Suffering for Others

18 Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as 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. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:18b-26)

In verses 22-26 it is like we get to listen in on some of Paul’s personal thoughts. In these verses he is considering two outcomes for his life. And although these are his thoughts, and his thoughts are concerning him in a very personal way – the outcomes that he is considering to his circumstances are intensely impactful to his state of being – he realizes something very important and I think it is helpful for us to see. He understands that whatever happens to him, others, people that he loves, will be impacted as well.

He is thinking through the issue of life and death. That is pretty personal for any one of us. It greatly affects us personally. Living or dying, for Paul, was a very personal issue. He will be greatly affected either way, because living here is very different than dying and being in heaven. He thinks about this and writes about it in a very contemplative sort of way because he says, “which I choose I cannot tell.” He thinks about it as if he has a choice. He doesn’t really have a choice, it is in God’s hands, but he is thinking through it anyway, like, “If I could choose, which would I choose?” And so he is weighing it out: “Life or death, death or life, which should I choose?”

For most of my life, one of my greatest fears has been dying. When I was a kid it seemed like I went to a ton of funerals. There was a short time of a couple of years it seemed like when all of my great grandparents were dying. Probably, I think, five or more funerals in a couple of years. And they were big events, traveling, big family get-togethers. I would dream creepy things about them. I didn’t understand what was going on. They just made me very uneasy and for some reason I think that played a part in my fear of death later on. As I grew up, I carried that with me. I used to hate flying, surgery, anything that I perceived as a thing that could happen right before death.

Many people fear death, even many Christians fear death. It’s a shame that we do, really. Paul says that to die is gain. I don’t think that is just for Paul to say. For every Christian, death is gain! The sting of death has been taken away, our eternity in heaven is sure, as sure as God is real and as sure as Christ did come and died for our sins. That is set for us as Christians. We cannot be snatched out of the Father’s hand, so we don’t have to fear death. Paul didn’t fear death, he looked forward to it.

But what is interesting in this passage is that Paul starts thinking through what might be the consequences of his death and as he does we find that what he believed, that ultimately that was the best for him; death now and heaven, that would best for him personally, but maybe not be what would be most beneficial for his friends. Entering into heaven with Christ, being transported out of the current suffering, would be incredible. But what would be most beneficial for him would not be most helpful for his friends.

So the question becomes, if I could choose, would my choice, should my choice, be what is most beneficial and helpful for me, or what is most helpful to my neighbors? “If I had the power to choose,” Paul may say, “which do I choose?” Now that is a good question to ask. “Which do I choose? What benefits me the most, or what benefits you the most? Which is more of my concern?”

Some people joke at times, or maybe not even joke, like when something really scary is happening or about to happen, we may say, “Lord, just come back now, like right now, get me out of this, take me home.” Paul could have said that so easily, couldn’t he? When he was sitting in a Roman prison suffering, and he was being persecuted by others, he could have said, “Lord get me out of this,” but he didn’t. Instead he stopped to consider how that might affect other people. 

We may think that to choose what may benefit others the most might seem hard at times. And what might benefit me the most might make my life easy. And yet what we find Paul do is embrace suffering for the benefit of his friends! Let’s look more closely at the passage.

22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:22-26)

So for him to live in the flesh means fruitful labor, it’s necessary for his brothers, for their progress in faith and joy, to the glory of Christ. To die would accrue to his benefit, to be with Christ. More arguments accrued to the side of continuing to live here on the earth, but the real weight on the other side, to be with Christ. Only one argument on that side, but still “to die is gain.”

That is always the case for a Christian, right? I don’t know if we think that way often. It is far better, more beneficial for us, it is gain for us, to depart here and be with Christ! Do you agree with that? Do you think like that? What will it be like? What will it be like to die and be with Christ, to enter into glory forever?

In some ways there is a lot we don’t know about heaven, but there are a few things that we can know. To be in heaven means that we will be transformed into a state of sinlessness. But what does that mean for us? It means that whatever those things are that really dog you now, whatever brings you down now, whatever burdens you the most, those things that just weigh on you in life, they will no longer be. Whatever stands between you and real, enduring, perfect peace, whatever that is will be gone. Whatever keeps you from perfect fellowship with those that you love, that too will be gone, it doesn’t exist any longer in heaven. Whatever tempts you to be fearful, to worry or be anxious, gone.

