Have you ever been faced with a choice between two good things? It’s not easy to make a decision when faced with two good options. We see Paul in Philippians found himself in a situation where, if the choice were left to him, he’d have a difficult time deciding what to do.
Imagine not seeing your children and grandchildren for a long time. You yearn to go visit them but you have an ailing spouse in need of your care. You really miss the children and grandchildren, but know you are needed at home. You’d feel torn between visiting the missed loved ones and staying to care for the one who needs you.
This is similar to what Paul faced. Paul was torn between being with Jesus in heaven and being on earth to continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Would it be better to live or die?
When we see what Paul faced we might think, “what’s the big dilemma—it would be better to live, of course.” It would be natural for us to think that but Paul’s focus wasn’t on his natural desires it was on Christ. Paul had an eternity perspective.
Let’s look at Philippians 1:22-26.
Philippians 1:22 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.
You can see here both Paul’s heart for Christ and his heart for the church. He longs to be with Christ but he’s also concerned about the welfare of the church.
John MacArthur tells of Adoniram Judson who had heart like Paul’s.
Adoniram Judson was the first overseas missionary sent out from America. In the early nineteenth century, he and his first wife went to India and, a short while later, to Burma, where he labored for nearly four decades. After fourteen years, he had a handful of converts and had managed to write a Burmese grammar. During that time he suffered a horrible imprisonment for a year and a half and lost his wife and children to disease. Like Paul, he longed to be with the Lord, but, also like the apostle, he considered his work for Christ to be infinitely more important than his personal longings. He therefore prayed that God would allow him to live long enough to translate the entire Bible into Burmese and to establish a church there of at least one hundred believers. The Lord granted that request and also allowed him to compile Burmese–English and English–Burmese dictionaries, which became invaluable to the Christian workers, both foreign and Burmese, who followed him. He wrote, “If I had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” 1
Adoniram Judson had a heart for serving Christ where God had put him and his desire to make Christ known shaped his life and shaped his prayer life.
Paul’s Heart for Christ
We see Paul’s heart for Christ in verse 23. He had a desire to depart and be with Christ. He understood that departing and being with Christ would be far better than life on this sin-filled earth.
Commentator, Matthew Henry understood this and it’s reflected in the words he wrote which he hoped would be read by those who mourned his death.
He wrote: “Would you like to know where I am? I am at home in my Father’s house, in the mansions prepared for me here. I am where I want to be—no longer on the stormy sea, but in God’s safe, quiet harbor. My sowing time is done and I am reaping; my joy is as the joy of harvest. Would you like to know what I am doing? I see God, not as through a glass darkly, but face to face. I am engaged in the sweet enjoyment of my precious Redeemer. I am singing hallelujahs to Him who sits upon the throne, and I am constantly praising Him. Would you know what blessed company I keep? It is better than the best on earth. Here are the holy angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. I am with many of my old acquaintances with whom I worked and prayed, and who have come here before me. Lastly, would you know how long this will continue? It is a dawn that never fades! After millions and millions of ages, it will be as fresh as it is now. Therefore, weep not for me!” 2
There is no doubt that Paul would have been better off personally to depart and be with his Savior. Death for the follower of Christ is not a loss it’s a gain—it’s a promotion. At the death of a believer they enter the presence of the Lord and are freed from the fallen world we live in.
Often we don’t speak of a believers passing away in terms of death—often we say they have gone home or gone to be with the Lord. The word depart that Paul uses here in verse 23 means,
“to take down your tent and move on.” The sailors also used this word; it meant “to loosen a ship and set sail.” But departure was also a political term; it described the setting free of a prisoner. 3
Death truly is far better for one who knows the Lord like Paul did. Life certainly wasn’t easy for Paul. He faced shipwrecks, beatings and imprisonments.
So to depart and be with his Lord would have been so much better. It would liberate him from his life in a world marred by sin and promote him to eternal life in heaven with his Savior, Jesus Christ. And he was close to the Lord Jesus. He had an intimate relationship with Him and longed to be in His presence.
Paul didn’t fear death either—he looked forward to it. He knew death would usher him into the presence of the Lord and he would be in a far better place.
You could be wondering how anyone could actually look forward to death. Maybe that sounds really strange to you. It could be that death is something you dread and certainly aren’t looking forward to with joy and calm like Paul did.
But Paul knew it would be far better to face death and be with Christ because he had a heart for Christ. He had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He was close to the Lord. He knew death wasn’t something to fear, as one who had trusted Jesus Christ, but something to look forward to and long for. He knew that eternal life was his to enjoy.
The familiar John 3:16 makes it clear that you don’t need to fear death either if you understand like Paul did that God loves you and wants you to have everlasting life. God loved us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ who lived a sinless life, to die on the cross for our sins and take the punishment that we deserved. And if we have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we can have everlasting life.
The question is have you trusted Jesus Christ? Is death no longer something you fear but something you know is far better like Paul did?
And if you have trusted Christ do you have peace that whether God chooses to bring you home to heaven or leave you here on earth as his ambassador it is for God’s Glory either way. Is that your heart?
Sometimes I think we struggle with failing health or the thought of our eventual loss of life because we don’t have an eternity perspective. Sure, maybe you can say you’ve trusted Christ and you want to be with Him someday but you cling to the things of this life with little hope about what God has for you in eternity.
