You’ve got to wonder about this guy Paul. Last week we read how he was filled with joy, even though he was imprisoned, and about to go to trial, and we find out today his trial could result in the death penalty, which by the way, in Rome, happened immediately following the verdict, in spite of all of this, he still had joy! And when it comes to his possible death sentence, Paul choses death but he said he will rejoice in life, because although he will have to wait to be in Christ’s presence, he will be able to visit those in the church at Philippi and again. The word joy keeps coming up, either way, and his reason for joy? Whether life or death for Paul, Christ would be magnified.
Whenever the subject of Paul comes up there is a debate as to whether he was married or not. I think today’s Scripture is a good defense that he was single. 
Were I to take a poll today of those of us sitting here, I suspect, there are some who would say without a blinking of an eye, “to die is gain,” maybe because you are single or perhaps because you have lived a long enough life and you’re ready to go home. The rest of us, may have to think twice. It’s like we know it’s the spiritually correct thing to say, like Paul,  “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far,” but we have spouses, and children, whom we would miss terribly and who in turn would miss us. Does this mean we are less sold out for Christ? The truth is, Paul didn’t have a choice, and neither do we. 
Paul reminds us of the focus of this letter, of his life and what he wishes for those in Philippi and for us. That focus is, “That Christ be magnified.” Whether in jail or free, whether we live or die, regardless of the circumstances that surround us, may Christ be magnified. 
This passage is one that we can all turn to, in times of difficulty, to find strength and encouragement. 
Getting back to the passage, in verse 18b we read that Paul has joy and will continue to have joy, because, we read in verse 19, those in Philippi were praying for him and because of God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, Paul is assured that what has happened to him will turn out to be his salvation. At this point, it is important for us to consider the source. Were we in Philippi in the First Century reading this letter, and having known Paul personally we would have picked up on the nuance of this statement. Remember, Paul was an advanced scholar of the Old Testament. He was at the top of his class and knew the Hebrew Scriptures backwards and forwards. Many of Paul’s explanations have what is known as “intertextuality.” Which is described as the conscious embedding of fragments of an earlier text into a later one. Not only does Paul quote the Old Testament, he also “echos” the language and setting of a specific Old Testament passage or theme and places it into his context. In these verses, Paul has taken on the situation of the “poor man” in the Old Testament, who would have been represented by Job in chapter 13, and the Psalmist, in Psalm 34 and 35, who in their distress, they turn to God for vindication, which will become their salvation.
How does Paul believe this will happen? Paul believes through the prayers of fellow believers and the fact that the Spirit of Christ lives in him neither Paul or the gospel will be put to shame. What a great description of how the body of Christ is made up of all believers. Paul demonstrates that although he may be the one on the front line, preparing to go to trial for the sake of the gospel, the Philippians and others are bound to him in prayer through the Holy Spirit. 
Paul believes God’s plan is to use Paul, the prayers of the believers and the supply of the Spirit to bring glory to Himself, it takes a village. 
Verse 20, also relates back to Job, with the phrase, “I eagerly expect and hope.” The two words placed together give a combined meaning of “hope-filled expectation” rather than “wishfulness.” What is Paul’s “hope-filled expectation?”   That….he will not be put to shame. This idea that Paul was trying to get across, again is a case of intertextuality, taking a motif from Psalms 34 & 35. 
Paul seeks courage, 
which he believes will be given because fellow believers are praying and the Holy Spirit is in him.
So that…
“Now, as always Christ,”
Since Paul’s conversion, “as always Christ” has been his mantra. 
“Will be exalted in my body….”
Paul is speaking this time, that Christ will be exalted in his physical body, whether it is alive or dead. Life, referring here to Paul’s deliverance and death referring to possible execution. 
Let’s stop for a minute and take note of what we have just read. These sentences make up what theologians consider some of the most complex sentences in all of Paul’s writing. 
There are volumes upon volumes of commentaries written on these passages. There remains one single common thread, and that is Paul’s main concern – the advance of the gospel. Whether it is incarceration or a trial, Paul writes to his fellow believers and asks them to pray that he will have a fresh supply of the Holy Spirit at his trial, in order to make sure  – the gospel is advanced. Another concern for Paul as he writes this letter is to encourage the Philippians to follow him in his devotion to, “live for Christ,” regardless of the circumstances. 
