4. Paul’s Circumstances: Perspective, Joy, and Mission in Life—Part II (Philippians 1:18b-26)
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 1:19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the support of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 1:20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 1:22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me; yet I don’t know what I prefer: 1:23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, 1:24 but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. 1:25 And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, 1:26 so that because of me you may swell with pride in Christ Jesus, when I come back to you.
A. Paul’s Circumstances (1:12-18a)
1. The Advancement of the Gospel through Preaching (1:12-14)
a. General Statement about Paul’s Circumstances (1:12)
b. The Whole Imperial Guard Knows (1:13)
c. Other Brothers Speak the Word (1:14)
2. The Motivations for Preaching (1:15-18a)
a. General Statement about Preaching (1:15)
b. Preaching from Right Motives (1:16)
c. Preaching from Wrong Motives (1:17)
d. The Result: Christ is Preached! (1:18a)
B. Paul’s Attitude of Rejoicing (1:18b-26)
1. In Light of His Expectations (18b-21)
a. To Be Vindicated (1:18b-19)
b. To Exalt Christ (1:20-21)
2. In Light of His Future (1:22-26)
a. Regarding Productive Ministry (1:22-23)
b. Regarding Ministry to the Philippians (1:24-26)
III. Paul’s Circumstances: Perspective, Joy, and Mission in Life
If you have not read the lesson on 1:12-18a, we encourage you to do this now. This is now the second section of this entire section from 1:12-26. Thus we start in the outline with point B.
B. Paul’s Attitude of Rejoicing (1:18b-26)
Paul rejoices knowing that his imprisonment has resulted in the advance of the gospel (1:12). Both those outside the church, such as the imperial guard, and those within the church, have been affected. The entire imperial guard and other people connected to the imperial house know about Christ as a result of Paul’s chains (1:13). Those within the Roman church have been moved to preach the gospel (1:14). While Paul recognizes that some preach Christ out of goodwill (1:15-16) and others out of envy and rivalry (1:15, 17), he nonetheless rejoices in the fact that Christ is preached (1:18a). By way of summary, then, vv. 12-18a are really about Paul’s circumstances and what has transpired as a result of his imprisonment. The next paragraph we’re going to look at in vv. 18b-26 really describes his response to his imprisonment. Paul rejoices in light of what he expects will happen, that is, in terms of his vindication or release (1:18b-21) and the future ministry he knows he will carry on, if released (1:22-26). Someone once said that the true test of a leader is how he/she holds up under fire. Paul provides us with an excellent model of one who not only “held up under fire”, but who led the cause of Christ in the midst of what would otherwise have been defeating circumstances. The Philippians were to learn from his model (4:9). How about us as well?
1. In Light of His Expectations to Be Vindicated (18b-21)
Paul rejoiced because the gospel was preached. He also rejoiced in the hope of his vindication and that Christ would be exalted in his life whether he lived or died.
a. To Be Vindicated (1:18b-19)
Paul ends off v. 18a with a note about rejoicing in the present and begins v. 18b with a note about future rejoicing: I will continue to rejoice. The explanatory for (gar) beginning v. 19 indicates that what follows in 1:19-20 elaborates the reason for his continued rejoicing. There are several key issues to be studied in these two verses (i.e., 1:19-20), including the meaning of “deliverance” (soteria), “prayers,” “support of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,” “confident hope,” “ashamed,” etc. After reflecting on each of these terms and expressions we will then return to tie it all together into a meaningful whole. Let us begin with the meaning of “deliverance.”
Paul says he knows that this will turn out for my deliverance (touto moi apobesetai54 eis soterian). The term this, though part of the quoted material from Job (see below), probably refers to Paul’s circumstances including his imprisonment and the increased preaching of the gospel, even by those who do so in order to cause him trouble. But what exactly does he mean by “deliverance”?