Do you have a heart that longs to be with Christ? Do you have a passion for serving Christ and making Him known?
Paul had a heart for Christ and we see it in his longing to be with his Savior. But his passion for making known the Gospel of Jesus Christ also gave him a heart for the church.
Paul’s Heart for the Church
In verse 22, Paul writes…
…if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor…
Remember the situation Paul is in as he writes these words. He is in prison. He knows he could be released or he could face execution. He’s in prison not as a criminal but because of his stand for Jesus Christ. But knowing he could face death doesn’t trouble him because then he would depart and be with Christ. And He desires that but he understands that if he lives he will continue doing the Lord’s work and will be fruitful.
But in spite of his longing to be with Christ we see in verse 24 his heart for the church.
24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
Notice in verse 25 that Paul is confident that it would be beneficial for him to remain and continue his ministry to the church.
25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith,
Some have wondered if Paul’s confidence at this point is because God has revealed to him that he’s going to remain alive and he’s saying he’s confident he’ll remain and continue his ministry.
I don’t think that’s the case. If you look at verse 27 Paul says, so that whether I come and see you or am absent.
He’s not sure at this point whether or not he’ll be able to go to the Philippians and minister to them. And back in verse 25 instead of the word confidence, the NASB uses the word, convinced.
Philippians 1:25 (NASB) And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,
It does seem that Paul was convinced in his own mind that it would be best for him to remain and continue his ministry. And ultimately his future was in God’s hands and God would certainly do what was best. Paul tells us that he is hard pressed or as the NIV puts it, torn between his two options. The fact that he was torn between the two shows us not only his heart for Christ but his heart for the church. He cared about the people he was serving and he was willing to continue his ministry with them.
Matthew Henry points out that…
Paul’s strait [as the KJV puts it] was not between living in this world and living in heaven; between these two there is no comparison: but his strait was between serving Christ in this world and enjoying him in another. Still it was Christ that his heart was upon: though, to advance the interest of Christ and his church, he chose rather to tarry here, where he met with oppositions and difficulties, and to deny himself for awhile the satisfaction of his reward. 4
When we trust Christ as Savior and become God’s child, God doesn’t usually take us immediately home to be with Him. He leaves us here to serve Him and point others with our lives to Himself. Paul knew that as long as he drew breath he would serve the Lord. As long as he remained on this earth he would be faithfully and obediently serving the Lord.
Paul cared about people. He had a heart for the church. He was involved and engaged in serving the Lord by ministering to others. He lived the words he wrote in Philippians 2:3-4.
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
It would have been in Paul’s own best interests to depart and be with Christ. But in the interest of the Philippian believers it would be better for him to remain and continue his ministry. Paul had a heart for others and he served his Lord faithfully by preaching the gospel. He helped others to see their need for Christ and grow in their relationship with Him.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.” That wasn’t true in Paul’s life. He definitely was heavenly minded in the sense that he desired to depart and be with Christ, but he also had a heart for others that prompted him to minister faithfully.
Unfortunately, God’s people are, at times, so earthly minded they are no heavenly good. But as followers of Christ we have every reason to desire to be with Christ and that desire ought to give us a burden for the lost that surround us and give us a willingness to remain as long as the Lord wills that we remain and do the work He’s given us—pointing others to Him.
If we, like Paul, have a heart for Christ and a heart for others, we’ll desire to depart but we’ll consider it a privilege to remain and keep serving the Lord as long as He keeps us here. The little phrase we’ve placed here in the front of the auditorium, Loving God, Loving People, was certainly true in Paul’s life. He understood the importance of Jesus’ words we find in Matthew 22:37-39.
37 …" 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
Why was Paul torn between departing and being with Christ or remaining and continuing his ministry to the church? I believe it was because he truly loved the Lord with all his heart, soul and mind and he loved his neighbor as himself.
It’s clear; Paul’s heart for Christ and the church is evident in this passage in Philippians today. He loved God and he loved people.
And as long as Paul lived he wasn’t content to just sit on the sidelines and watch others do the Lord’s work. His love for Christ motivated him to fruitful service.
Is that what your love for Christ does for you? Does it give you a passion for serving Christ faithfully for as long as you have breath? Does your love for Christ give you a passion for pointing others to Him with your life?
Look at verse 26, Paul says,
26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
Because Paul had a heart for Christ and for others, he knew that the Philippian believers would be rejoicing if he came to them again. That should be our desire also—that others will be rejoicing to have us with them—and not for our glory but for God’s glory. Do others see your faithful and fruitful service and rejoice to have you nearby? Do others praise the Lord because of the faithfulness of your life?
Your faithfulness to God will be a blessing to others.
We can be encouraged this morning by Paul’s example. We can have a heart for Christ like Paul did so that we also long to be with our Savior and we can look forward to the day when He calls us home. But we also can have a heart for others like Paul did so that while we remain here, we are living fruitful lives.
And the blessing of loving God and loving people like Paul did is that you won’t be lacking in joy.
Where’s your passion today? Is it for serving Christ as Paul did?
Let’s live lives of faithful and fruitful service.
Let’s be a church that loves God and loves people allowing God to work in and through us pointing others to Christ and giving Him the glory.