Summary: Paul, the imprisoned veteran of the Christian warfare encourages the Church in Philippi which was inhabited by retired Roman soldiers.
The Profit of Death: An Exposition of Philippians 1:21-30
The epistle of Philippians explodes with joy. Everywhere, Paul is talking about his rejoicing and commanding that the Philippians do likewise. When one considers that Paul is currently in prison and is facing the prospects of execution, this would indeed seem strange, Many would think that Paul had become demented in his imprisonment. This is not the case. Paul has every reason to be joyful facing death. It is not because he is suffering and death is the end of pain. Paul has something far greater to rejoice about.
Paul begins this passage with the well-known “For me to live is Christ; and to die is gain.” He had just reminded the Philippians that he was in prison for the defense of the Gospel and not for committing a crime. The hearers could remember that Paul had been wrongfully imprisoned in Philippi many years earlier. He had had stripes laid upon him and was imprisoned and bound in the stocks. They remembered that Paul and Silas had sung joyous hymns to God in the night. They remembered the earthquake which loosed their bonds. They remembered the conversion of the Philippian jailor who was about to commit suicide in despair that the prisoners had escaped. /they had seen the power of God at work in this and many other circumstances. They knew that God could free Paul from the prison he was in. Paul knew this also. He did not know at this point whether he would be freed at this point or be beheaded. We also do not know if Paul was released from this captivity or not. We do know that he would be condemned and beheaded for the Gospel. From his death, he gained life. Verse 20 says that either way, whether he lived or died, He would glorify Jesus.
Paul goes on with ministry in this life as though he would live, but at the same time knew that he would minister in his death. His shed blood would mingle with the words and deeds that were left behind. And Paul still speaks to us today. This gives us an example of how we should live our lives. We certainly should not fear death. Nor should we be preoccupied with death. If we spend our energy worrying about the road ahead of us, we will never do anything for Christ. It is told of St. Francis that he was one day hard at planting wheat. Someone asked him if he knew for sure that the Lord would return that day, what would he do. Francis responded that he would finish planting that row of wheat. This same idea applies to us individually in the sense that one day the Lord will come for us and take us home, whether through death or His triumphal return. Jesus tells us to occupy until He comes, Do what we are called to do. It is good to remind ourselves of our glorious hope. This gives us comfort in our tribulations. But we must not cease living and ministering until then.
So as much as Pail could see the profit of death, he realized the usefulness of remaining, even if it added to his suffering. Who wants to suffer? We also yearn for the Lord’s return and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. What a joyful day that will be! But anyone can be joyful in good times. When a team wins a championship, there is much joy in that city. When good things happen to someone, especially after one has prevailed through difficulty, there is joy. But few find joy in their suffering. We, of course, see an example of this in the 12th Chapter of Hebrews where it is said that Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross and despised its shame. One sees no joy in Jesus’ face as he struggles in prayer in the Garden. We see no shouts of joy on the cross. But Jesus could see the joy beyond that. Paul could too. So should we. Jesus and then Paul continued on the painful journey for our sakes. They knew their future was secure. The joy could wait. Paul follows his Lord Jesus and shows us how to properly view and carry the cross which we are called.
Paul seems to indicate to us that he would be released from this imprisonment and return to visit them. He was convinced that Jesus still had ministry work for him to do. The message of the Gospel brings much joy to new believers. Believers need to be guided and encouraged. The idea that suffering brings joy is great motivation. Even though the joy of heaven is without compare, there is joy when one sees his spiritual children walking in the truth. It is like the joy of parents seeing their child take his or her first steps. Even if the parents are going through difficult times, the joy of seeing progress in their child gives them pause from the trials of life, that their hard work is bearing fruit.