Philippians 1:21-26

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

October 2, 2002


Paul is writing to a church that was established in difficult times. Paul himself is in the middle of a hugely difficult time.

And oddly enough, the theme of this little letter is “joy”.

This has been an interesting week for me. I had helped a couple renew their wedding vows on Saturday. On Monday I did my first funeral. Today I did my second funeral of the week. On Saturday I have another wedding.

It’s been an interesting time sandwiching the joyful events of life with the realities of death.

In a way, you might think that these two types of events are completely opposite of each other. But in an odd sort of way, they’re not all that different.
I can’t help but see some interesting parallels in the passage ahead of us tonight.

We ended last week with Paul talking about how he was anticipating that he would be delivered from his current situation of being in chains. He knew he would be delivered one way or another, and it would happen because of the prayers of the Philippian saints as well as the help from the Holy Spirit.

(Phil 1:19-20 KJV) For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, {20} According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain

to live zao – to live, breathe, be among the living (not lifeless, not dead); to enjoy real life; to have true life and worthy of the name; active, blessed, endless in the kingdom of God; to live i.e. pass life, in the manner of the living and acting. Present, active, infinitive;

to dzen (the actual Greek phrase) - “the act of living” (Robertson)

to dieapothnesko – to die; of the natural death of man; of the violent death of man or animals; to perish by means of something

gain kerdos – gain, advantage; Old word for any gain or profit, interest on money

We’ll talk about the “gain” later on …

(Phil 1:21 NLT) For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better.

(Phil 1:21 ICB) To me the only important thing about living is Christ. And even death would be profit for me.

(Wuest) for, so far as I am concerned, to be living, both as to my very existence and my experience, [that is] Christ, and to have died, that would be a gain.

(Phil 1:21 Phillips) For living to me means simply "Christ", and if I die I should merely gain more of him.


What are you living for?

God’s desire is that we have the same kind of heart that Paul had. God’s desire is that we learn to make Jesus the central focus of our life.
Sometimes we tend to make things be the center of our lives, like a new car …
Dumb and Dumber With Dynamite
A guy buys a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee for $30,000, and has $400 monthly payments. He and a friend go duck hunting and of course, all the lakes are frozen. These two Atomic Brains go to the lake with the guns, the dog, the beer, and of course, the new vehicle.
They drive out onto the lake ice and get ready. Now, they want to make some kind of a natural landing area for the ducks, something for the decoys to float on. In order to make a hole large enough to look like something a wandering duck would fly down and land on, it is going to take a little more effort than an ice-hole drill.
Out of the back of the new Cherokee comes a stick of dynamite with a short, 40-second fuse. Now, these two Rocket Scientists do take into consideration that if they place the stick of dynamite on the ice at a location far from where they are standing (and the new Grand Cherokee), they take the risk for slipping on the ice when they run from the burning fuse and possibly go up in smoke with the resulting blast. So,... they decide to light this 40-second fuse and throw the dynamite.
Remember a couple of paragraphs back when we mentioned the vehicle, the beer, the guns, and the DOG?! Yes, .... The DOG; a highly trained black Labrador retriever used for retrieving, especially THINGS THROWN BY THE OWNER. You guessed it; the dog takes off at a high rate of doggy speed on the ice and captures the stick of dynamite with the burning 40-second fuse about the time it hits the ice.
The two men yell, scream, wave arms, holler, and wonder what to do now! The dog, seemingly cheered on, keeps coming, tail a wagging thinking he is doing great! One of the guys grabs one of the shotguns and shoots the dog. The shot gun is loaded with “duck” shot, hardly big enough to stop a black lab. The dog stops for a moment, slightly confused, but continues on... doing what he was taught to do... retrieving “anything” thrown by his master. Another shot was fired, and this time the dog, still standing, becomes REALLY confused and, of course, scared, thinking these two Nobel Prize Winners have gone insane.
The dog takes off to find cover (with the now really short fuse burning on the stick of dynamite)... and where does a dog find cover on a frozen lake? You guessed it! UNDER the brand new Cherokee. BOOM!!! Dog and Cherokee are blown to bits and sink to the bottom of the lake in a very large hole, leaving the two candidates for co-leaders of the Known Universe standing there with this “I can’t believe this happened” look on their faces.
The insurance company says that sinking a vehicle in a lake by illegal use of explosives is not covered in their policy. The owner had yet to make the FIRST of those $400-plus a month payments.
A pastor can even make the “stuff” in his church the things he lives for:

Clarence Jordan, author of the “Cotton Patch” New Testament translation and founder of the interracial Koinonia farm in Americus, Georgia, was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister’s church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations. As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple. “That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars,” the minister said with a satisfied smile. “You got cheated,” said Jordan. “Times were when Christians could get them for free.”

