You Win Either Way

Philippians 1:19-26

April 24, 2005 | Brian Bill

 Indeed, this world is not our home.  Let’s see if we can understand more about how we can be ready to go, and be ready to stay, by looking at the Apostle Paul’s example.

1. Use the power of prayer (19a). 

As we pick up the last phrase of verse 18, we see once again that Paul is continuing to rejoice.  You may wonder how he can be joyful when his situation is anything but jubilant.  As we learned last week, it’s because he made the most of every opportunity by seeing God’s purposes in his problems, by making the gospel his goal, by giving courage to other Christians and by making sure the message of Christ is all that matters.

Verse 19 tells us that Paul was joyful in part because of the prayers of God’s people.  It gave him great comfort to know that Christians were praying for him.  Friend, never underestimate the importance of intercession.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Paul asked the church in Thessalonica to pray for him and in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, he linked prayer with the proclamation and spread of the gospel: “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.”  He asked the Ephesian believers to pray that he would “make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). 

2. Rely on the provision of the Holy Spirit (19b). 

Paul utilized intercession and then the Holy Spirit went to work.  The word “help” here refers to “sufficient supply of all that is necessary” and has to do with generous giving.  The Holy Spirit provides everything that we need; He is not stingy but instead lavishes His provision on us.  John 14:26: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  And because of the prayers of the saints and the provision of the Spirit, Paul was confident that “what has happened will turn out for my deliverance.”  

The word “deliverance” can mean rescue from grave danger and can also refer to salvation.  Whatever the precise meaning, Paul knew that what he was going through was just temporary.  This is similar to what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.   So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Most commentators believe Paul was eventually released, traveled to Spain and then was arrested again before he was martyred (see 2 Timothy 4:16-17).

It’s fascinating to me that the phrase, “this will turn out for my deliverance” is an exact quote from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament of Job 13:16.  Just as Job knew that he would eventually be delivered, whether out of death, or through death, so Paul knew that he would win either way.  Don’t miss the connection between how prayer leads to provision.  As someone has said, “Prayer on earth leads to power in heaven.”

3. Give Christ first place (20-21). 

Ultimately Paul was confident about his deliverance because he had given Christ first place in his life.  Notice that he “eagerly expects…that he will not be ashamed.”  This is a cool word picture.  It means that he is watching with his head lifted up and his neck stretched out, looking away from all other interests.  To “eagerly expect” was used of a watchman who peered into the darkness, expectantly looking for the distant beacon which would announce the capture of Troy (  Paul’s focus is on the future as he looks past his present circumstances.  Because he is living for what is to come, he knows that he will not be ashamed.  This is fleshed out in 1 John 2:28: “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”  I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than to be ashamed before the Lord when he returns.  Can you?

Paul craves “courage” so that “Christ will be exalted” in his body, whether he lives or dies.  It’s been said that courage is fear that has said its prayers.  One of the best examples of courage and how it is linked to spending time with Christ is found in Acts 4:13: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”  

When people look at you, do they see the greatness and glory of Christ, or do they see you?

The word “exalt” is the Greek word “megas” and means “to make great, to enlarge, to make glorious.”  That leads to a question.  When people look at you, do they see the greatness and glory of Christ, or do they see you?  Are you making him bigger or smaller by the way you’re living?  Psalm 34:3 says, “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.”  Paul believes strongly that he can do that either through his life or through his death.  

Verse 21 is Paul’s purpose statement and should become ours as well.  In his commentary on Philippians, James Montgomery Boice refers to this verse as a “text that cuts like a surgeon’s scalpel to the heart of Christianity.”  In fact, let’s memorize this together right now.  You might think you can’t memorize, but I know you can.  This verse is very short but is packed with meaning: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  Let’s repeat that together.  It’s one thing to say this Scripture; it’s another thing all together to make it yours.  

Before we move on, how would you honestly complete this sentence?  For to me, to live is .  What floats your boat?  What gets you excited?  When you say, “That’s what life is all about,” what are you referring to?  Here’s the rub.  No one can leave that sentence blank.  Everyone is living for something.  What are you living for right now?  Is it a relationship with someone?  Is it your job?  Could it be a hobby or a possession?  In his sermon last week, Ray Pritchard made the following statement (  

When it comes to our possessions, we usually only ask one question, “What are my possessions doing for me.”  We ought also to ask, “What are my possessions doing to me?”  It’s not wrong to own nice things, but you are in a dangerous place when those nice things own you. 

He then gave some helpful suggestions to know when something “owns” you.