The term deliverance translates the Greek term soteria. Fundamentally, the term soteria simply refers to “release,” “rescue,” or “salvation” and can be applied in variety of contexts. In the NT it is used by different writers to refer primarily to spiritual salvation (Acts 13:26; 2 Cor 7:10; 1 Thess 5:9; ), but deliverance from physical harm as well (Luke 1:77; Acts 27:34; Heb 11:7).55 To what does Paul refer when he uses the term here? (1) spiritual salvation, and if so, in what way? (2) a favorable verdict at his trial resulting in his “release” from prison; (3) vindication by God; or (4) some combination of two, three, or all of them? To answer this we will first examine some background in the Old Testament.
First, the identical phrase, “this will turn out for my deliverance” (touto moi apobesetai eis soterian), also occurs in the Greek Old Testament in Job 13:16. Second, the language of “shame” and “magnifying” in Philippians 1:20 picks up “the language of the ‘poor man’ in such Psalms as 34:3-6 and 35:24-28.”56 Thus, there is a concrete OT setting for Paul’s terminology and expressions in 1:19-20. This OT context must, of course, be investigated briefly in order to see what it contributes to the manner in which Paul is using the term soteria in Phil 1:19.
First, we will cite a portion of the text of Job:
13: 13 Keep silent in order that I may speak and cease from anger, 13:14 while I take up my flesh in my teeth, and I place my life in (my) hand. 13:15 If the Powerful One has placed his hand upon me, since he has indeed begun, I will certainly speak and plead before him. 13:16 And this will turn out for my deliverance, for no guile can enter before him. 13:17 Listen! Listen to my words for I will announce them while you listen. 13:18 Behold, I am near my judgment. I know that I will appear righteous (dikaios).
Zophar had earlier accused Job of being a mere talker who could not expect to be “vindicated” (Job 11:2, dikaios). He also accused him, in light of the terrible things that had happened to Job, of being guilty of some sin for which God was now punishing him (11:14). Job’s response in chapters 12-14 to Zophar, Eliphaz and Bildad, was to reassert a measure of his innocence in regard to his sufferings and to argue that his vindication (dikaios) would be obvious when God judged him (v. 18). In 13:13-18 one can see that “deliverance” refers not to physical deliverance but to vindication, namely, that someday (i.e., on the threshold of eternity when God will pronounce all final judgments) God would prove Job right before his detractors.
The same kind of “vindication” is evident in Psalm 34:3-6 where David thanks God for delivering him from all his fears and taking away any possibility of shame. In Psalm 35:24-28 David also speaks about the vindication of God’s saints:
35:24 Vindicate me by your justice, O LORD my God! Do not let them gloat over me! 35:25 Do not let them say to themselves, “Aha! We have what we wanted!” Do not let them say, “We have devoured him!” 35:26 May those who want to harm me be totally embarrassed and ashamed! May those who arrogantly taunt me be covered with shame and humiliation! 35:27 May those who desire my vindication shout for joy and rejoice! May they continually say, “May the LORD be praised, for he wants his servant to be secure.” 35:28 Then I will tell others about your justice, and praise you all day long.—NET Bible
It seems quite clear that soteria in Job 13:16 means vindication (cf. 13:18) and so also in the two psalms we cited. The vindication in Job will take place at the final judgment. This fits the context in Philippians quite well—a context which indicates strife and therefore naturally leads to Paul’s desire to be vindicated by God. That is, there were some who tried to cause problems for Paul because of his chains. Thus they had slighted the apostle—and probably his message as well—because of the fact that he was in prison. Perhaps they saw an inconsistency in what they regarded as the gospel, on one hand, and Paul being in prison claiming to be there for the gospel, on the other. Further, it is unlikely that “deliverance” refers to “release” from prison since at the end of v. 20 he seems uncertain as to whether he will live or die.
