Philippians 1:19–26 (NKJV)
19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.Philippians 1:19-26
Paul’s positive attitude is an powerful example to all Christians everywhere. He is in prison, without a court date, and will be in prison for months, perhaps more than a year. He still, though, believes that through the prayers of the saints and the work of Christ he will be delivered from prison, and actually was delivered from this particular incarceration. In his expectancy of God’s work on his behalf, he determines to continue to preach the gospel boldly and magnify Christ in the flesh while he is alive, in spite of the threat of death. He is not afraid of the spectre of death. He then writes the famous words, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This phrasing has made it onto t-shirts, bumper stickers, and wall hangings. However it is more so etched in the psyches of those who actually live it every day. Ministers who face imprisonment and even death every day in anti-Christian nations and countries know that of which Paul spoke. They know the danger and threat against them as they preach the gospel.
Paul, though, does show his struggle to a degree. He says that he would love to go on and be with Christ. He even characterizes this option as “far better.” He states, however, that fruit from his labors here would necessitate that he stay here where he is needed so desperately. Therefore, Paul purposes that it is better to remain and continue ministry for the progress and faith of the saints. He longs to bring them cause for rejoicing by coming to Philippi and many other cities in the course of the days ahead.
Why would Paul speak as though he had a choice? It is certain that Paul was not contemplating taking his own life, for that would put his eternal destination in question. However, as many powerful men of faith have said at times, he had the type of relationship with God that would allow him to ask God for the opportunity to come on home to Him. However, he knew, whether by revelation or instruction from the Holy Spirit, that his time was not up, and his work was not done, and he asked God for time to finish his work. This is interpretation, for this is not specifically said in the passage, but nevertheless is plausible and does not injure the Scriptures. Paul had a calling and a mission, and he determined to fulfill it, even if it was difficult and laborious, and even dangerous. Paul was a finisher, a perseverer, and a determined man of God. He would finish what God started in him, and he would do it with joy!