You may say, “Well I am doing okay. None of those things really hit me. I am walking with the Lord pretty well right now, and I’m getting a handle on my sinful worry and fear; my relationships are okay, I am in relative peace right now.” Even if that describes you, aren’t there at least little things that you still carry around, little things that get between you and perfect peace and happiness? Those little things will also be gone! To die is gain. To be with Christ is gain. We will rest from all of those things.

Paul is looking at his life, even with his spiritual maturity, maturity that probably dwarfs any of our spiritual maturity, he is handling life pretty well, rejoicing always, in every circumstance, doing okay and even he says unequivocally, “to die is gain.” It is far better to be with Christ. It will be far better than anything going on here for him personally.

If Paul were like some of us he may just say, “Lord, just get me out of here, end this, bring me home!” Why? Because it would be far better, it would be gain. But instead of begging God for that, instead of thinking only about himself, what does he do? He realizes that God may have another plan and that plan being good, may include him hanging around awhile longer, in prison, for the good of other people.

What does staying on in this life mean for him? It means ministry. It means fruitful labor. And what will that fruitful labor include? In verse 22, it is “necessary on your account.” Necessary in what way? For their progress in the faith, their progress in joy, and ample cause to glory in Christ.

Do you see what is happening here? Paul is turning his thoughts away from himself, what he may desire most, what would benefit him the most, and thinking about whom? Thinking about those who will benefit spiritually from his continued suffering. I think to do this, to live with this attitude and continue on in life in suffering, Paul knew at least three things:
1. His suffering was purposeful, good, and it benefited other people
2. His life is not all about himself
3. His eternal future will come
I want us to think for a moment about these three things.

First, His suffering was purposeful and good and it benefited other people.

Paul didn’t – and we never – suffer in a vacuum. When was the last time you really suffered through something hard and no one knew about it? It doesn’t happen. When was the last time you suffered through something and no one else was affected? Our suffering hard things is never all just about us! You may seem to be the one in the spotlight of suffering, but many others are affected by what you are going through. For example, we will in a few minutes hear several testimonies from people in our church who served at the Joni and Friends family camp this summer. As most of you know, Joni and Friends is a ministry that primarily serves special needs families with both practical and spiritual needs. It is a worldwide ministry serving groups of people with the gospel of Christ Jesus. This ministry was born out of tremendous suffering. When Joni Erikson Tada had her diving accident as a young lady and was in a hospital bed, learning that she would be a quadriplegic for her whole life, she had no idea how many lives, including many of our lives, would be affected through her suffering, in a positive way. 

Paul’s suffering would accrue to not only his benefit but to the many other people who would progress in the faith, progress in joy, and have reason through him to glory in Christ. Many would benefit through his suffering. Or how about Christ, who suffered once for our sins, on the cross, so that we might be the beneficiaries of that suffering.

Eventually Joni embraced her own suffering and began to see its benefit, how her suffering has been useful for many others for God’s glory. Paul did the same thing. It’s like, “Okay, I’m willing to continue on in life, a life of suffering, because it is purposeful and good, and others will benefit through my suffering.”

How about us? How are you suffering today? What kind of trials are you enduring today? Can we say the same thing that Paul is saying here? Can we embrace that and believe that our suffering is not only for ourselves, but it’s for the benefit of others? How is God using our lives, hard lives at times, to strengthen others in the faith?

Secondly Paul knew that his life was not all about himself.

If my life is all about me, then my choices will reflect that. I will make choices that simply benefit me. But none of us, no matter how hard we may try at times, none of us live in isolation from other people. None of us has the right to say, “I will do what I want to do, how I want to do it, when I want to do it.” What is that about, as a Christian?

Paul’s life was not all about him, my life is not all about me, and your life is not all about you. God created us to live in community with other believers, with other people. If something hurts you, that may not primarily be for you, it may be for someone else. It may be more for your spouse, your kids, or a friend. I think I can say that I may have grown more through the circumstances that others have faced and that I have witnessed or been a part of, than in my own personal suffering.