There are two other factors as well. First, Paul generally uses the term soteria to refer to spiritual salvation and in particular the deliverance of the believer from the final judgment (Rom 10:10; 2 Cor 7:10). This is how he uses the term in Phil 1:28. This fits well with the idea of vindication at the final judgment. Second, while we have already stated that the phrase, “whether by life or death” in v. 20, indicates his uncertainty about the outcome of his trial, it also suggests that he is talking about something more important than immediate vindication before Caesar’s court—and before those who have tried to cause him trouble in his chains (cf. 17).57 He is really talking about his vindication before the tribunal of heaven.58 This is also entirely consistent with his focus on living and dying for Christ in v. 21. Therefore, by deliverance, the apostle means his vindication at the final judgment before the law courts of heaven. Now, having said all this, it can nonetheless be suggested that such a vindication in the future could still include his release from prison in the present, though this is not the central concern of the apostle in vv. 19-20.
Paul says that this will turn out for his vindication (which may or may not include his release from prison59) by means of the Philippians’ prayers and the support of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The reference to prayers (deeseos) is according to the restricted sense of the word (see discussion on same term in 1:4). Here it is used not in reference to prayers in general, but in close connection with the following phrase, “the support of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” This indicates that it is through the specific requests of the Philippians that Paul will receive the support of the Spirit.
The support of the Spirit could be taken in at least two different ways. The basic meaning of support (epichoregias) is “supply.” Does Paul mean that the Spirit is that which is supplied? Or, does he mean that the Spirit will supply Paul with something like help or strength (so NIV)? Some have even argued that it means both. If we take it in the first sense, this does not mean that Paul would then receive the Spirit for the first time. It means that he would receive a special filling of the Spirit. The noun epichoregias is used in Ephesians 4:16 and the verb form is used in 2 Corinthians 9:10; Colossians 2:19; 2 Peter 1:5, 11 and the most notable example for our purposes in Galatians 3:5:
3:15 Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing works of the law or by you believing what you heard?
The word “give” in Galatians 3:5 is the same term as “support” in Phil 1:19, although the former is a verb. The interesting thing about the parallel is that in Galatians 3:5 the direct object of “give” is the Spirit. This would favor the interpretation that the epichoregias of the Spirit is actually the Spirit himself.60 But in the context of Phil 1:19 the idea that the Spirit supplies something to Paul, such as some spiritual strength (cf. 4:13), seems more likely. Thus, the point of what Paul is saying is that the means by which his circumstances will turn out for his deliverance or vindication is by the prayers of the Philippians and the support offered him by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The reference to the Spirit as of Jesus Christ may indicate that Jesus is the sender of the Spirit to Paul or perhaps it signifies that Christ is the one who is resident in Paul by the Spirit. The latter option makes more sense in the context which itself is focused on Christ. As Fee says:
This is how Christ lives in him—by his Spirit (Rom 8:9-10). The reason for this unusual qualifier lies in the context. Paul’s concern throughout the ‘explanation’ is on Christ and the gospel. In anticipation of the final clause expressing the nature of his ‘salvation/vindication,’ Paul knows that Christ will be glorified in his life or death only as he is filled with the Spirit of Christ himself. That is, it is Christ resident in him by the Spirit who will be the cause of Paul’s—and therefore the gospel’s—not being brought to shame and of Christ’s being magnified through him.61
It ought to be our sincere prayer that God fill us with his Spirit so that Christ may be magnified in our lives (cf. Eph 3:14-21; 5:18). Are you facing some difficulty? Do the odds appear impossible? Turn to God and ask him for the strength to honor Christ in your circumstances. He did not fail Paul. He will not fail you. The psalmist knew the truth about the utter dependability of God in times of difficulty (Ps 56:4)!
b. To Exalt Christ (1:20)
Paul says that through their prayers and the support of the Holy Spirit, he knows that his circumstances will turn out for his deliverance/vindication. This is his confident hope, namely, that he will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in his body, whether by life or death.
