12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
As Paul considers his place in the world while he sits in prison many interesting points come out for him. He keeps his place as the slave of Christ fully in mind at all times and holds ever circumstance up to that position; no matter what happens to him, he serves the will of the Lord. He knows that he is always doing the godly thing. Here is where Paul sets a high standard. He even places death on the list of places he might find himself and even that falls within God’s will for him. There are many who scratch their heads at this proclamation. How could embracing your own death be okay?
I’ve had the charge of “Christians just want to die” lobbed in my direction. Who knows where they learned that little tidbit of half-truth. I was a little shocked to hear the words for it isn’t a correct understanding of the faith at all. If taken out of context I suppose this verse could mildly support such a wild claim but this simply isn’t a clear understanding of the verse. In fact, Christians just want to live out the will of Christ. That can be here on earth or in the presence of Jesus. For Paul, the “where” doesn’t matter; it’s the WHO that matters and that who is Jesus Christ. But Paul’s assertions here do bear our scrutiny.
We can also learn much from a consideration of the apostle’s attitude toward death. The apostle did not go to pieces at the prospect of death. He was not so attached to this life that he regarded death as an unwelcome intruder. For the apostle, death was gain, a personal advantage, because he knew it would mean passing from a troublesome life marred by sin to a perfect existence with the Savior. Paul was ready to go and be with the Savior at any time. Yet, if it was the Savior’s will for him to live and work on, he would gladly do that, until the Savior called him.
Kuschel, H. J. (1986). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 32–33). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.
I had an elderly saint tell me once that “God’s people die well”. That’s such a succinct way to say it. We embrace whatever the Lord has for us, be it continuing to serve Him here or going to be with Him in eternity. With that attitude we are able to hold onto this life loosely. And as we share the Gospel with those in our lives we are able to hold onto it loosely for others as well. I believe that takes courage. That courage is born out of trust in the Living God to take care of us in this life and the next. Where God places me moment by moment is up to Him.