Philippians, Lesson 2: To Live or Die in Christ

Philippians 1.21 (610x350)In the last lesson, Paul urged the Philippian Christians to abound in love but also in knowledge and discernment.  Thus, Paul exhorted them, not only to live out the faith, but also to know the content of the faith (knowledge) and how to apply it (discernment).

Paul, through Timothy, now moves to reflect on his situation as a prisoner.  Before offering Jesus Christ as an example for the Philippians to follow (2:6-11), he first shows himself as a proper example by being a faithful slave of Christ Jesus (1:12-24).


Paul’s Imprisonment

Read Philippians 1:12-14

–          What does Paul say his imprisonment has done in relation to the Gospel? (vs. 12)


The term Paul used for “advance” (advance the Gospel) is prokope.  That was a military term used to describe the advance of an army as it cuts its way through forest and mountain.  So, when Paul used that term, he wanted to show that his imprisonment wasn’t a setback for the Gospel but the very opposite.

–          How? (vs. 13)


What had become known among the Praetorian Guard was that Paul was imprisoned because of his faith in Jesus, not because he had committed a typical crime.  The Praetorian Guard were elite guards, a select group of nine soldiers chosen from a cohort of 1,000.

Since Paul was under house arrest, he would have been chained to a soldier from this Guard at all times, with the attending soldier rotating every day.  So, Paul used this opportunity to speak the Gospel to the soldier who, ironically, was a captive audience.  As the months went on, and the guards rotated, the soldiers talked among themselves, so the Gospel became “known throughout the whole imperial guard.”

–          How else did Paul’s imprisonment help advance the Gospel? (vs. 14)


–          Paul and Timothy’s letter to the Philippians implies that faithfulness to Christ does not exclude what from happening to believers?


But some bad news does creep into what Paul has to say.

Read Philippians 1:15-18a

–          What are the two main motives that Paul mentions for others speaking the Gospel?


–          As odd as it sounds, some were speaking the Gospel specifically to do what to Paul?


–          Discuss: What does this say about the ends justifying the means?


To reinforce the point, Paul and Timothy used a small chiasm to emphasize what the proper motives should be for speaking the Gospel.  The main point is the center of the chiasm, in this case B and B’.

 Chiastic Structure of Philippians 1.15-18a (Lesson 2)


Yet, we must recognize that these insincere proclaimers of the Gospel were not false teachers, that is, they didn’t preach a false Gospel, even if their motives were sinful.  Otherwise, Paul would have never rejoiced in the spread of their message (Galatians 1:7-8).

–          Although Paul does lament their false motives, in what does he rejoice despite that?


Mark 9:38-40

[The disciple] John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name.  We tried to stop him because he was not one of us.”  But Jesus said, “Do not stop him.  No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment turn around and curse me.  For whoever is not against us is for us.”

–          Discuss the middle ground of not approving false motives but also not rejoicing in what the Holy Spirit may work through them.


Paul’s highest priority was not his own success but that as many people as possible would come to faith in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 9: 21-23 and 2 Corinthians 4: 5).


Paul rejoices to live or die for Christ

Read Philippians 1:18b-19

Here, Paul used the language of Job 13:16 from the Septuagint, the Greek-language Old Testament, when he said, “This will turn out for my deliverance.”  In the Old Testament, Job expressed his trust that God would find him innocent despite the false accusations against him.  When Paul used Job’s language, he alluded that God would find him faithful no matter what his fate would be at the hands of the Roman judge.

The word that the ESV translates as “deliverance” is soteria, literally “salvation.”  What mattered for Paul most was not the judgment from Rome but the judgment that God would render on the Last Day, “the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6 and 10).

–          In what two ways would God save (or deliver) Paul?


–          What does this say about the value of prayer?


–          What is “the Spirit of Jesus Christ”?


The “help” of the Spirit that Paul uses is a rare word (epichoregeo).  Paul also used that word in Galatians 3:5 when talking about the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 3:5: So then, does God supply [epichoregeo] you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?

Galatians 3: 5 is especially helpful for us to understand Paul’s use of epichoregeo in Philippians 1:19.  Paul reminded the Galatians that God “supplies the Holy Spirit” to them and works mighty deeds among them.  It is reasonable for us to hear a similar meaning in Philippians 1:19: The risen Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to His people in need.  Paul does not state it explicitly, but he implies that God will do so in response to our prayers for others!

