Philippians 1:14-24 For me to live is Christ

Bible Study Series: The Book of Philippians

Bible Study Philippians 1.14-24: For Me to Live is Christ

By Fraser Gordon

Bible Study lesson on Philippians 1.14-24: For Me to Live is Christ

Last time we looked at the first 13 verses in Chapter 1 and the context was Paul imprisoned in Rome writing to the church at Philippi. Paul wrote of his joy and rejoicing in Christ. He took every opportunity to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and it seems that the gospel had pervaded into all Caesar's household. The prison guards were chained to him for four to six hours at a time. Paul would share the gospel with them, and then the next guard came along and he heard the gospel too. We read that it became evident to the whole palace guard that Paul’s chains were in Christ.

Boldly speak the gospel

Php 1:14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

The believers became bolder. You see Paul was very confident and competent when it came to preaching and teaching the gospel. Many of the believers would have feared to venture out due to the calling on his life and many would have felt inadequate next to him. The word went out that Paul was in prison and so the calling of the gospel came to all the believers who would normally have left it all up to Paul. They became incredibly bold due to Paul's chains and they preached without fear. Sometimes it is important that the pastor or leader is moved out of the way. There are always people in a congregation who will have a gift of teaching or preaching, but they leave everything to the pastor. He's left to do the preaching, the teaching, the notices, and sometimes even sing the songs. Sometimes however, God will remove His leaders so that within the congregation there is a broader calling for those who never got a chance to be involved. This is what happened, Paul is removed and then all of a sudden the rest of the believers are bolder to preach the gospel. They don't have fear, and no-one else is doing it for them.

Selfish ambition

Php 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will:

Many people would love to return to the good old days of the early church, where everybody lived in unity. There were no problems, they loved each other and treated each other right. Yeah, right. We see here that some preached Christ from envy and strife. These people weren't anti Christ or opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What we find is a jealousy of Paul. They were actually anti Paul. Hard to believe, but this seems to be the case in the Philippi church. They were preaching the gospel hoping it would afflict Paul in some way while he was chained in prison. This is a fleshly attitude and selfish ambition from those who were jealous of Paul.

Php 1:16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains;

The ‘former’ are those that preach from envy and strife. So this was the state of the early church in Philippi. They were preaching the gospel to afflict Paul while he was chained in prison. These people were anti Paul, maybe because he was such a good teacher and so competent at preaching. Or maybe they just didn't like him. This is the early church - envy, strife, and selfish ambition. People were wanting to be someone and elevating themselves. This speaks of a competitive spirit trying to be better than Paul. Now competition is important, on the sports field you always play to win, but not when it comes to the church and the gospel of Christ. The competitive spirit that wants to elevate itself above another should not be found. God has many gifts and He has a big body. We are all individual members of that one body and each member has an important role to play. There shouldn't be any of these attitudes found in us or in our churches. This competitive spirit wants to rise above another and to inflict damage to another brother or sister.

A pastor was being interviewed and he was asked “How has your year been?”, the pastor replied, ”I've had a terrible year. I've had low numbers and people are leaving the congregation. I've had strife and many selfish disputes and squabbles. But praise the Lord, the Baptists down the road haven't done any better.” That is competitive, selfish ambition that should not be part of our Christian lives or in our Christian leaders. Oswald Chambers was the opposite to this. He prayed;

“Dear Lord, I refuse to compete with any of your servants. They have congregations larger than mine, so be it. I rejoice in their success. They have greater gifts. Very well. That is not in their power or in mine. I am humbly grateful for their greatness and for my smaller ones. I only pray that I may use thy glory and the gifts that I possess. I will not compare myself with any or try to build up my self esteem. I am an unprofitable servant and I purpose to pray for others and rejoice in their prosperity as if it were my own. While one plants and one waters it is God alone that gives the increase.'

That's a beautiful quote by a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. The complete opposite to what you see going on in the Philippi church. Oswald Chambers sums it up well. He knew the gifts that he had were from God, and he rejoiced if someone was greater than him because he realised that while one plants and one waters it is God alone that gives the increase. That is a spiritually mature way to look at the body of Christ. Do we rejoice when others are better than us? When others in the body have greater increases or are more fruitful? It is only God that gives the increase.

