“21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 But if to live in the flesh, this means fruit from my work, and which I shall choose I do not know.”
Paul equates living on in this world to bearing fruit for Christ in his work (service) for Him. Paul just stated that “to live is Christ.” In other words, to live is to serve Christ. That’s all that mattered to him. Life for Paul was really nothing more than the opportunity to do His will.
Thus when he speaks of “living in the flesh,” to him it’s tantamount to serving and bearing fruit for Christ.” To him there is no difference. Basically, I think he’s just restating, or elaborating on what he said in verse 21, “to live is Christ.”
For all of us as Christians, living in this world provides the opportunity to bear fruit for Christ in our service to Him. In other words, life = serving (work) Christ, and serving Christ = bearing fruit, and bearing fruit = eternal “gain” (both personally, and for others). It’s as Jesus said:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matt 6:20)
Life in this world provides us with the opportunity to make a difference for Christ, to make a difference in people’s lives. In so doing we are “laying up treasures in Heaven.” That’s the “gain” that Paul was referring to. We gain both in spending eternity in the presence of God, and in the rewards He has for those who serve Him faithfully.
“which I shall choose I do not know”
Paul wanted to leave this world and go into the glorious presence of Christ, for that was “gain” (vs. 21). However, to live on in this life meant more service to Christ and advancing His kingdom. It meant more souls being saved. It meant teaching believers the Word of God. It meant protecting believers from false teaching. It’s living for Christ in this life that provides the very gain that he spoke of. Therefore, it was difficult for him to decide which he preferred, for one is directly related to the other.
“23 For I am equally pressed by the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better,
“equally pressed” (Gr. sunecho – 4912)
Means literally to hold together. To press together from every side. Distressed, perplexed.
It pictures a ship being pressed into a narrow channel.
Literally means hold together and is a picturesque word which serves to heighten the magnitude of Paul’s dilemma.
Sunecho means to be hemmed in on both sides and was used of a traveler in a narrow passage or gorge, with a wall of rock on either hand, unable to turn aside and able only to go straight on. The picture is that of a man pressed on both sides. The idea is not urging or driving, but shutting up to one line and purpose, as in a narrow, walled road. Literally Paul is saying “I am held together, so that I cannot incline either way”. There is an equal pressure being exerted from both sides, from the desire for continued life and from the desire for death & to be with Christ. Paul was perplexed, held in, kept back from decision. There was a strong pressure bearing upon him from both sides, keeping him erect and motionless. Hard pressed means to be required to make a difficult decision between two possibilities—that of going home to heaven or that of remaining on earth as an apostle of Christ Jesus.
“having the desire to depart and be with Christ”
Considering this statement, it’s difficult to understand how one can believe that the Bible teaches soul-sleep. It couldn’t be any clearer. When we as Christians die, we depart this body and this world, into the very presence of the Lord. There is no waiting period, as Paul confirms elsewhere:
“6 Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord
7 (for we walk by faith, not by sight);
8 we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:6-8)
“for that is far better”
This world is full of trials and tribulations, pain and suffering and tears, heartache and frustrations and disappointments, therefore, leaving all this trouble behind to experience total joy in God’s glorious presence, is to be desired above all things. It’s what we look forward to more than anything else. Death for us is not soul-sleep or extinction or suffering for sin, but the beginning of our eternity in God’s eternal Kingdom.
“24 yet to remain in the flesh is more necessary on account of you.
“25 And having this confidence, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.”
However, even though departing into the presence of Christ is to be desired above all things, we as Christians have a mission to accomplish in the world. Paul had his mission, and it’s clear that he believed that God still had more work for him to do. Part of that work included the Philippian Christians. Staying in this world awhile longer would benefit them spiritually. It would mean their spiritual “progress and joy in the faith.”
As believers, we should always be progressing in the Christian faith and in our relationship with Christ. We should always be moving onward and upward. The Christian life is never to be stagnant, but rich in spiritual development. We’re to be ever learning and applying the Word of God to our lives. We should be ever growing in our personal walk with Christ, getting to know Him more and more with every passing year.
Furthermore, as Paul did, we’re to do our part in helping others to grow in their faith – as God has gifted us, and as He gives us those opportunities. We are to be learning from each other, praying for one another. We’re to spend time together in fellowship as a means of sharing our difficulties, as well as our victories. Sharing our lives with others provides necessary encouragement, for none of us are to be an island unto ourselves. That’s not the way God intended the Christian life to be.
“joy in the faith”
Joy in the faith means that the Christian life gives joy. The Christian life should be a joy to live in this sinful and joyless world. We as Christians should have the joy of the Lord in our hearts and on our faces, for to have a close walk with Jesus is to have joy – no matter what our circumstances happen to be. There is no other “joy” that compares or comes close to this kind of joy. If we as followers of Christ are not walking in the joy of the Lord, then we are not “keeping in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:16,22,25).
Some of the most miserable people are Christians who profess Christ, but are not walking with Him as they should. They have one foot in Heaven and one foot in the world. They’re trying to experience the best of both worlds. However, God didn’t include joy in lukewarm Christianity. On the contrary, trying to have it both ways only leads to frustration. Christians who don’t pursue a close relationship with the Lord, and instead try to find their fulfillment in the pleasures of the world, will be miserable. It conflicts with who we are as followers of Christ. There is no harmony between the two, and there is never any joy or peace in disharmony.
True joy and true fulfillment only come through knowing God and walking with God on a very personal level. That means that He is the center of our lives, and that everything revolves around Him and His will. Joy comes through serving Christ and making a difference in people’s lives. Just as Paul said: “to live is Christ.” Joy in the faith only comes when we make our life all about Jesus (and those whom He died for), for that is His rightful place.
“I know that I will remain and continue with you all”
Paul expressed confidence that his life would not end during this particular imprisonment (first imprisonment). He was convinced that his life would continue for the spiritual benefit of the Philippian Christians. I’m sure Paul must have other Christians in mind, but he’s making this very personal between them and he. Whether the Lord had made it known to him that he would “remain,” or whether the Holy Spirit simply gave him a peace and conviction about it, we cannot say. Either way, it’s believed by most that Paul was indeed released from this imprisonment, and died at a later time during a different imprisonment.
“Paul had turned over in his mind the need which the Philippian saints had of his ministry, and had come to the settled conviction that they needed him more than he needed to go to heaven. That was just like Paul. He lived a crucified life, dead to self, ever setting even his legitimate desires aside in order that he might serve others. And so he tells them that he will remain on earth with them. While Paul had no active choice in the matter, yet he believed that the servant of the Lord is immortal until his work is done. Thus, if the Philippians needed his ministry, that fact would indicate that he was not to die at that time by the hand of Rome, but that he would be released and thus be able to minister to the spiritual needs of the saints.”