Next we come to Paul’s desired outcome, in verses 21-24, which was for Christ to be glorified. Christ is Paul’s singular passion, so regardless of which way the verdict goes, personally for Paul, he wins. 
Verse 21 loses its power of spoken word, when we write it in English. 
For those listening to this letter being read, Paul chose these words because of the alliteration and assonance they create when spoken in Greek. Don’t ask me to demonstrate as my Greek is rusty. But it is important to note that the connotations we have for a word may not be the same for the word in its original language. Paul was an exemplary writer and his rhetoric was good, the real meaning of this statement affirms Paul’s singular focus of being a “man in Christ.” Paul demonstrates for us how we can live as citizens of two worlds. Paul chose to let his heavenly citizenship determine his earthly citizenship. 
Verse 22 presents a hypothetical question. If Paul did have a choice, which he didn’t, he demonstrates ambivalence between “fruitful labor” on the one hand and “being with Christ,” which for him seems to be far better. 
Paul even goes so far as to say, “I do not know!” or a more understandable translation may be from The Message, which reads, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! Meaning, depending on the perspective, either is a good choice. 
Verse 23, has Paul torn, but not really. Anyone who knew Paul would not have taken his desire to be with Christ as unusual. In fact, this is the very outlook he wants for those living in Philippi. Not death, but the reward of “being with Christ” without this world. Paul manages to point the Philippians towards the desired goal, “being with Christ.” The reason Paul gives for remaining in the body, is his expected return to Philippi.
Paul states that death to him means to be with Christ. Does this mean that Paul believed that immediately upon death, he would physically “be with Christ?” 
The concept comes down to a question of consciousness. Right off the bat, I am going to let you know, whether we “sleep” as the Greek word Paul uses in his metaphors for Christians who have died, or as in today’s passage, we are consciously “with Christ,” it’s a mystery. The human brain is not wired to comprehend “timelessness.” We are earthbound and therefore timebound. What we can know for sure, is that Paul’s eschatology made it unthinkable that he could be anywhere “without Christ.” Thus, death meant “heaven now,” without sinful earth. 
Here is where the phrase, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” becomes a problem. Paul saw it in the lives of those in Philippi and it remains a problem today. Many of us can speak this language, but when it comes to living it, that is a different story.  
Here’s a hypothetical question for you? What if everyone who walked with Christ, today, were to have this statement as their mantra?  
“for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” 
Let’s look at the first part of this statement. When I look around I see Christians living much like everyone else around them. They may be thinking, “for me to live is Christ” but then they add, “plus work, leisure, accumulating wealth, relationships, etc.” you get my point. 
Then the second part of the statement, “and to die is gain,” rather than being, like Paul, the very meaning of our existence, it has become more like an addendum, something we add on because it sounds good. 
An excellent phrase for us to ponder as we live in this world.
Verses 25 and 26 are Paul’s way of transitioning from what has been happening to him, to what is going on in Philippi. Paul writes he is convinced of his being set free at his trial so that he can remain, in other words, stay alive, and will continue, with “all” of those to whom he is writing. This focus on “all” occurs just before the issue, to point out the friction that was happening with women in the church. Paul desires that all of them progress in their faith and have joy in their faith. First he wants their walk with God to be moving forward in quality and character. Secondly, he wants them to have a quality of joy in their experience of their walk with God. 
In verse 26, Paul again uses an Old Testament motif, this time from Jeremiah 9, where the truly wise person, “boasts” not in “wisdom, might or wealth,” but “in the LORD.” The meaning of the word “boast” in this context does not mean to “brag about” or to “be conceited.” But rather to do two things, first put your full “trust or confidence” in something or someone and second, in “glorying” in that someone or something. In this context, the “boast” is in “Christ Jesus.” Paul is accenting the relationship both he and the Philippians have with Christ. 
I think Paul was asking those in Philippi to take a personal inventory. He proclaimed to them the answer he came up with after taking a personal inventory of where he was in this world. When it came to the matter of life or death, hands down, he chose death, because that was what his life was all about. 
Which leaves us with a question. 
What is your life all about?
Let’s pray.