  • When you need that “thing” as a major source of happiness or fulfillment in your life.
  • When you can’t imagine living without it.
  • When you get angry at the thought of losing it.
  • When it’s the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night.
  • When you find yourself bringing it up in almost every conversation.
  • When you get upset if someone else touches it or comes near it.
  • When you plan your schedule around it.
  • When you enjoy that “thing” more than being with family and friends.
  • When others warn you about your attachment to your possessions.
  • When worries and concerns about your possessions crowd out the joy in your life. 

Ray concludes by quoting Richard Foster: “When you know deep in your soul that something you own has started to own you, give it away. Find someone who needs it and give it to them.  Don’t make a big deal about it.  Just give it away.  You will be free, and someone else will be blessed.  And your heart will start to sing again. 

In the original, this verse literally reads this way: “For to me to live Christ, to die gain.”  Life is Christ.  His person, purposes and plans are preeminent to Paul.  When Paul says, “To me” he is emphatically saying, “Whatever life may be to you, this is what it is to me.”  We might say it like this: “As far as I’m concerned…”  The commentator Lightfoot suggests that the Apostle is declaring, “I live only to serve Him, only to commune with Him; I have no conception of life apart from Him.”  This is summed up in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” Colossians 3:4 says it this way: “When Christ, who is your life…”  Is He your life?  We could ask the question this way: Is Christ prominent in your life, or is He preeminent?  

For most of us, we don’t think of death as gain.  In fact, we often refer to it this way: “We lost so-and-so.”  In many of our minds, the absence of life is a loss.  How then can death be gain?     Revelation 21:3-4: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  The word “gain” refers to “profit” or interest on money.  We come out ahead when we’re dead.  Revelation 14:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” Actually, we’re not really dead when we die.  We leave this world to spend eternity in another world.  What do we gain?  One pastor said that we gain a better body, a better home, a better inheritance, and better fellowship.  

If for me to live is Christ, then to die is gain, but…

  • If for me to live is money, then to die is to leave it all behind
  • If for me to live is fame, then to die is to be forgotten
  • If for me to live is pleasure, then to die is to miss all the fun
  • If for me to live is ambition, then to die is to become insignificant
  • If for me to live is possessions, then to die is to have them all rust and fade away

Alexander MacLaren describes how death can be a gain.

  1. We lose everything we don’t need – the world, the flesh, and the devil.  We lose our trials, troubles, tears and fears.
  2. We keep everything that matters – our personality, our identity, our fruit.
  3. We gain what we never had before – heaven, rewards, the presence of God, fellowship with other believers.

I came across three tombstone inscriptions this week that reveal different life philosophies.  

Here lies Lester Moore; Four slugs from a .44, no Les, no more.

Actually, Les is still more somewhere, either in heaven or in hell.  I’m told that there is a headstone in Montgomery, Alabama that reads:

Under the clover, and under the trees,

Here lies the body of Jonathon Pease.

Pease ain’t here, only the pod,

Pease shelled out and went home to God.

That’s pretty good.  Apparently there’s another tombstone in Indiana with this epitaph: 

Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,

As you are now, so once was I

As I am now, so you will be,

So prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passerby read those words and underneath scratched this reply:

To follow you I’m not content,

Until I know which way you went.

Which way will you go when you die?

4. Be prepared to die (22-23). 

An evangelist was speaking in a church one time and asked those who wanted to go to heaven to raise their hands.  Everyone in the audience did so, except for one elderly man sitting near the front.  The preacher pointed his finger at him and said, “Sir, do you mean to tell us that you don’t want to go to heaven?”  The man replied, “Sure, I want to go, but the way you put the question, I figured you were getting up a busload for tonight.”  Most everyone wants to go to heaven, they just don’t want to die in order to get there.  Woody Allen reportedly has said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

As Paul contemplates his future, he recognizes that if he continues to live, others will benefit: “this will mean fruitful labor.”  And then he says that he doesn’t know what to choose and he is “torn between the two.”  The word “torn” means “to be pressed on, or constrained, as in a crowd.”  His dilemma is between delaying or departing, but his deepest desire is to “depart.”  In our culture we use a lot of euphemisms for death.  Here are a few: passed on, gone, passed away, no longer here.  The word “departed” is rich in meaning.  It’s actually a sailing metaphor that means to pull up anchor.  When the believer dies, he or she leaves this world and sets sail for the shores of heaven.  It was also used for the taking down of a tent.  As a tentmaker, Paul referred to the earthly body as a tent when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:1: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” At death our tent is destroyed as we move on to a better place.  Right before he is executed Paul used this same word in 2 Timothy 4:6: “…the time has come for my departure.”  