Note: Because the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father (John 14:26) through the Son (John 15:26), Scripture calls the Holy Spirit both the Spirit of the Father (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 2:11) and the Spirit of the Son (Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6).

Read Philippians 1:20-21

In the original Greek, “eager expectation” has the feel of someone craning his neck to catch a glimpse of something (like someone “rubbernecking” the scene of a traffic accident).  It is with that expectation that Paul says that Christ will be honored in his “body.”  Paul’s use of body refers to the entire person.  He used “body” in the same way in Romans 12:1.

Romans 12:1: Therefore, brothers, because of God’s mercies, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.  This is your proper priestly service.

–          If Paul lives, what will be the result? (vs. 21)


–          If Paul dies, what will be the result? (vs. 21)


–          So, either way, how does Paul view the outcome?


–          How does the reality of what awaits us shape our view when we face similar life-or-death outcomes?


Read Philippians 1:22-26

The ESV uses “choose” for Paul considering the two options before him (yet, the choice is not up to him).  Paul’s point is that the possibilities of both acquittal and the death penalty are so rich for him that he’s not sure which prospect to favor.

–          What is Paul’s desire?  Why? (vs. 23)


–          Yet, Paul’s life is not about what he wants, but instead about what? (vs. 24)


–          How does this help us to understand God’s purpose for our lives?


–          At the time of writing Philippians, what is Paul convinced of concerning whether he will live or die? (vs. 25)


Living as citizens worthy of the Gospel

Read Philippians 1:27-30

Paul starts out saying “Let you manner of life….”  That is one verb in the Greek: politeuomai.  This is worth noting because Paul will again use a form of that word later when tells the Philippian Christians that they “are citizens of heaven” (3:20).  Thus, Paul connects these two sections together in the mind of the person hearing the letter of Philippians that we don’t get in our English translations.

Politeuomai has at its root “polit,” as in the word “politics.”  Politeuomai has wrapped up in its meaning the civic or social dimension of life.  As such, it can mean “to be a citizen” or “to rule” or “to conduct oneself.”

So, although Paul was saying that they should live their lives in a way that is worthy of the Gospel, it was also a statement of identity.  They were citizens of the Gospel, not simply people who were choosing to live a certain way.  (To connect the two sections together, I would have translated politeuomai as “exercise your citizenship.”)

–          What does Paul wish for the Philippian Christians? (vs. 27-28)


Paul wants the Philippian Christians to remain steadfast, unflinching, as they faced persecution.  They were to be united in one spirit (pneuma) and one soul (psuche).  This was a unity of motivation and purpose because the Spirit united their spirit and soul into one body, the body of Christ.

–          What is the end for those who oppose the Gospel? (vs. 28)


–          What is the end for those who are changed by the Gospel? (vs. 28)


–          What two things were given to the Philippian Christians? (vs. 29)


–          What does this say about how we are to view suffering and what it then allows us to do?


Suffering can be of much spiritual benefit.  We are not to seek it out, but neither are we to shrink from it.  God uses suffering to help purify us from selfishness and allow us to share, in some way, in Christ’s redemptive work (Philippians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 1:6-7).  Suffering by Christians also pushes the Gospel into the world as believers continue to confess the Lord Jesus, even during persecution and martyrdom (1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 5:11).  Scripture depicts suffering as a privilege (Acts 5:41) and so challenges us to embrace it, not simply endure it (Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 4:12-16).

All suffering is the result of sin in this fallen world.  The continuing consequences of our fall into sin even causes both Christians and non-Christians alike to suffer from death and disease.

Romans 8:17: Now if we are his [God’s] children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him.

–          What does this say about the theology that teaches that suffering (or sickness) is caused because you have a weak faith?


–          How does this change how you view suffering, even suffering from a disease?


–          What opportunities does that allow for the Christian:

  • In understanding Christ and the depth of what He did to save us?


  • In confessing Christ even amid such suffering?


  • In confessing what reality awaits us on the Last Day?


–          How does Paul say that he is with them (and also an example) in their suffering? (vs. 30)


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