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Improbable Joy – Philippians 1: 19-26

Jan 21, 2024
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The living should take this to heart.

Understanding this truth can bring us a sense of joy because we know what and where eternity is. We will all have a death day, and we do not know when it is coming. Paul reflects on this in this part of his letter to the Philippians. He uses a rhetorical device called synkrisis, a this-or-that, compare-and-contrast style that is exercised before arriving at a decision.

In verse 18, he says “I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” The first “rejoice” is in response to the good and bad motives of the preachers in the area, but the second “rejoice” is about looking ahead to his deliverance. He “knows that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance”. He has an “eager expectation” and hope (vs 20). He is saying that he knows that Christ will be honored in his body whether by life or by death. His “earnest expectation” describes a person with their head up and outstretched, whose attention is turned away from everything else and riveted on just one. With this posture, his hope makes the outcome certain.

Verse 21 says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. In other words, life means Christ to me as I know and love and serve him. Death means Christ to me when I will finally be in his presence and enjoy him. The Message says it this way, “Life versus even more life! I can’t lose…” Paul goes on to say, “Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.” He really didn’t know which to choose, but he really didn’t have a say in the matter. To die is to be with Christ; and to live is to bear more fruit.

If Paul were to depart (die), it meant no more stonings, beatings, prison, perils, hunger, or restless nights. The nagging “thorn in the flesh” that had dogged him every day would be gone (2 Cor 12:7). Instead, he would experience rest in the presence of Christ.

Two truths about the death of a Christian:

  1. It is to depart – this has the meaning of “to break camp”. In this case, death for Christains is the end of what was at best a transitory thing, a camp life, in which they travelled without a permanent resting place. Camp life is exchanged at death for home life with Jesus.
  2. The Christian goes to be with Christ! This is certain, and a great comfort.

For Paul, it came down to two dominating motives:

  1. Live so that others may grow in Christ.
  2. Live so that Christ may be glorified in me through life and death.


  1. You are building a legacy every single day. How would you complete this sentence, “For me, to live is ______________”? How would those closest to you answer that question for you?
  2. Who do you love most in this life? Who will you love in Jesus’ name? How will you invest in them?
  3. What is the most important message you would want said at your funeral? Are you living that way now?