The expression confident hope is two words in the Greek text separated by the conjunction kaiV: “eager expectation” (apokaradokian)62 and “my hope” (elpida mou). Apokaradokian occurs only one other time in the NT, namely, in Romans 8:19 where it refers to the creation waiting in “eager expectation” for the sons of God to be revealed. It has been argued by some commentators that the karadokeo word group in extrabiblical Greek involves some uncertainty as one awaits the outcome of certain events. One good example occurs in Josephus63 (War 3.264):
for all those who brought ladders to the other places, he took no notice of them, but earnestly waited for the shower of arrows that was coming (italics mine).64
But as O’Brien points out, the context in Philippians rules out any uncertainty in Paul’s use of the term.65 He knows that the support offered by the Spirit will be sufficient for him so that Christ will be magnified in his body whether by life or death. Thus Paul is not concerned or anxious about the outcome of his trial, but is confidently expecting that whatever happens he will honor Christ. That much he knew for sure. Further, apokaradokian is tightly joined through the use of the article to the following word “hope” (elpida). Hope in the NT—when discussing spiritual realities—does not refer to wishful thinking such as we might exhibit today when we say: “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow” or “I hope I’ll get home in time to watch the football game.” For Paul, hope was a certainty regarding the future and our completed salvation when we would be with the Lord forever. It is according to the sure promises of God (e.g., Rom 4:18-21) and looks to its consummation in the age to come (1 Cor 13:13). But the present experience of the hope of the future is grounded in the fact that the future has broken into the present and thus we have a taste of glory now (Rom 5:1-5). It is this taste of glory now through the indwelling Spirit that gives us the assurance (=hope) of our future with the Lord. With the future brought into the present through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit Paul was confident (=hope) that Christ would be magnified in his body.
Since the two words apokaradokian and elpida are joined tightly together (by the article in Greek) they probably ought to be understood as a hendiadys, that is, the latter modifies the former: “hopeful expectation,” or better “hope-filled eager expectation.”66
Paul’s confident hope has both a negative and a positive side. On the one hand, he says he is confident that he will in no way be ashamed. On the other, he knows that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in [his] body, whether by life or death.
Paul uses the verb ashamed one other time, in 2 Cor 10:8 where he speaks about not being ashamed when he boasts about his authority. He is not ashamed because unlike the false apostles in Corinth, he possesses the authority, albeit derived from the Lord, but he has it nonetheless. He uses the noun form (aischune) on two separate occasions, in 2 Cor 4:2 and again in Phil 3:19. In the former passage he speaks about his character as a minister of the gospel. He was one who had renounced secret and shameful ways, meaning that he did not distort the word of God simply to make a profit off the people to whom he preached. In Phil 3:19 he refers to the immoral excesses of those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. Their lifestyles are shameful and include constant sexual indulgences.
Thus the word aischune is not used a great deal in the NT, but it is used frequently in the Psalter, in Jeremiah (Jer 2:36; 12:13), and in Isaiah (1:29; 45:24). Perhaps one of the best examples comes from Ps 35:26-27 which we have cited above (cf. also Ps 70:3-5). The focus in virtually all of these OT references is on the humble person who trusts in God and, therefore, need not fear being ashamed before his enemies on the day of judgment.67 In Phil 1:20 the apostle is thinking in particular about being put to shame on the day of God’s judgment by failing to honor Christ during his life. Only secondarily, and perhaps not at all, is he concerned with being ashamed at his trial or in front of those who tried to cause him trouble because of his imprisonment. Though Paul often sought to be blameless before others—as in the case of his administration of the collection for the Jewish saints (2 Cor 8:21) and before all men (Acts 24:16)—he nonetheless, was not altogether too concerned about what troublemakers thought of his ministry. He was, on the other hand, deeply concerned about what Christ thought.
