Summary: Faced with the desirability of reaching our destination in Christ, are we willing to tarry a while to help others along the way?
CHOOSING LIFE FOR OTHERS
The Apostle Paul had just referred to his ‘earnest expectation and hope’ that Christ should now be ‘magnified’ in Paul’s body ‘whether by life or by death’ (Philippians 1:20). Suddenly, it seems, Paul found himself in a state of perplexity. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Which does he prefer? The first and most obvious answer, to the Apostle, was “But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour” (Philippians 1:22). As an Apostle: indeed, as THE Apostle to the Gentiles, he had a task to fulfil, and should not be in too much of a hurry to get away (Philippians 1:24).
Perhaps Paul had learned his lesson from his earlier decision to hasten towards a possible death ‘for the name of the Lord Jesus’ at Jerusalem (Acts 21:13)? No criticism here: it was his decision to make. He ended up arrested, and ‘handed over to the Gentiles’ in accordance with the prophecy (Acts 21:11), and was even now (when he wrote this letter) awaiting judgement - and possibly execution - in Rome.
Yet he still longed to be of service: which left him in a strait between two possibilities.
1. To depart and be with Christ: “which is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
2. To remain in the flesh, which was more necessary “for you” the churches he served (Philippians 1:24).
The believer’s entrance into the Christian life has involved a reassessment of his values: whatever he counted as ‘gain’, he now counts as ‘loss’ in order the more to ‘gain’ Christ (cf. Philippians 3:7-8). The moment of commitment is crucial, and there is no going back on that: but there is also an ongoing process as he grows into Christ (Philippians 1:22). The ultimate possession of Christ is at the believer’s death, which, says Paul, is ‘by far the best’ (Philippians 1:23).
However, in the meantime, there are things to be done in this sphere of life. It may be good for Paul (or for ourselves) to ‘pull up his tent-pegs’ and break camp, or to ‘weigh anchor’ and set sail: but what will then be gain to him (us) would weigh heavily upon those who are left behind. The consideration of what is more needful “for you” (Philippians 1:24), the congregation of God’s people, is what finally wins the debate.
So, for now, the Apostle would work on, confident that he would abide in this life if he was needed: willing to live on for the advancement and ‘joy of faith’ of others (Philippians 1:25).
There is no record of whether Paul ever accomplished his hope of visiting the Philippians again (Philippians 1:26; cf. Philippians 2:24). Such is the uncertainty of life. We all know that we shall pass, one way or another, but we must leave the details in the hands of the all-knowing God.
However, the Apostle left us a selfless, Christ-like, example to follow. We must be ready to die, but willing to live. And all for the glory of Jesus.