Hard Pressed Between the Two
Philippians 1:19-26 – Philippians: Life Together
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – January 28, 2018 (am)
Paul and the Philippians have such a profound commitment to one another that he’s willing postpone his arrival in heaven to strengthen their progress and joy in the faith (25). And their love for him runs so deep that they pray for him fervently while he’s in prison (19), and their worship of Jesus is magnified at the very thought of seeing him again (26).
That’s what we see in today’s text as Paul’s introductory thoughts move toward a conclusion and begin to disappear into body of this brief but very rich letter.
And as we finish, I want to pose a question that I’ll introduce here as we begin: seeing and appreciating the quality of love displayed in the relationship between Paul and the Philippians, do we hunger for God to develop this depth of devotion to one another’s best in our life together here at GCD—this gospel-mission-centered, New Covenant community?
Let’s observe it from three different angles.
Remarkable Indicators of a Deeply Devoted Relationship
It begins right here in v.19: the Philippians were praying for Paul. And he wrote: 19 … I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, help that God has sent in answer to your prayers, this whole situation surrounding my imprisonment will turn out for my deliverance, my salvation (that’s the word), meaning, 20 … I will not be at all ashamed, but (rather,) with full courage now as always Chrst will be honored in my body, whether I live or die! That’s what Paul wanted most in his life; that was his eager expectation and hope (20). And it was God’s answer to the Philippians’ prayers that awakened in him such a Spirit-enabled confidence that all this was going to be achieved that he was able to rejoice (18) even in his present circumstances. That’s how God used that church in Paul’s life. And it just served to enhance their devotion him in personal relationship.
And Paul’s devotion to them ran so deep that even though he would’ve preferred to be finished with his mission on earth and present with God in heaven, he was willing to continue on in this world simply because he recognized that it would be better for them. 23 I am hard pressed between the two, he wrote, meaning it was difficult to know whether he’d rather continue on proclaiming the gospel here, or be done with that and welcomed into glory. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Hear that? 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Staying here would be better for you. So, I will!
These two are passionately devoted to one another’s best! And yet their eyes weren’t fixed primarily on one another. As we’ve seen, their devotion was first to Christ and His kingdom, to the spread of His gospel. And it was in this shared mission that their lives and hearts and minds were so linked together that they were operating as one. They were exhibiting a devotion to one another that exceeded even their commitment to their own best interests. And in this mutual love and devotion they were experiencing the full joy of a truly meaningful life and ministry!
Reflections on the Qualities of a Truly Meaningful Life
Paul described what this life is like. While evaluating whether he’d rather 23 … depart and be with Christ or 24 … remain in the flesh, he made the statement: 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. What does he mean? He tells us. We just saw that his 23 … desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. That’s what he means when he says: to die is gain (21). He’s not being morbid. He just really longs to go home! He’s not trying to escape anything. He’s not depressed, or suicidal. He’s (rejoicing)! (18) He’s proclaiming the gospel to the whole imperial guard! (13) He just knows that the life to come is so much sweeter than this one, and he’s ready to go!
So, living now in light of then, in preparation for it, is really all that makes sense. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. … I’ll spend my life in this world preaching the gospel of the next, spreading the kingdom of God, and partnering with the Philippians in that fruitful labor. That’s what Paul means when he says: to live is Christ (21). I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal.2:20). He and the Philippians shared this gospel passion! A truly meaningful life is one that is saturated in the juices of fruitful gospel advance. It’s characterized by Christ being courageously honored in (our bodies), seeking His kingdom and His righteousness whether we’re facing life or death. There’s just no sweeter recipe for life, or for life together!
Raising the Bar in the Sweetness of Life Together
25 Convinced… that it’s better for the Philippians if he lives and continues on with them in this mission, then, Paul wrote (from prison!), 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….. The Apostle Paul is willing to postpone heaven to strengthen the Philippians in their relationship with their Savior!
Until we’ve truly perceived what this means: to live is Christ—we’re preoccupied with gospel-advance and we’re seeing a fruitful result—and yet even so, we still desire heaven more, here and now seeing it as gain, but we’re still willing to set heaven aside, sensing that growth in Christ among those we love might be slowed by our absence—until we’ve truly perceived all of this, I believe there’s still more for us to experience, more to taste, of gospel-enabled love for one another, of the true sweetness of life together in the mission of the local church, here and now.
So, I ask the question: seeing and appreciating the quality of love displayed in the relationship between Paul and the Philippians, do we hunger for God to develop that depth of devotion to one another’s best in our life together here at GCD—that gospel-mission-centered, New Covenant community? That is part of the fruit of the gospel, still, even in our day. It’s part and parcel of the miracle of the local church that is on-mission together, and headed for heaven.
Let’s now remember our Lord’s death together.