Instead of being ashamed for having done something disgraceful, or having lived life in a way dishonoring to his Lord, Paul was confident that Christ would be exalted (megalunthesetai) in [his] body. The psalmist also brought the two verbs, aischunthesomai and megalunthesetai together in Ps 34:26-27 (see above): “May my enemies be ashamed…may the Lord be exalted.” So Paul does the same here. However, he does not say “I will exalt Christ” which was probably too bold a statement for him, but instead says, “Christ will be exalted…,” making Christ the subject of the passive verb.68 But how does this “magnifying/exalting” of Christ take place?
There are three clues in the text which help answer this question. Paul says his confident hope is that Christ will be exalted (1) with complete boldness (2) in his body (3) whether by life or death and that he further modifies the exalting of Christ with the words, even now as always.
The expression with complete boldness is actually two words in the Greek text (pase parresia). The term parresia can refer to (1) openness and frankness of speech; (2) openness to the public; or (3) courage, confidence or boldness in relationships between men, as well as between men and God.69 The term was used in Classical Greek for “‘freedom of speech,’ the democratic right ‘to say everything’ one wished to say…. In the NT the two main connotations of the term are a similar joyful confidence before God, but now based on Christ’s saving work, and a bold and open proclamation of the gospel.”70 Paul uses the term 8 times and generally according to these two broad categories (2 Cor 3:12; 7:4; Eph 3:12; 6:19; Phil 1:20; Col 2:15; 1 Tim 3:13; Philemon 8). He refers to boldness in his speech in 2 Cor 3:12 (7:4?);71 Eph 6:19; Philemon 8 and confident access to God in Eph 3:12. Also, the idea of “openness to the public” is evident in Col 2:15. Compare also the use of the term in 1 Timothy 3:13 where it refers to the “confidence” or “assurance” a good leader has before God (1 Tim 3:13).
In Phil 1:20 parresia should be interpreted in light of the mention of life and death at the end of the verse, which two nouns, when taken together, refer to the possible outcomes of Paul’s trial. He might be released (“life”) or he might face the death penalty (“death”). Since his upcoming trial is likely the immediate setting for his words, parresia probably refers to his bold proclamation of the gospel in that setting. Thus Christ will be exalted through Paul’s life (i.e., in his body) when he boldly proclaims Christ no matter what the outcome of the trial. The passion of Paul’s life was that Christ be exalted (Phil 1:12-18a). He carried that same attitude and desire into the situation in Rome (cf. even now as always).
2. In Light of His Future (1:21-26)
a. Regarding His Life in General (1:21)
In 1:21 Paul gives the reason (cf. For) he wants Christ to be exalted in his life, whether by life or death. The reason is simple, but powerful: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The word me (emoi) stands first in the Greek clause for emphasis. Paul is not simply saying that this (i.e., the statement in v. 21) is his attitude and not that of many others, though this was certainly the case, as 1:17 makes clear. His focus, rather, arises totally out of the life and death situation he faces and not any conflict with other Christians who preach from wrong motives. He is saying that no matter what the authorities do, it is my passion to live for Christ. Thus, for Paul, neither life nor death was the issue. Honoring Christ was the issue.
The apostle wants Christ to be exalted in his body because for him “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” i.e., gain in the sense of being with Christ (v. 23). If your whole life is wrapped up in living for Christ, how much better it would be to see him face to face (cf. 1 John 3:2-3)! When Paul says to live is Christ he is picking up the mention of “life” in 1:20 and thus referring to his earthly existence and not to spiritual life per se. This is true since “life” in v. 20 is contrasted with physical “death.” Thus when he says “to live is Christ,” he is referring to what he will do if his life should continue. Christ is the object of his affection and the goal of his life. Therefore, he will say in the following verse(s) that if he is to go on living this will mean fruitful work for him, i.e., fruitful work done for Christ, done with his strength and under his Lordship. This is, in large measure, what the expression “to live is Christ” means.