Php 1:17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defence of the gospel.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.

Paul doesn't get caught up with the motives of why believers are preaching the gospel as long as Christ is preached. He doesn't get into the nitty gritty or get his back up about it, even though they're preaching from the flesh with wrong motives. His only concern is that the Lord Jesus Christ is being preached. This is very different to what he writes in the book of Galatians where people are preaching another gospel, one of legalism. Paul describes those people as accursed. The believers in Philippi are not preaching a false gospel, it is just that their motives are wrong. In this instance, Paul doesn't get caught up in it, he realises that as long as the Lord Jesus Christ is being preached, then it's up to God to give the increase to make it alive and real in a person's heart. Instead he rejoices. Paul is a wonderful man.

Christ is magnified

Php 1:19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.

There is nothing in Paul's life that he is ashamed of. Everything is laid bare. He's in prison and still rejoicing. But when he looks at his whole life, he can stand before Christ and say that there is nothing to be ashamed of.

My version says Christ will be magnified, other versions say honoured, some say exalted. All three of these words mean the same thing. To take something and make it larger, to bring into view something that is not normally seen. To enlarge, to show itself great, to exalt, to lift it up, to magnify and bring it out into the open. Paul is not ashamed he is bold so Christ will be magnified, exalted, and honoured in his body, whether by life or by death. When you magnify something you look at it through a magnifying glass or binoculars. It takes the small and enlarges it so that it can be seen. This is the reason and the whole existence of Paul. He lives to magnify, to exalt, to honour, and bring out into the open the Lord Jesus Christ. This is also true of the Lord Jesus Christ as we read in the Gospel of John.

Joh 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

The whole existence of the Lord Jesus Christ was to exalt the Father and bring Him out where He could be seen. If you looked at the Lord Jesus Christ, you would know what the Father was like.

Joh 14.7 "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” 8 Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.

If you had seen Jesus you knew the character of the Father and the works that He did were also of the Father. So you knew what God was like. This is an example of how the Trinity works, the Lord Jesus Christ lived to magnify His Father. The Father then magnifies the Son. In Philippians Chapter 2 we are told that Jesus is given a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth. The Father now magnifies the Son. When the Holy Spirit came into the world, His role was to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the Trinity. They each magnify one other person in the Trinity. The Spirit's role is to make known to you everything about the Lord Jesus Christ.

The challenge

Php 1.20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

In Philippians 1.20 Paul writes that Christ will be magnified in his body whether by life or by death. He is chained in a prison cell and yet he can say ‘I live to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ’. So the challenge for you and me is can we say that with Paul? Do we live to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ in the same way that Christ magnified His Father and Paul magnified Christ? Paul realised it was the same calling for him and so it is for us. For many Christians self is still on the throne. They are still trying to exalt and magnify themselves. Yes, they love the Lord Jesus and are thankful for the death that He paid. They know him to be their Saviour but they still want a little bit of glory, honour and magnification for themselves. Unfortunately when we operate like this we may be exalted but the Lord Jesus Christ is diminished. Paul’s sole reason for living was to magnify, enlarge, and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ.

Php 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

So then we get to verse 21, which of all the verses cuts like a knife through all of Christianity. What is our Christianity about? Is it just a place where we meet like minded people? Is it a religion that we have been born into? Is it just church programs? Do we go through the motions because that's just what we do? Paul could say ‘for me to live is a person’. Christianity is the Lord Jesus Christ, it is a person. You take Him out of Christianity and all you're left with is a dead, empty religion. For me to live is…. What would you say in that space? For many it would be to live well. Your sole existence on earth might be to raise your income. Having security in retirement might be what you live for so that when you get to a certain age you can relax and not worry. Or it might be fame, to exalt yourself, be spoken about and be noticed. It might be honour, or it might be an effective and strong business that rules you. You might live for pleasure, enjoying yourself and making the most out of life while you can. It might also be health. But for Paul he wrote ‘for to me, to live is Christ’.

Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

I pray that all Christians would say the same thing as Paul; for me to live is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul can say that because he realises he has been crucified with Christ. His old life and all its hold on him has been crucified. Buried. Paul has been risen again in the risen Lord Jesus Christ and he has a new life. His life is not his own and he realises that the Lord Jesus Christ has come to take possession of his humanity. Jesus lives within the believer. His sole purpose is to have a vehicle by which He can show Himself to the world once again. The goal for all Christians is to come to a place where we live only to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ, and say with Paul, ‘for me to live is Christ’.

