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.
Not too many years ago I was quite significantly ill. My body ached, I had pain that wouldn’t go away. It was so severe that I wondered if I would lose consciousness. I remember wondering if that was what it was like to die. Thankfully I was able to make it through, and recovered from what I believe must have been a gallbladder attack.
Paul’s close encounters with death were far more severe and extreme:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)
Yet Paul’s words here, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” do not come as a desire to end his suffering, or an expression of defeat. His life was so defined by his mission of sharing Christ that he was willing to suffer greatly for the sake of the Philippian Christians. His desire was for their progress and joy in the faith. He looked forward to celebrating the goodness of God with them. He lived for the glory of Christ.
If I could keep my eye on the prize of helping others celebrate the goodness of God and seeing others progress and grow in joy in their faith in Jesus Christ, I’m sure I could put whatever difficulty or challenge I face in better context. I am not facing anything near the challenges of Paul, but I do have the same Savior, the same hope, the same joy to share. Whatever difficulty I face, I hope I might say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. That kind of hopeful confidence will stand us in good stead whatever challenges we may face in life.