In the field of psychology there is a common saying that when a person feels threatened they will instinctively react—out of fear—in one of several ways. Fight/Flight/Freeze. You will either prepare to fight against the threat or turn to flee. A third instinctive response is to freeze out of indecision.
Those who have experienced trauma will oftentimes overreact even in non-threatening situations. An innocent gesture might trigger a defensive reaction from someone who has not fully recovered from trauma. This overreacting oftentimes requires counseling or self-coping techniques to correct.
These three instinctive responses serve as an outline for Paul’s advice in this morning’s passage. If there were ever a biblical candidate for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Paul would fit the bill. But, rather than being driven by fear, he reacted with courage, peace, and joy. His hope was never shaken by his experiences.
A worldly fear will destroy our hope. It can cause us to be ashamed of Christ, anxious about death, and arrested in our faith.
Shame, anxiety, and indecisiveness are all common symptoms of PTSD. It has only been in the last century that psychologists have really studied PTSD, but Paul’s advice might be the best counsel you ever read on the subject.
1. Paul models courageous engagement with a hostile culture. He knew how to fight against wickedness.
2. He had a genuine desire to depart and be with Christ. This is similar to “flight”, but in a peaceful rather than anxious state.
3. He recognized the importance of making progress in faith rather than being frozen by indecision.
Of course, these are not only applicable in life and death scenarios. However, Paul truly was in one.
Paul’s prayer for the Philippians to grow in discerning love and to be filled with the fruit of righteousness was followed by his rejoicing in the advance of the gospel in the face of difficult circumstances and discouraging people. Phil 1:18 transitions into his confidence that Christ will continue to use Paul to proclaim the gospel and edify the saints.
Paul switches to the future tense as he reflects upon his confident hope. Paul’s joy remains steadfast—even in prison—because it’s rooted in Christ’s glory. Centering your life around Christ will make His glory your joy.
Read Philippians 1:19-26.
I. Christ Will Be Magnified (19-20)
After praying for them (9-11), Paul acknowledges their prayers for him. Notice how Paul combines supplication with the work of the Spirit. Through the prayers of the saints, the Spirit of Jesus supplies Paul with the ability and boldness to be an effective witness for Christ.
Paul is confident that the end result of his imprisonment will be his salvation/deliverance (19). This could possibly refer to deliverance from prison, but based upon the uncertainty of his future (22-24), it is more likely a reference to spiritual salvation.
Specifically, Paul speaks of his salvation before God at the last judgment (“the day of Christ”). His discussion of salvation typically carries eschatological implications.
The obvious next question is: Saved from what? If it is a spiritual salvation, then the primary focus would be the wrath of God. Paul knows he will be vindicated in heaven even if he is condemned and executed on earth. In fact, the earthly experience is preparation for the heavenly one. As he has said elsewhere,
Paul clearly had Job in mind as he quotes “this will turn out for my salvation” directly from the LXX translation of Job 13:16.
Job 13:16–18 ESV
This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him. Keep listening to my words, and let my declaration be in your ears. Behold, I have prepared my case; I know that I shall be in the right.
Here, Job is wrestling with his eternal standing before God. Like Paul, he is confident that he will be vindicated.
Paul’s confidence is joined with enthusiastic anticipation that Christ will be magnified whether he lives or dies (20). He’s clearly not concerned for his physical deliverance.
The most shameful thing for Paul to imagine would be a failure to fulfill his calling as a gospel witness (Rom 1:16). His expectation is that he will never shrink back from the task, but will possess “full courage now as always”.
CityAlight captures this thought well in “Christ Is Mine Forevermore”
“Mine are days here as a stranger, pilgrim on a narrow way. One with Christ I will encounter, harm and hatred for his name. But mine is armor for this battle, strong enough to last the war. And he has said he will deliver safely to the golden shore.”
Why does Paul refer to his hope that he will avoid shame and that he will have “full courage”? He knows how easy it is to cower before any hint of opposition. Unlike most of us, Paul’s courage was strong. Why? Because he depended upon the Spirit through prayer!
Do you covet the prayers of others on your behalf? Do you acknowledge your need of Christ’s Spirit to enable you to mature? You show this in your dedication to prayer. If you expect to enjoy the bold hope exemplified by Paul, you must follow his model of prayerful dependence upon the Spirit.
This was the same hope that motivated our Lord. The author of Hebrews encourages us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2).