Hebrews 10.5-7 quotes from the Old Testament (Psalms 40) about the Lord Jesus Christ, a body you have prepared for me…, 'Behold, I have come-- In the volume of the book it is written of Me-- To do Your will, O God.' This is the same language Paul uses. He realises that his life has been bought at a price. Not only has Christ forgiven his sin but He's come to take up residence within. Paul could say for me to live is Christ. I've come to do the will of Him who bought me and gave His life for me.

The gain of death

The second-half of Phil 1.21 and to die is gain’, are radical words. Remember Paul is awaiting execution while he's chained to a prison guard yet he's living from a life of joy and fullness. He's also looking forward to a life of gain. So what does this mean for you and me? What does it mean ‘to die is gain?’ First of all for the unbeliever the future holds no promise or benefits. Everything is uncertain for those that are outside of Christ. They cannot answer the questions, ‘What happens when I die? Is heaven real? Is hell real? Is there a God? How will I stand before him if He’s real? The general thought of unbelievers is, ‘I'm actually not that bad’. The unbeliever can only experience a small glimpse of good things here on earth, and after that his future is uncertain. Biblically, his future is one of condemnation, eternal separation and eternal suffering. Jesus said, ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? So for the unbeliever to die is not gain. For the believer however, there is much to gain and Paul realises this. So in what way is to die gain? First of all death is a freedom from evil, a separation from the things that hold us and pull us down. For the Christian who longs after God, righteousness, and purity, he longs to be free from all that holds him down. All sin, all pain, anxiety, and earthly troubles. So in one sense, to be free from all this is gain.

1 John 3.2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Another great gain or benefit to you and I is that we will be changed. Our bodies will be freed from the constraints of the earthly body. We will receive new bodies. Sin won't have any hold, have access to, or be a hindrance because it won't be there. We will be living in a redeemed body, and that is gain. But the greatest of all gains saints is that we shall be with Him, continually in His presence with no separation from Him. Paul writes if I'm going to live here on earth it's all about the Lord Jesus Christ. He has free access to use me as He wishes. But to die is gain for me. For Paul this dilemma was not between Christ and not Christ. It was Christ, and Christ much, much more. Christ by faith or Christ by sight. For Paul to live was Christ by faith, but to die was Christ by sight. It was a much more for Paul, and to die was gain.

Paul’s dilemma

We see his dilemma in verse 22-24 he says.

Php 1:22-24 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.

Amazingly it almost sounds like he had a choice. This is not someone who is sick of his earthly lot and desires to get away. Even though he's chained to a prison guard Paul is living in fullness with joy and rejoicing. He is living in the fullness of Christ and yet he says, ‘what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two… Paul saw that being with the Lord Jesus Christ was gain. So once again, the apostle Paul puts himself second. He wants to be with Christ but it's of more benefit to the body of Christ that he remains. Imagine if Paul had been able to say ‘Lord beam me up, take me home’. We wouldn't have the epistle letters which he wrote in prison. Paul realises that Christ has a use for him and only when that need is done will he be taken home. In the meantime it's about Christ having a vehicle to do what He wants to bless the body of believers. Paul looked forward to being with the Lord Jesus Christ but he chose to stay for the benefit of the body which outweighed his desire to be freed from his earthly body.

Father, we thank you for your word. We thank you that it's alive and well and we thank you for what Paul had in prison. Father nothing's changed. There's always envy and strife, always believers that cause trouble. But, Father, we thank you that Paul was able to rise above all that to rejoice that the gospel was being preached and to rejoice that Christ would be magnified in his body. We pray that would also be our focus above all things in this Christian life. That You may be magnified, You may be enlarged, and we may say with Paul, for to me to live is Christ. We thank you for the promise of what we will gain when we come home. It will be one of rejoicing and of unspeakable joy. Until that time we pray Father, that you would use us to be a blessing. That Your body may be enriched, would grow and that glory would come to Your name for Jesus sake. 

Amen. Next time we'll be into Chapter 2.