Although presently in prison and afflicted by rivals in the faith (v.12-18a), Paul was rejoicing. Paul now turns from the present predicament and considers the future prospect of possible deliverance, either from his bonds or his body. In this passage, Paul rejoices knowing that Christ is magnified in ministry by life or by death.
Yes, and I will rejoice,
Yes, and I will rejoice: future tense verb—Paul turns attention away from the present and considers potential deliverance from either his bonds or his body.
19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,
For I know that through your prayers: Note that Paul recognizes two sources of aid, one human, the other divine. The first is in this clause: the prayers of the saints. Here is Paul’s human aid—the supplications of the saints. Paul knows these brethren are true Christians, true children of God who have the Father’s ear in prayer. He prays for them; they pray for him.
And the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ: Herein we find the second (divine) source of aid: the support of the Spirit. “Help” is translated from a word meaning “assistance which undergirds and supports” not unlike what a ligament does with a joint (cf. Eph 4.16). The connection between prayer and the Spirit is evident: as supplication ascends, the Spirit descends. As Christians cry for comfort, God sends the Comforter.
This will turn out for my deliverance: “This” means either his imprisonment or the preaching from impure motives. Given his rejoicing in verse 18b of future deliverance, it seems best to understand his imprisonment as what is in view. So by means of the petitions of these saints and the provision of the Spirit Paul was confident that he would be freed (lit. rescued) from his bonds.
Note: Commentators point out that Paul is quoting from the LXX Job 13.16, indicating that Paul is identifying with Job. Job wanted his integrity vindicated (cf. 13.18); Paul wants his apostleship vindicated against his detractors (v.15-17).
20as 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.
As it is my eager expectation and hope: expectation with uplifted head and outstretched neck as though in suspense. It is Paul’s confident expectation (hope)…
That I will not be at all ashamed: Paul is not disgraced by suffering, affliction, imprisonment, or even the voices of rivals. Looking forward to when he takes the stand in his defense of the gospel (v.16), that too will not be a time of disgrace but rather…
But that with full courage now as always: “courage” or “boldness” (NKJV, NASB) carries the idea of freedom to speak especially in times of intimidating circumstances. For Paul circumstances made not difference: whether free or in bonds (cf. Acts 28.31), Paul spoke with liberty “as always” even “now” under Roman guard.
Christ will be honored in my body: It is not enough to have liberty to speak; what one speaks matters. Not a single word, expression, or utterance was to hurt the cause of Christ and fall short doing Him perfect justice. “Boldness of speech was to be his [Paul’s] part, the glory should be Christ’s” (Caffin 5). Christ would be praised whatever Paul did in the body.
Whether by life or by death: Whether the verdict rendered frees him from imprisonment or send him to a martyr’s death, Christ would be glorified. If his freedom led to a furtherance of his apostolic ministry, Christ was glorified. If his captivity led to his faithfulness unto death, Christ would be glorified. These alternatives may seem vastly different, but to Paul they brought the same end: the glorification of Christ in, by, and through him.
21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain: In life or in death, in either event “to exalt and glorify Christ was his only incentive in life” (Lipscomb 168). While he lives, he is Christ’s property and Christ is his portion. To die (the act of dying) “is to cash in both principal and interest” thereby gaining a profit (Robertson). “Paul’s only reason for existence is that he may spend his life in that glad service; and death for that cause will be the crowning service.”
22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
If I am to live in the flesh: Paul (or any apostle) was not omniscient; while there are instances where certain future events in his life are revealed by the Spirit (eg. Acts 20.22-23), he (and the other apostles), like we, had to exercise the same faith and patience concerning the future. “In the flesh” amplifies the transitory nature of life in the body.
That means fruitful labor for me: Should he continue to live, it would mean he could do more work as an apostle and through that ministry he would bear more fruit for Christ.
Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell: the dilemma is between the continuance of his apostolic ministry (a good work) or sealing his testimony of Christ in blood (a good witness). This indecision is based on v.21—to live is Christ, to die is gain.
23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
I am hard pressed between the two: between dying now and being immediately with God, Christ or living longer to preach and spread the gospel, glorify God in the flesh. Life or death…
My desire…be with Christ: the word for “desire” (Gk epithumian) is nearly always used of evil desires (i.e lust), however, used in this context means a deep desire. The idea of this departure is that of a ship loosing anchor; thus, Paul’s heart’s desire is to raise anchor on this life and set sail into the vast ocean of eternity and “be with Christ” infinitely.
For that is far better: Why does Paul desire this? This option is “by much very far better.” It is as if he is unable to find the words necessary to describe the glory of this hope.
24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
But to remain…on your account: while Paul has a deep desire to be with Christ. However, Paul understands the difference between wants and needs. What is more needful, what is required given the current situation, is for Paul to remain in his body, alive. Personally, death is the “far better” option; for the sake of his brethren, though, he must stay “in the flesh.”
25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
Convinced of this: That it is indispensible for him to remain in the flesh for his brethren. Paul reasons to this conclusion based on his assessment of the situation.
I know…with you all: Paul’s knowing is based upon his assessment of the situation and drawing conclusions. “His knowledge was not necessarily derived from special revelation or from mere presentiment, but represents firm personal conviction that he would survive his present imprisonment” (Caffin 19). Since what is needful is for him to remain in the flesh, he will not depart (“remain”) and survive (“continue with”) you all. Paul doubles synonyms here to emphasize this point. Some see a somewhat poetic statement here, especially the latter part which literally says Paul will “remain by the side” of these brethren.
For your progress and joy in the faith: Paul’s survival through all his trials is for the purpose stated here. Paul remaining in the flesh was for the joyful progress of the faith of these brethren. Joy springs when Christians advance and grow in the faith. “The farther a man proceeds in the way of truth, the stronger his faith will be; and the stronger his faith, the greater his joy or happiness” (Clarke).
26so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
So that in me…in Christ Jesus: Herein lies the ultimate design of Paul’s continuance in the flesh: that at some future point he would return and these Christians would overflow with praise and glory to Christ Jesus. After all the prayers and petitions to God, to have their brother released and returned would be a joyous occasion. Certainly this would a time when the church could advance even further (joyfully) in the faith as Paul imparted apostolic teaching, applied old truth to new circumstances, impart spiritual gifts, and deepen the dependence of these Christians on the Lord.
Because of my coming to you again: lit. because of my presence (Gk parousias), a word used often in the New Testament to speak of the second coming of Christ. It is Paul’s personal presence back with the Philippians which is in view.