Study Notes from Philippians by Dr. David Nelson

Philippians 1:19-26: Making Decisions When Facing Inner Struggles

By Dr. David Nelson

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul shared how his sufferings resulted in the advance of the gospel. He wrote to exhort the church to solve their internal problems so that they could bond together as one man for the advance of the gospel. Churches today need to work together for the advance of the gospel even in the midst of suffering and hardships.

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20as 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. 21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (ESV)

In the previous passage (1:12-18), Paul explained how God ironically used Paul’s sufferings in prison to advance God’s purposes. Paul used the opportunity to share the gospel with soldiers and many had believed in Jesus Christ (1:13; 4:22). Other preachers had been encouraged by Paul’s example and became bolder in their preaching. Others, however, due to jealousy, preached the gospel to add to Paul’s sufferings. Paul, however, rejoiced because God’s purposes were fulfilled even though he suffered. In 1:9-11, Paul prayed that their love may grow with discernment so that they would be able to discern what is best. Now, he shares with them an example of this from his own life.

In this passage, Paul shared how he worked through his inner struggles in order to glorify God and make the best decision. When facing inner struggles over difficult decisions, believers should learn to make decisions that most glorify God. Let’s look at two steps for making the best decisions to glorify God.

The first step in making decisions that glorify God is to commit to glorifying God with your life no matter what happens (1:19-20). Paul was confident that he would be delivered from death when facing trial in front of Caesar through their prayers and the help of the Holy Spirit. Paul was under house arrest in Rome and was awaiting trial where he would give a defense of his actions in front of the emperor. Standing in front of the leader of a country and giving a defense can be intimidating but Paul was confident that their prayers would make a difference. The Holy Spirit would give Paul wisdom what to say in front of the emperor. When believers intercede for others, God works through His Holy Spirit for the advance of His purposes. Paul eagerly expected that he would not be ashamed when facing trial. He would give a good defense of his faith in Christ and his actions in preaching the gospel. While we may not stand trial in front of the emperor, we do face leaders, business owners, neighbors, and political leaders and have the opportunity to give a defense for Christ. Peter admonished Jewish believers to always be prepared to give a defense for what they believe (1 Pet. 3:15). We also today must be always prepared to give a defense of the gospel. The gospel has been attacked since the early church and the enemy will continue to work to attack God’s message. But believers must be always be prepared to use the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). In order to give a good defense, we must be ready and to be ready, we must prepare. Preparation leads to confidence which when filled with the Holy Spirit, we are able to boldly share the gospel just as the early disciples did. However, when we are not prepared, we will be ashamed because we are not ready to share what we believe. In addition, Paul was committed to honoring Christ through his life or his death (1:20). We too must commit to honor Christ with our lives, whether through life or death. Just like the early believers faced life threatening situations, we too today may face life threatening situations. In order to not be ashamed, believers too must commit to honor Christ with their lives through life or through death.

Second, we must weigh our options and decide what best glorifies God. Paul preferred death (1:21, 23) because this meant that he would be with the Lord. Paul was committed to living for Jesus Christ (1:21). Death was gain because he would be with the Lord. Some Christian religions teach soul sleep, where at death the soul sleeps until the resurrection. What gain would it be for our souls to sleep until the resurrection? Paul’s statement implies that he would be immediately in the presence of the Lord. This is also his statement in 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 and here in 1:23. He desired to “depart and be with Christ.” The implication is that he would immediately be with Christ. This is what Paul preferred. However, in weighing his situation, he realized that living would result in fruitful labor (1:22). He was distressed over his situation, not knowing what was the best thing to do. Paul is posing the situation as if he has a choice to teach them about making decisions that glorify God. Ultimately, his life was in God’s hands since he could by his own power determine the outcome of his imprisonment. That he continues to live was more necessary for their spiritual growth (1:24). Thus, he realized that living would be more beneficial for them. For himself, it was more beneficial to die and be with the Lord. In this situation, they would glorify Christ through his ministry with them (1:26). Thus, when facing distressing situations, we too must weigh our choices and lay aside what is best for us and choose what is best for others. We must ask ourselves what brings the greatest glory to God and not just think about what is best for us. While a job promotion may be good for us, it may not be best for others. We should weigh our choices and ask ourselves what brings the greatest glory to God.

Thus, we have seen that Paul was distressed because he faced a difficult decision – whether to die and be with Christ which was good for him, or live and help the Philippian church in their spiritual development. This was the best situation although it was not Paul’s first choice. Paul, however, was committed to honoring Christ with his life. We too must commit to honoring Christ with our lives. When facing distressing situations, we must weigh our choices and choose what brings the greatest glory to Christ.


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