“Heavenly Father, help us to be filled with your wisdom, that, as we study your word, we gain the wisdom you desire in us. Lord God, we pray for those who are persecuted in Your Name.”
19 For I know that this shall turn out to my salvation, through your supplication and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing shall I be put to shame, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall 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 [n]But if to live in the flesh,—if[o]this shall bring fruit from my work, then [p]what I shall choose I know not. 23 But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better: 24 yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake. 25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide, yea, and abide with you all, for your progress and joy [q]in the faith; 26 that your glorying may abound in Christ Jesus in me through my presence with you again. (ASV link here.)
Many of us have heard this verse, “21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Tons of sermons have been preached about it. Once again, we have to consider it in context. And the context, as I read it, is Paul’s concern for the Philippians. Verse 21 does not stand alone. I don’t find much in the commentaries to confirm my reading of this. Here’s my idea, let me know what you think:
St. Paul is not fretting over the outcome of his upcoming trial. Instead, he is concerned about how the Philippians are reacting to their situation. So, using his own situation, he lets them know that the outcome will be a positive one, no matter what the Romans decide. Verse 21 reminds me of Psalm 56:11 “What can man do to me?” These are words of reassurance. Check verse 7 again. The Philippians are suffering from persecution by the Romans. Paul is reminding his flock that they are in God’s hands. While he uses himself as the example, his words are for them.
They are also for us. The current political climate in many countries is very much anti-Christian. Governments around the world are persecuting Christians, in some it’s much worse than in St. Paul’s time. And, as David said in Psalm 56, “What can man do to me?”
The InterVarsity Press Commentary goes into all of this detail by detail. There are eight essays. A lot of words to make the point. The Asbury Bible Commentary is short and very readable. Matthew Henry does not seem to add anything to this, either.
After reading what they think, I am not convinced that St. Paul was concerned for his own safety. Consider Acts 21:13-14. There are many costs to being a Christian. I really think St. Paul was very much concerned about how the Philippians were being treated and he expressed, using himself as an example, how each of us should react to persecution.