When we have an eternal perspective we are filled with a joyful anticipation and courage that overwhelms any temptation to be ashamed.
› Paul’s confident hope in his final vindication doesn’t remove his uncertainty about when and how he may die. Either way…
II. Christ Will Be Satisfied (21-24)
Christ will be magnified (20) because he is central to Paul’s life (21). Should Paul remain alive, he’ll continue to live for Christ. If he dies, it will be gain for him personally. He expresses a parallel sentiment in…
Galatians 2:20 ESV
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
If Paul is to be executed, it will only take him to his end goal. And, in the process, it may also prove to be his greatest opportunity to be a witness.
Paul’s citizenship in heaven determines his citizenship on earth. This means that the Christian life is always a fruitful life. If you have not died, God has a purpose to fulfill in and through you!
Paul understands that the only reason he would remain alive is to bear fruit (22). “Choose” = prefer. He isn’t suggesting that he has the choice to live or die. That is outside of his control. But, he is thinking out loud about what he would prefer.
Obviously, this is no light matter (23). The dilemma is tearing Paul up. While he is confident regarding his ultimate hope, his temporal circumstances are in God’s control.
Paul’s personal desire is to be with Christ. Of course that’s “far better” than anywhere else he could be. Paul knows he would be better off dead! That does not negate his sense of sorrow (Phil 2:27). Paul desires his “departure” because death would immediately translate his soul into glory!
We get a nice concise summary of reformed doctrine regarding death in the WCF 32.1.
“The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.”
The Westminster Divines elaborate upon this in WLC Q.85, where we read that believers are delivered from the “sting and curse” of death;
“so that, although they die, yet it is out of God’s love, to free them perfectly from sin and misery, and to make them capable of farther communion with Christ in glory, which they then enter upon.”
Alec Motyer wonders if Paul is using a metaphor from his tent-making profession. He views death like a departure from one camping spot to our permanent home. “Camp-life is exchanged at death for home-life with Christ.”
If death is so sweet for the believer, why is Paul so perplexed? To answer this question is to begin to understand just how far his compassion for others extends.
Philippians 1:24 ESV
But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
Paul longs to be at home with Jesus, to experience the glories of heaven. But he also bears an apostolic calling to equip Christ’s church and establish them while he remains alive. He is aware just how much his guidance is needed by the Philippian Church and others. Here Paul models what he calls the saints to later.
Philippians 2:4 ESV
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Such selfless compassion went beyond the walls of the church too. Paul’s love for his own kinsmen caused him to suggest that he would be cut off from God, if it would result in their salvation (Rom 9:3)!
We ought to pursue fruitful labor until we pass into glory. If we are living for anything other than Christ, we will not see death as gain. But if we are living for Christ, then we will be at peace with whatever satisfies him. Each day we have as another opportunity to bear fruit.
Admittedly, that’s easier said than done. We’re naturally far too self-centered and motivated by pride to put the needs to others above our own. We might get a sense of relief from the fact that none of our bear the title of Apostle, but all of us bear the name of Christ.
1 John 3:16 ESV
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
1 John 3:23–24 ESV
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
As Christians, we have been enabled by the Holy Spirit not only to believe in Christ, but to love one another according to his commandments. That same Spirit who enlightened your mind in your justification is continuing to soften your heart in your sanctification.
Let us ask the Lord to enable us to labor for his kingdom knowing that, as long as we are away from home, he has a purpose for us here. May our efforts focus on building up others rather than securing our own legacy.
› The pressure Paul feels is relieved by the realization that increasing the joy of the Philippians will result from giving glory to Christ.
III. Christ Will Be Glorified (25-26)
Paul wraps up his external display of this internal dialogue with the recognition that his work is incomplete. As much as he’s personally ready to depart, he’s convinced God has more use for him.
Glory = Literally “Boasting”. The Philippians would abundantly boast in Christ if Paul were able to see them again.
As disciples advance in faith they will increase in joy redounding to Christ’s glory.
Let us pray that we would begin to emphasize spiritual matters whenever we interact with others, that we might find opportunity in every conversation to bring glory to Christ.
› In summary…
1. Fight shame with the realization that Christ will be magnified through your life and death.
2. Do not be anxious about death recognizing that Christ will be satisfied to continue to use you or bring you home.
3. Christ will be glorified when you make joyful progress in your faith.
Place your firm hope in the consummation of God’s covenant promises, and in the meantime, glorify him by loving others in uncertain times. Your own progress and joy depend upon it!