When Matthew the tax collector became Matthew the disciple of Jesus Christ, when he decided to do that, many were changed by that. When Peter decided to deny Christ three times, that had and still has huge impact on other people. He didn’t live in a vacuum. Even today we can contemplate our decisions, the consequences of our decisions, and we see how they affect other people. Life is not all about us. When you think about Peter and how he chose to deny Christ, we can consider how Christ granted him forgiveness, and how their relationship was restored. Paul knew that to stay, to remain in his flesh, in his body, to remain in prison, was not a situation that would only affect him. He said, “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Life was not all about him.

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

When we live obediently by saying, “I will do these things, I will prefer others, not myself first, I will think of others as more important than myself by honoring them first according to Romans 12:3,” or when I say, “I will love my neighbor first,” in all this we are acknowledging that life, even our own lives, are not all about us.

Are we making decisions based primarily on our well-being, comfort, and care, or based on how others may be served with comfort and care? Paul was thinking of others.

Lastly, Paul embraced delayed gratification. What I mean is, he was okay knowing that heaven was not going to be immediate for him, but he knew it was coming. It’s like, “Okay, for now I can do this, I will do this, I even want to do this, to stay here and encourage others, to encourage them in the faith and in joy, to be a part of their glorying in Jesus Christ, I want this. I can do this, knowing that it won’t be like this forever, because heaven is my home. Not right now, not now, but very soon!” I think, and I think Paul agrees, that to be heavenly minded, knowing that heaven is our future home, makes us better servants today. Later in Philippians Paul says it this way:

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:20-4:1)

He thinks of heaven and he then says, “Therefore…stand firm in the Lord,” because it is just for a little while.
I think I mentioned last week, or maybe the week before, that Paul, as he was contemplating life and death, he was in a win-win situation. He could go on in his flesh, suffering yes, but serving Christ, serving others, building others up in the faith, in joy, and in their glory in Christ, all good things; or he could die and enter glory with Christ, free from sin and suffering. Either one is good, but if it is the former, more living here, then the latter will still come!

I hope we can be like Paul in this sense. Embrace a life here of ministry, for Christ and others, and at the same time long for heaven that will come very soon. Here is something you can do and I can do. We can often throughout our day stop and ask ourselves, “Why am I doing what I am doing right now?” Or you can look at your daily calendar and ask, “Why is this here? And who is benefiting most from this item on my calendar? Is what I am doing or what I am planning to do on my calendar, is it mostly just about me? Are other people in mind as I plan my day-to-day? Is Christ first in my mind, serving others and honoring Him?” Do you see that on your calendar everywhere you look, or not? Or honestly, is life really just, mostly about me? “How will doing ‘this’ benefit others? My wife, my kids, my neighbor? Are there some things that really reveal an attitude in me that, really, life is all about me? That I am most important?”

Are you, are we, wrestling with some feelings, strong feelings, that seem to be driving us to do some things that, well, just satisfy me? Things that may make my life seem fuller, even if it hurts someone else?

These are questions to think about, ways to evaluate what is going on in us, ways to try and figure out if we really are living to please Christ, or if we are living simply for ourselves. And so I hope we will consider them this week.

Paul longed for heaven, to depart and be with Christ, but he recognized that God had him here for the purpose of ministering to other people, those in Philippi and elsewhere. And that maybe we will say with Paul, “I will do what I do for the progress of your faith, for the progress of your joy, that you may glory more fully in Christ.” That we can think that way in the things we do, what we see, and what we plan. Thinking of others’ progress in the faith and joy, that they can glory more fully in Christ, and not so much of whatever temporary pleasure I may receive. 

We can live our lives like Paul, who believed that suffering was purposeful and good and it benefited other people. As he knew that life was not all about himself. If my life is all about me, my choices will reflect that. That Paul embraced delayed gratification. He knew heaven was his home, and he longed for heaven, but until then He was ready and willing to labor in faith, even if it meant suffering.

22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:22-26)