But the expression “to live is Christ” also connotes not just service, but intimacy. Paul enjoyed an intimacy with Christ which he hoped would grow (hence his desire to depart and be with Christ). He says in Phil 3:10 that he wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, and to be like Christ in his death in order to attain to the resurrection from the dead. In Galatians 2:20, another passage often cited in connection with Phil 1:21, Paul says that he has been “crucified with Christ” and no longer lives, but Christ lives in him. The life he lives in the body he lives “by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave himself for him.” In Phil 3:12 Paul says that he strives to lay hold of that for which Christ had taken hold of him. No matter what place you’re at, God wants to give you the same heart you see here in the apostle Paul. Most of us would rather stay on earth than be with Christ. God would rather that you know Christ here so that heaven might truly be “gain” to you.
b. Regarding Productive Ministry (1:22-24)
Paul continues with a deeply personal note in vv. 22-24 in which he expresses his feelings regarding the prospect of life and death. He realizes that if he is to go on living this will mean fruitful work (i.e., missionary work), but he’s not sure that that’s really what he wants. In fact, he would really rather depart and be with Christ which he regards as superior to living on in the body. But, he does recognize how much the Philippians need him. So he concludes that it would be better for them that he remain in the body for their sakes.
Thus the sense of the passage is clear enough, but there are some details that need to be discussed. First, the identification of the “then” clause in the “if-then” construction poses some difficulties. In other words, v. 22 begins with “If I am….” The question arises, however, where is the “then” to complete the meaning? Some commentators say that the clauses should read as follows:
“But if my living in the body will bear fruit, then…”72
Granted, there are problems in the grammar of the Greek text, but this is not the best solution. The best way to read the passage is: Now if I am to go on living in the body, (then) this will mean productive work for me.” There are two main reasons: (1) the “this” in the Greek text is first in its clause and emphatic. It should, therefore, be taken with the “if” clause which precedes it; (2) the Greek text of v. 22 should probably be broken down into three parts as follows: (a) Now…body; (b) this…for me” (3) and what shall I choose, I do not know.” If we take the last clause to be the “then” clause, we make “and” (kai) —the first word in the clause—mean “then.” This is unlikely.
Paul’s reference to productive work for me (moi karpos ergou) is literally “for me fruit of work” in the Greek text. It is unlikely that Paul is referring to completing any tasks as a result of his release from prison. The apostle uses the term “fruit” to refer to his missionary endeavors in Romans 1:13:
1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I often intended to come to you (and was prevented until now), so that I may have some fruit among you too just as I have among the rest of the Gentiles also.
The specific sense intended in Romans 1:13 is the conversion of people as a result of the work of preaching the gospel. This is probably the sense intended in Philippians 1:22. The focus throughout this section in Philippians (i.e., 1:12-26) is on the furtherance of the gospel. Second, the “fruit” is referred to as the “fruit of work” which we interpret as fruit arising from the missionary work Paul will do. This does not deny the spiritual fruit that Paul’s converts will exhibit in their lives, but the focus is on getting the gospel out (cf. Phil 1:6; 2:30).
The verb prefer (airesomai) can have the sense of “to elect” or “choose” as in the sense of God’s election or choice of the Thessalonians (2:13), but it can also have a weaker sense of simply “to prefer” one option over another (Heb 11:25). This is the sense intended in Phil 1:20, the third and only other occurrence of the word in the New Testament. Paul is stuck on the horns of a dilemma. He simply does not know what he prefers: to be with the Lord or to remain on in the body.
