Philippians 1:18b-26: Jesus Is Everything
Some games we play for fun; others we play for a prize. If a fun game gets hard, we lose interest pretty quickly, and find something else to do. Other games we stick it out, persevering through pain, trials, and set backs, because the prize is worth it. The Christian life is not a game, but it still requires a clear goal and compelling motivation if we are to finish well. According to Paul’s testimony in Philippians 1:18b-26, Jesus is both the goal and the motivation, and anything else will result in serious disappointment.
There is an ironic joy in gospel partnership. Paul discussed one aspect of this in vv. 12-18a, where he rejoiced that through his imprisonment the gospel of Jesus was advancing both in the prison and outside of it, despite the false motivations of some preachers who had apparently turned gospel ministry into personal competition.
In 1:18b-26 Paul gives us another portrait of ironic joy: he rejoices with confidence that he will be delivered from his trials—even if he doesn’t make it out of prison alive! What kind of deliverance can this be? According to v. 20, it’s more than just getting out of prison; his aim is that Christ would be honored in his body, whether by life or by death. Paul is looking toward the kind of deliverance that one finds when standing before the Lord on the final day and hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”—a vindication that our life and work (and the trials that characterize them) have not been in vain.
That’s a pretty bold confidence. So where does it come from? First, it has nothing to do with Paul’s own strength. He is dependent on the prayers of God’s people and the power of Christ’s Spirit (1:19). Second, it has nothing to do with Paul’s own reputation. Rather, everything is about Jesus.
Jesus is the prize. He is both the goal and motivation of Paul’s life and ministry. Treasuring Jesus gave Paul focus: everything he did in his own life (1:20; cf. 3:7-16) or helped others do in their lives (1:25-26; cf. 2:1-4; 3:17-21) was to make much of Christ. And treasuring Jesus gave Paul courage and freedom: he was free to let go of the things of this world, free to put the wellbeing of others above his own, free to face suffering and even death—because he knew there was nothing else in this world that would satisfy him more than Jesus. Paul was so enthralled with Jesus that he honestly had a hard time deciding if, given the opportunity, he would choose to face execution and be with Jesus, or to stay behind and continue his ministry among the Philippians and other churches. Either way was a win for Paul. As he summarized in v. 21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
It goes without saying that most of us don’t think this way today. This world is full of alternative treasures, each one promising lasting satisfaction and joy. And when our hearts cherish things other than Jesus, we lack the focus and freedom to spend our lives in a way that matters. Yet only one prize will satisfy in the end; everything else will disappoint. Only Jesus.
Update: We had planned to look at this text at Westgate Church on Sunday, Oct. 30, but had to cancel the service due to a storm and power outage. So if you’re in Boston’s MetroWest, you still have a chance to join us this Sunday (Nov. 13) as we explore this passage and investigate what life can look like when Jesus is everything.
Update: The sermon text and discussion questions are now available here: Phil 1.18b-26 Westgate 11.13.11