“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.”
My focus for this post is from verse 25. What I wish to draw from this text is Paul’s purpose for staying alive. Whatever this ambition is, to him it was worth staying alive and suffering more, rather than going to be with the Lord. Being that death is “much gain”, this task must be of incredible importance to Paul.
So for what reason is Paul remaining? He says it is for the church’s progress and joy in the faith. Before elaborating on the meaning, there are a few things I wish to point out from our text, and the book as a whole, concerning working for the progress and joy of our brothers’ faith.
First, when two fellowship in this way, Christ is exalted (verse 20). Second, doing this is part of what “living for Christ” looks like (verse 21). Third, this reason above any other was why Paul desired to stay on earth (verses 22 and 24). Fourth, the end result is considered fruit (verse 22). Fifth, when one is concerned for churches, they are concerned with the same affairs as Christ (Phil. 2:21).
Now, to help us in this study, let us ask a couple of questions. How did Paul attempt to achieve this goal by writing this letter? Further, how did Paul plan to accomplish this by his coming to them? In what ways does the church bring Paul joy? Lastly, what can we learn from other Scriptures about this kind of fellowship?
Through this letter, Paul sought the joy of his readers in many ways. He sought to bring the church joy simply by reminding the church to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4)! He also encourages them concerning Epaphroditus, telling them that he is well and is returning soon (Phil. 2:25-30). He assures them that he received the gift they sent, and that God is well-pleased with their offering (Phil. 4:15-20). These are some of the ways that he worked toward their joy in faith. He works toward the progress of their faith, for example, by teaching them doctrine of Christ (Chapter 2). Further, by teaching them this great doctrine, he applies it to their lives to strengthen church unity. In chapter 3 he encourages them to boast in the righteousness of Christ far above any rubbish we may bring (Phil. 3:2-11). Later he warns them to watch out for worldly influences and to press on toward heaven (Phil 3:12-21).
Paul’s faith was strengthened and joy increased by the church in return. We learn from the beginning of chapter 2 that Paul rejoices greatly over the godly character of our church members, and over strong church unity. He tells the church that his joy would be made complete if they had one purpose and humbly placed others’ needs first (Phil. 2:1-4). He then teaches them of Christ’s humility as an example to follow (Phil. 2:5-8). If they prefer others, as He did, then unity will follow.
Later in chapter 2 we see that Paul strongly desires to hear of the spiritual condition of the church. He says that hearing of their welfare will bring him encouragement (Phil. 2:19). He clearly cares for the faith of these people and prays for them regularly. He feels great joy at their participation in the gospel (Phil. 1:3-5).
We see this joy and progress of faith in Christian fellowship elsewhere. This is seen at the opening of First John, where the apostle writes that in Christ we have fellowship with God and with one another, and that this brings great joy (1 John 1:1-4). The apostle John also mentions the great joy there is in seeing his children walk in the truth (3 John 4).
There are so many examples of “one another” statements in the New Testament. For example, Peter says that during the short time he was alive, he would continually remind his readers of the gospel and the godly life, so that after he dies, they will always remember (2 Peter 1:12-15). His ambition was just like Paul’s: death is coming, but in the remaining time, the faith of others is his focus. A second example is in the letter to Philemon, where Paul says he feels much joy and comfort that Philemon refreshes the hearts of the brethren (Philemon 1:7).
Let us consider ourselves and see whether or not we reflect these same attitudes. Can we say with Paul that we want to stay alive in order to help our brethren grow in the faith? Do you catch yourself thinking, “Sure, I want to go to heaven, but man does my baseball team need me!” Or perhaps, “Heaven can wait–I am still young and I want to start a family and career.” Can we say with Paul that unity in churches brings us great encouragement? Do we consider prayer for our church members a joyful occasion? or a grueling task?
“Awkward” Fellowship with “Super Christians”
I’ll admit, as long as I have been a Christian it has been awkward when I’d be asked those deeper questions. I never know what to say when somebody asks, “What has God been showing you in His Word lately?” or “How can I pray for you?” I feel pressured, as if I’d be labeled a reprobate if I don’t tell them I memorized the entire book of Isaiah in the original language. But I push through that awkwardness, knowing that it is of my flesh. I try to push through my feelings and give an honest answer. When I do, I am always blessed by those times of fellowship.
Sadly that same uncomfortable feeling lingers among many churches. People simply don’t want others getting into their business. But are shallow relationships what our Master looks for in our church meetings?
It is also important to note that those are the conversations we should be having as believers! We should be exhorting one another daily (Heb. 3:13) and we should be spurring one another on (Heb. 10:24). Or perhaps the case is that you feel ashamed that you don’t have anything to say because you’ve been stagnant, or even in sin. That too is a part of Christian fellowship, for we are to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5:16), and we are to restore those caught in sin (Gal. 6:1). Bringing our attention back to Philippians, Paul sought to restore broken fellowship and encourage unity between two of the church’s members (Phil. 4:2).
So may we be having these kinds of conversations with one another. May our times together in our churches be times of encouraging, weeping, confessing, and praying. May we have the Scriptures on the tips of our tongues, and “teach one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” as the word dwells richly in us (Col. 3:16). Let us not shrink back from being labeled “Bible-thumpers” among our own brethren. May we remember that, although it is not a sin to discuss temporal issues, it is better to set aside football and first seek what our bother’s need. Remember that these opportunities were what was keeping Paul alive.