Paul says that he is torn between the two options of living on in the body and departing to be with Christ. The word “torn” (sunechomai) occurs 12 times in the NT. It refers to closing the ears by covering them with the hands, as in the case of Stephen’s accusers (Acts 7:57). It also refers to the crowds when they “pressed” in on Jesus (Luke 8:45) or to the soldiers when they guarded Jesus (Luke 22:63). Paul uses it on one other occasion in 2 Cor 5:14 in reference to the love of Christ which “constrained” him to preach the gospel (cf. also Luke 12:50). Thus it is a term with a great deal of emotion associated with it in the various contexts in which it appears. There are other contexts in which it is used in which it carries even more emotion—emotions like distress and torment. It is the term used to refer to Simon’s mother-in-law when she was “suffering” (sunechomene) with a fever (Luke 4:38). When Jesus healed the demon-possessed man in Luke 8:26-39 the people were “seized” with fear (8:37; phobo megalo suneichonto). It is a term that “depicts a person or object held under pressure from two sides so that movement in either direction is difficult or impossible.”73 Thus it is an emotionally difficult decision to be faced with and Paul literally feels “torn” in his heart over the whole affair. In the end, however, his sense of mission and love for the Philippians takes precedence over what he would naturally prefer were things different. He realizes that it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. Note: It is not that Paul wants to escape the realities of living in a fallen world with its “toil and sweat,” but that he longs to be with Christ. It is not escape from reality, but a longing to be with Christ that gives rise to his wanting to depart this life.
c. Regarding Ministry to the Philippians (1:25-26)
We have argued all the way through this section (i.e., vv. 18b-24) that Paul is uncertain about the future. He does not know whether he will live or die. But this seems to be in contradiction to what he now says in vv. 25-26. In these verses he seems to sound a note of certainty regarding his release from prison—a note that contradicts his uncertainty recorded earlier in v. 20, i.e., in the expression, “whether by life or death.”
Several different interpretations have arisen in light of this problem. Some argue that Paul received a revelation sometime after the writing of v. 20 and realized that he was going to live after all. Others argue that Paul came to realize on his own during the process of writing this passage that it is obviously God’s will that he live so that the Philippians could progress in their faith. Still others see Paul beginning his monologue on a pessimistic note, but ending on an optimistic note about the future—perhaps because he learned of some favorable developments regarding his trial. All these are weak since Paul seems to imply that death is still a possibility in 2:17. Further, if he did arrive at this conclusion, why not go back and rewrite vv. 12-14 to express his hope more clearly?74
There is a better solution: Paul is not saying that he is convinced that he will remain (i.e., live). What he is saying in vv. 25-26 is that if he does remain he is convinced that it will be for Philippians’ progress and joy in the faith. This is what he is so convinced of. In this interpretation the term this in v. 25 goes back to for your sake in v. 24 and takes in the idea that it is more critical for Paul to remain with them for their progress and joy in the faith.
We discussed the term progress (prokopen) in v. 12 where we translated it advance—in relation to the advance or furtherance of the gospel. We will only briefly review our comments on the term here. The noun translated “progress” (prokopen) appears first in the literature of the Hellenistic period (5th through 3rd centuries BCE). The verbal form was originally a technical term from the nautical world meaning “to make headway in spite of blows” referring to a ship at sea striving against the wind. Both the verb and the noun came to mean “progress” and were in and of themselves neutral, not referring specifically to progress in something evil or something good. They were also used in Stoic philosophy to speak of personal human development from the condition of lacking wisdom to the point of becoming wise and finally possessing wisdom.75 It was also used to refer to the steady advance of an army against its enemies (2 Maccabees 8:876). Paul uses prokope to refer to his own progress and advancement in Judaism as a young man (Gal 1:14). He uses the term positively in reference to the progress he wants Timothy to evidence as he gives himself fully to his pastoral concerns (1 Tim 4:15), as well as negatively to refer to progress in evil that false teachers are making (2 Tim 3:9, 13). Here in Phil 1:25 he uses it to refer to the steady growth in Philippians’ understanding of their faith and (cf. Phil 1:9-11) what that should look like both in their relationships in the community and in the world (1:27-30).