Notice that Paul desired to depart “and be with Christ.”  This means that there is no such thing as “soul sleep” or a place of probation called purgatory.  When a believer dies, he is ushered immediately into the presence of Christ.  That’s what Jesus said to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  2 Corinthians 5:8 makes the same point: “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”  Paul concludes by saying to depart and be with Christ is “better by far.”  This expresses the highest superlative Paul could think of and can be translated, “much more better” or “very far better” or even “better beyond all expression.”  He is thinking here of the amazing “death benefits” for the believer.

That reminds me of a young business owner who was opening a new branch office, and a friend decided to send a floral arrangement for the grand opening.  Due to a mix-up at the florist, the card that was attached said, “Rest in peace.”  After complaining to the florist, the florist said, “Look at this way – somewhere a man was buried under a wreath today that said, “Good luck in your new location.”  We really do go to a new location when we leave this one, don’t we?  For the Christian, death is nothing more than a change of address.

5. Plan to really live (24-26). 

It’s only when we’re ready to die can we really live.  Those who are most prepared to depart are most prepared to delay.  When we die we leave behind all we have and take with us all that we are.  When Lymann Abbot was 80 years old, he wrote this: “I enjoy my home, my friends, and my life.  I shall be sorry to part with them.  But I have always stood in the bow looking forward with eager anticipation.  When the time comes for me to put out to sea, I think I shall be standing in the bow and looking forward with eager interest and glad hopefulness to the new world to which the unknown voyage will take me.”  Paul was ready to set sail and yet was willing to wait: “But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”  

By the way, if you’ve ever contemplated suicide and think it would just be better to die, remember this verse.  It is necessary for you to stay to serve the Savior here and for the benefit of others.  Your time of death is His call, not yours – or for that matter, anyone else’s.  Death for the Christian is never pictured in Scripture as a way to get out of the worst of life.  As someone has said, “It is an improvement on the best…To us, life and death often look like two evils of which we know not which is worse.  To Paul, they look like two immense blessings, of which he knows not which is better.”

It was Henry James who said, “The best use of your life is to invest it in something that will outlast it.”  As much as Paul wanted to go to heaven, he concluded that he would “continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.”  His personal desire gave way to their spiritual needs.  Look at this way.  Why are you and I still here?  Why didn’t God just take us home when we became believers?   Because He has work He wants us to do!  If you’re a Christian, you’ll go to heaven when you die so why not use your time here to get others ready to join you?  Paul’s purpose was the “progress” of others.  He wanted to help Christians on their journey to joy – this recurring theme of rejoicing comes up twice in these two verses.  If he dies, he will gain; if he stays, others will gain.  He wins either way.

C.S. Lewis once said, “The Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.  It is since Christians have begun thinking less of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.  Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you get neither.”  Robert Moffat, the pioneer missionary to Africa, once said: “We’ll have all eternity to celebrate our victories, but only one short hour before sunset to win them.”

This quote from the Life Application Commentary on Philippians says it well: “Some people hold tightly to this life.  Afraid to lose or let go, they in effect become slaves to their mortality.  In contrast, those who do not fear death, seeing it merely as the door to eternal life, are free to live with purpose, meaning and commitment to a cause” (Page 41).  We must avoid two errors.  One is to work so hard that we lose sight of heaven.  The other is to focus on heaven so much that we stop serving.

Before Bishop John Hooper was martyred in the 1500’s, his friend, who he had led to Christ, urged him to recant and remember that “life was sweet and death was bitter.”  Hooper replied, “Eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death is more bitter.”

I’d like to close with some more words from the song called: This World is Not My Home.

Lord, Oh Lord, I have no friend like You.

If Heaven’s not my home, O Lord, what will I do?

Angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door,

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Over in glory land, there is no dying there,

The saints are shouting victory and singing everywhere,

I hear the voice of them that’s gone on before,

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me, that’s one thing I know,

I fixed it up with Jesus, a long time ago.

I know He’ll take me through, though I am weak and poor,

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Have you fixed it up with Jesus?  That’s the ultimate question.  Are you ready to do that right now?  If so, you could say this prayer with me.

“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  I want to live for you so I can be with you when I die.   I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself.  I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living.  I believe and gratefully receive you as my Risen Savior.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  With all my heart I confess that you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and that you rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life.  I want to cross over from death to life.  I ask you now by faith to come into my life so that to me to live will be Christ and to die will be gain.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?