Devotional # 122. 2/2/15. Philippians 1:15-26.
Intro. Last week we started the book of Philippians. Paul was thankful that the church there had “fellowship in the gospel”. It encouraged him while he was in prison, which is where he wrote this book. This week Paul continues talking about how being in prison and the difficulties of preachers slandering him are all giving glory to Jesus. Paul has the best kind of outlook which we can learn from. Not because it’s fake or forced but because it’s genuine. And it’s real because it is from God. So how do you feel about life on earth? Are you ready to check out and go to heaven? What could possibly keep you here? Paul deals with all of these things in today’s Devotion.
vv. 15-18. The background on this is that there were some preachers who wanted to be more famous then Paul. For them when he got thrown into prison it was a good thing because then they didn’t have to compete with him.
But Paul makes a really interesting and mature point here. Basically he doesn’t care how the message of Jesus gets spread as long as it goes out. Now this is one of those fringe Christianity things because we know that God wants us to have a good heart when we serve Him, but someone could misunderstand Paul as if that wasn’t true. The fact that Paul is saying these people preach Jesus “from envy and strife” shows that it’s not good. But he contrasts that with the other type, the good side, those who preach “from goodwill.” It is important to stay balanced – we can focus on the bad things, on the wrongs we have suffered, but we must remember that there is good, and with God the good and the bad end up being for good.
So God and Paul would prefer that these competitive preachers wouldn’t be motivated by selfish ambition but at the same time God uses all things to glorify Him. It is the preacher who meditates on the Word and pays great prices to further the gospel who is used mightily by God, but God is not so weak that He can’t also use the person with character flaws and sins. It is a hard thing for us to wrap our mind around. I’m reminded of the pastor who was found out to be having an affair, consequently his ministry was over. Sadly, the people who have placed their faith in a pastor may fall away from church. They may be immature enough (and so self-consumed with self-pity and anger) that they never go to church again. They think that God’s sinful followers are a complete representation of Him. And that is sad. But there are also many people who were led to the Lord through this pastor’s ministry. There were many marriages strengthened when this pastor, who was committing adultery, was preaching from the Bible about the sanctity of marriage. I hope you know the Word well enough (and me for that matter) that we are not condoning any form of sin but the point is that God is greater and can do a work in any circumstance.
I appreciate one commentators view on this, “Some were motivated in a good way and some were motivated in a bad way; yet nonetheless they were motivated – and Paul could rejoice in that!” (Source 1).
vv. 19-21. In verse 19 Paul says that he knows that he will be delivered, and at first we think he means out of prison. It’s not until the end of verse 20 that we actually realize what he means. But what does he say in between the beginning of verse 19 and the end of verse 20? And why? Well, in verse 19 he says that the deliverance will come through the prayers of the Christians in Philippi and by the Holy Spirit. He says this because it is crucial for Christians to know the power of prayer, like several things in the spiritual realm, we don’t understand how it works, but God listens to our requests. Paul also recognizes that it will be the Holy Spirit that sets him free, since nothing is done without God’s approval. Then in verse 20 he continues on with his point about boldness. It seems that Paul is really wrestling with trying to remain bold. I can identify with that and I’m not even in prison. He says that his hope is in Christ being magnified. What is magnification? It’s like when Sherlock Holmes uses a magnifying glass to see details more clearly. In the same way we Christians are like a special glass that people look through and see the details of Christ. Who He really is, how He loves and what His plan is for peoples lives. But then Paul drops the hammer. He unveils the unexpected truth. I can only imagine being a Philippian, being the first people to ever hear this and being flabbergasted. Being totally taken by surprise. Because Paul says that he wants to magnify Jesus and most Christians would say, ‘OK, I’ll do that’, but Paul says that he’s willing to do it whether “by life or by death.” And I can see the whole congregation who has been nodding in agreement suddenly stop…no one breathes…there is no sound and then they look around at each other.
-‘Did we just hear that right?’
-‘No, I don’t think Paul actually said that, maybe we misunderstood him.’
But Paul removes all doubt in verse 21 when he says the words that have become very famous, the words that have been on many missionaries and martyrs minds: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
If you’re like me you probably understood the general idea that Paul is going for here, which is: if Paul stays alive on earth he’ll live for Christ but if he dies then he gets to go to heaven and that is very profitable – but the wording is kind of weird. Why didn’t Paul just say exactly what I just said? The phrase “to live is Christ” has always bugged me. And maybe it’s supposed to. Maybe it’s one of those things that were supposed to wrestle with, to really pour over and meditate on. The CEB Translation puts it this way: “Because for me, living serves Christ and dying is even better.” Paul explains a little more in the next section.
vv. 22-24. In verse 22 Paul explains that if he does live (staying in “the flesh”) it will be good because there will be fruit that comes from him. He’s not giving up just because he’s in prison or getting old. In verse 23 he says that it is difficult for him to decide what to do. On one hand he wants to be so bold that the authorities can’t take it anymore and end up committing him to capital punishment because then he could go to heaven. But in verse 24 he says the other hand is that if he is left alive then he can help Christians more.
When he says the decision is hard, he uses the phrase that he is “hard-pressed.” This is the idea of going through a path that has rock on either side. There is no easy way out. But also that it is a straight path – a path where the traveler has no choice but to go forward (Source 2).
vv. 25-26. Paul concludes his thought by encouraging the people of Philippi that as much as is up to him he will “remain” and “continue” with them. He does this for the maturity of their walk with the Lord and “joy of faith.” Again, from prison, Paul mentions “joy.” There is a “joy” when someone who has been imprisoned for the gospel is released and you finally get to hug them and fellowship with them. It is because that is the representation of Jesus. We haven’t gotten to hug Jesus this side of heaven for all He has done, but when we see a woman or man give their life to the Lord it does something to us. I will conclude with this: above I mentioned that pastor who was committing adultery and how some fall away from the faith when that happens, but here is the balance. The person, like Paul, who has given up their love for this life so that they can tell others about the Savior who gave up His human life so that others may live, has a greater message then the preacher who speaks from envy.
Source 2: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, 1997, p. 1821.