God’s desire is that we learn to make Jesus be the center of our life. He’s the one we ought to be living for.

The surest sign that God has done a work of grace in my heart is that I love Jesus Christ best: not weakly and faintly, not intellectually, but passionately, personally and devotedly, overwhelming every other love of my life.

-- Oswald Chambers, from Been There Done That..., Ed Young, Broadman, 1994, p. 225.

:22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.

fruitkarpos – fruit; that which originates or comes from something, an effect, result

labourergon – business, employment, that which any one is occupied; that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking; any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind; an act, deed, thing done: the idea of working is emphasised in opp. to that which is less than work

I shall choosehaireomai – to take for oneself, to prefer, choose; to choose by vote, elect to office

I wotgnorizo – to make known; to become known, be recognised; to know, to gain knowledge of, have thorough knowledge of; in earlier Greek it means “to gain a knowledge of” or “have thorough knowledge of”

(Phil 1:22 NASB) 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.

Paul doesn’t know which to choose, life or death.

It’s kind of like going to Baskin Robbins and trying to choose which ice-cream you’re going to have in that hot fudge sundae you’ve just ordered.  Shall I have the “Jamoca Almond Fudge”, or the “Prailines and Cream”?

:23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:

I am in a strait sunecho – to hold together; to hold together with constraint, to compress; to press together with the hand; to hold one’s ears, to shut the heavens that it may not rain; to press on every side; of a besieged city; of a strait, that forces a ship into a narrow channel; of a cattle squeeze, that pushing in on each side, forcing the beast into a position where it cannot move so the farmer can administer medication; to hold completely

a desireepithumia – desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden, lust

to depart analuo – to unloose (as threads), undo again; to depart, break up, to depart from life, to return

far (1st word) polus – many, much, large

far (2nd word) mallon – more, to a greater degree, rather; much, by far; rather, sooner; more willingly, more readily, sooner

betterkreisson – better


At death, the believer goes to be with the Lord.

Paul is saying that if he were to die, he would be leaving his body and would be with Christ.
Paul writes to the Corinthians:
(2 Cor 5:8 KJV) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
When a believer dies, their spirit is separated from their physical body.
Their body stays on earth, while their spirit goes immediately to be in the presence of God.

When Billy Graham’s maternal grandmother died, he said the room seemed to fill with a heavenly light. “She sat up in bed and almost laughingly said, “I see Jesus. He has His arms outstretched toward me. I see Ben (her husband who had died some years earlier) and I see the angels.” She slumped over, absent from the body but present with the Lord.

-- Billy Graham, Angels: God's Secret Agents, Doubleday, 1975, p. 152.

At the Rapture, the bodies of believers who have already died will be resurrected, and they will then have a new, glorious body. Immediately afterward, those who are still alive on the earth will also be instantly transformed to have their new bodies as well.
(1 Th 4:13-18 KJV) But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

The New Testament often describes death for the believer as “sleep”. The idea is that the body appears to be sleeping. In addition, death for the Christian is about as harmless as taking a nap.

Our word “cemetery” comes from the Greek word koimeterion, which meant a “rest house for strangers”.  It was the word used to describe the “inn” that Mary and Joseph could find no room in.  The early Christians spoke of the place of burial as a “resting place”.

J. Vernon McGee writes,

“What do we call sleeping places today? We call them motels and hotels. You don’t weep, do you, when your loved ones write, “We’re going to spend a week at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco?” We congratulate them and think it’s wonderful. We miss them if they’re close to use and are going to be away from us, but they’re asleep up in the Hilton Hotel. Well, that was the feeling of the early church. They took their loved ones and put them out in the cemetery, in the ground, when they were asleep in death, and called it the koimeterion.”

