opens verse 25 with: “Convinced of this….” That truth claim is what starts this dilemma for Paul. (begin bold) Do you believe the same thing that Paul says that he believes in Philippians 1:21 (end bold)? If you do, then I would challenge you to make a study of Philippians 1:21, and to ask God in prayer, “Lord, help me to believe Philippians 1:21 like Paul believed Philippians 1:21 when he wrote it; and, correspondingly, change my life so that I’m really living my life in light of the truth of Philippians 1:21.”

Paul is convinced of it, and it changed the way that he looked at life. He did not look at life as miserable and fruitless, but as joyful and fruitful; and he could still anticipate death as full of an even greater joy.

Remember that the reason that he is sharing this struggle with the Philippians is for the increase of their joy. They were troubled by the fact that he was in prison, that he was incapable of doing mission work, that he was facing the prospect of death. And so he wrote to them to comfort them and to give them joy.

Paul knows that it is good for him to remain, because he can serve the growth, the progress, and the joy of the Philippian Christians, and indeed of all who trust in Jesus Christ.

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