The ultimate reason Paul wants to be with them is not just for their progress and joy in the faith, but so that their pride might overflow in Christ Jesus because of his presence. The term pride (kauchema) really indicates the “grounds for boasting” not the act itself (which would require kauchesis). Thus the occasion of their boasting will be Paul with them, but the sphere of their boasting will be in Christ Jesus. Everything is directed to Christ in Paul’s thinking and he relishes the thought that he can, by his presence and personal ministry (cf. Rom 1:11-12), be instrumental in the lives of the Philippians—encouraging them to boast in the greatness of Christ and in nothing else. Paul talks about boasting in the Lord in 1 Corinthians 1:31 where he cites Jeremiah 9:24. He cites the Old Testament prophets as a rebuke to the Corinthians who were boasting in mere men. There may also have been some improper boasting on the part of the Philippians as well which Paul later tries to correct through the proper example of boasting (i.e., only in the Lord) he evidenced in his own life (3:3 and 4-6ff).
With this final note Paul comes to the end of this section describing his circumstances and the advance of the gospel. His own example of Christ-centeredness, humility, and bold preaching prepares us for the exhortations in 1:27-2:18. In that section he will urge the Philippian church to develop a posture of humility, standing firm for the gospel, united in one mind. Once again he has become a model (4:9) of the kind of thing he encourages his churches to do.
IV. Principles for Application
1. How do we view are circumstances? Do we have such a view of God that when bad things happen we conclude that nothing good can come of it? God may be testing us and fitting us for life with him in the future. We must not forget this as Christians.
2. Do you rely on the Spirit to make up what you’re lacking in regards to doing the will of God? Trusting him is not always easy, but there is no other path to pleasing him (Prov 3:5-6; Heb 11:6).
3. Do we view our lives as opportunities for fruitful labor for Christ? Or, do we view them as an old clock just waiting to strike its last “tick-tock?” What do you need to begin to believe differently about God and your life before you can make the necessary changes to be a person committed to the vision of fruitful work in the Lord? How does this passage speak to your beliefs and attitudes? Your goals in life?
4. Paul’s vision was to help others grow in their faith. He wanted to be with the Philippians for their progress and joy in the faith. I ask one question, “When will the church sincerely adopt this yardstick to measure what they do with people week in and week out?” Paul didn’t just say he wanted to be with them so that they could listen to him preach. If I may paraphrase, he wasn’t going to be happy until he saw them progress in their faith and joy and he did everything in his power under the guidance of the Spirit to bring that about. People weren’t his pastime, they were his passion!!
54 For a similar use of apobhsetai meaning “will turn out,” see Luke 21:13.
55 See BAGD, 801.
56 See Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 130-32; Peter T. O’Brien, Philippians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 114.
57 Cf. Moiss Silva, Philippians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moiss Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 68.
58 Cf. O’Brien, Philippians, 110.
59 For the argument that “deliverance” means release from prison see Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 43 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 39-40.
60 See Fee, Philippians, 132-34.
61 Fee, Philippians, 134-35.
62 See BAGD, s.v. apokaradokia, 92.
63 Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived in the first century and was a contemporary of Paul.
64 See William Whiston, trans., The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, new updated edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), 651.
65 O’Brien, Philippians, 113.
66 O’Brien, Philippians, 113.
67 See Rudolph Bultmann, TDNT, 1:189-91.
68 Hawthorne, Philippians, 43.
69 See BAGD, s.v. parrhsia.
70 Andrew Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 42, ed. Ralph P. Martin (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1990), 190.
71 2 Cor 7:4 may also reflect “bold speech,” but it is difficult to be certain. See Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 40, ed. Ralph P. Martin (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1986), 221.
72 See discussion in O’Brien, Philippians, 124; Hawthorne, Philippians, 46-47; Fee, Philippians, 142-43.
73 Homer J. Kent, “Philippians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 11, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 115.
74 See O’Brien, Philippians, 138-39.
75 See Gustav Sthlin, TDNT, 6:703-19.
76 2 Maccabees is a book in the Apocrypha (14 or 15 Jewish books written from 250 BCE to 150 CE) and gives us a theological interpretation of certain important events among the Jews in the second century BCE.
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