- J. Vernon McGee


In Catherine Marshall’s book about her husband Peter, she cites a touching story of a young terminally ill son asking his mother what death was like, if it hurt. “Kenneth,” she said, “you remember when you were a tiny boy how you used to play so hard all day that when night came you would be too tired even to undress, and you would tumble into mother’s bed and fall asleep? “That was not your bed—it was not where you belonged. “And you would only stay there a little while. In the morning, much to your surprise, you would wake up and find yourself in your own bed in your own room. “You were there because someone had loved you and taken care of you. Your father had come—with big strong arms—and carried you away. “Kenneth, death is just like that. We just wake up some morning to find ourselves in the other room—our own room where we belong—because the Lord Jesus loved us.” The lad’s shining, trusting face looking up into hers told her that the point had gone home and that there would be no more fear—only love and trust in his little heart as he went to meet the Father in Heaven. He never questioned again. And several weeks later he fell asleep just as she had said.

-- Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter

{14} For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. {15} For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (precede) them which are asleep. {16} For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

The Rapture starts with those already dead receiving their new bodies.

{17} Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. {18} Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

After the dead receive their new bodies, we will be caught up into the air and receive our new bodies as well.  And we will be with Jesus forever.  We will also be reunited with our loved ones who have gone to be with Jesus before us.

Paul writes to the Corinthians:
(1 Cor 15:51-53 KJV)  Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, {52} In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. {53} For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.


Being with Jesus is best

The Sailor and the Lady
John Blanchard stood up from the bench, straightened his Army uniform, and studied the crowd of people making their way through Grand Central Station. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn’t, the girl with the rose. His interest in her had begun thirteen months before in a Florida library. Taking a book off the shelf he found himself intrigued, not with the words of the book, but with the notes penciled in the margin. The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind. In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner’s name, Miss Hollis Maynell. With time and effort he located her address. She lived in New York City. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond. The next day he was shipped overseas for service in World War II. During the next year and one month the two grew to know each other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile heart. A romance was budding. Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if he really cared, it wouldn’t matter what she looked like. When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they scheduled their first meeting - 7:00 PM at the Grand Central Station in New York. “You’ll recognize me,” she wrote, “by the red rose I’ll be wearing on my lapel.” So at 7:00 he was in the station looking for a girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he’d never seen. I’ll let Mr. Blanchard tell you what happened: A young woman was coming toward me, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As I moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. “Going my way, sailor?” she murmured. Almost uncontrollably I made one step closer to her, and then I saw Hollis Maynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned me and upheld my own. And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible; her gray eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My fingers gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her. This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and must ever be grateful. I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while I spoke I felt choked by the bitterness of my disappointment. “I’m Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?” The woman’s face broadened into a tolerant smile. “I don’t know what this is about, son,” she answered, “but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should go and tell you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!”
Heaven is where we will finally see Jesus face to face.  We have read His letters.  We have fallen in love with Him from afar.  And one day we shall see Him.
(Isa 25:8-9 KJV) He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. {9} And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The Irish Presbyterian Amy Carmichael’s hope of Heaven brightened during her long years as a semi-invalid until her death in 1951. A woman visited Amy, and during the course of the conversation, told Amy of how her doctor had warned her, “Don’t even bend over suddenly, or you might die on the spot.” Amy gave a tart and twinkling reply: “However do you resist the temptation?”

:24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

to abide epimeno – to stay at or with, to tarry still, still to abide, to continue, remain

the fleshsarx – flesh (the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood) of both man and beasts; the body

more needful anagkaios – necessary; what one can not do without, indispensable; connected by bonds of nature or friendship; what ought according to the law of duty be done, what is required by the circumstances

:25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;

this confidencepeitho – persuade; be persuaded; to be persuaded, to suffer one’s self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing; to trust, have confidence, be confident

I knoweido – to see; to know; to know of anything; to know, i.e. get knowledge of, understand, perceive; of any fact; the force and meaning of something which has definite meaning

I shall abide meno – to remain, abide

continue sumparameno (“with” + “alongside” + “to abide”)  – to abide together with; to continue to live together

furtherance prokope – progress, advancement

:26 That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.

your rejoicing kauchema – that of which one glories or can glory, matter or ground of glorying; a glorying or boasting

may be more abundantperisseuo – to exceed a fixed number of measure, to be left over and above a certain number or measure; to make to abound

comingparousia – presence; the coming, arrival, advent

Paul sees his staying alive as something that would be important for the Philippians.

He wanted to see them grow in the Lord.


Who else do you live for?

Jesus isn’t the only one we are living for.
There ought to be other people that we live for as well.  This is our life, our ministry.
It may be our families.  It may be our spouse.  It may be people you know at work or in your neighborhood.  It may be a Sunday School class you teach.

God wants you to be a person who influences others to grow in Jesus.

God has a job for you to do.